By Hillel Halkin, August 28, 2001
I wish someone else had volunteered to write this piece. There are things I
would rather do than defend killing people. But since the people in question are
trying to kill me, I have no qualms about killing them first. To anyone who
thinks I should have qualms, these words are addressed.
When I say that certain Palestinians who do not know my name, and have
never met me, are trying to kill me, I do not mean this metaphorically. Acts of
terror by Palestinians – bus bombings, discotheque bombings, cafe bombings –
are aimed at all Jews living in Israel, of whom I am one.
Statistically, the chances of my being killed by such acts are low. But if
by a flip of the dice I should be, those responsible would consider themselves
successful. This is the definition of Terror. It does not care whom it kills and
maims as long as it kills or maims.
There is no great mystery about who the people trying to kill me are. Most
belong to two organizations, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which operate freely in
those parts of the West Bank and Gaza Strip controlled by the Palestinian
Authority. Some, like Abu Ali Mustafa of the Popular Front for the Liberation of
Palestine, hit by an Israeli rocket in Ramallah on Monday, are affiliated with
These organizations have offices and political, social and religious programs, as
well as publications and spokesmen that take credit for the bombings. They
also have workshops in which bombs are made and transferred to operatives
for detonation in Israel. Some of these are suicide bombers who blow
themselves up with their victims; others use timing or remote-control devices.
They have killed close to 60 Israelis since the current round of violence broke
out a year ago.
True, the Palestinian Authority does not always know who these operatives are.
Many are first-timers, inducted and trained secretly. It knows very well,
however, who their inductors and trainers are, just as it knows who are the
“engineers” who make the bombs.
Why shouldn’t it? Many are men with long terrorist records who have
served time in Israeli and Palestinian jails; many were released from Palestinian
jails when the violence began, with the full expectation that they would resume
their former careers. Nearly all are known to the Palestinian intelligence
services, and just in case any aren’t, Israeli intelligence has supplied the
Palestinians with their names.
Some are personally friendly with Palestinian Authority officials. Some, like
Amin el-Hindi of Nablus or Mohammed Deif of Gaza, are Palestinian folk heroes
about whom ballads are sung and worshipful stories told. None has been put
out of action by the Palestinian Authority. A few have been placed under
‘administrative detention’, which generally means that they can go on planning
their bombings while looking forward to a hot meal and clean bed at the end of
They are trying to kill me, so what should I do about it? Consider the
1) I can ask the Palestinian Authority to arrest such men. This has been done
without results so often that to suggest doing it again is a stale joke.
2) I can try to deter them by massive retaliation. For every Israeli they kill, I can
kill 10 Palestinians; for every establishment they blow up, I can destroy a dozen
This is not only cruel, however, it has proven highly unproductive, as it
only leads to more suicide bombers clamoring for revenge. Besides, it is just
what the Palestinian leadership wants me to do. This leadership may rejoice at
the sight of dead Israelis, but it gets more mileage out of dead Palestinians,
because it knows what the sight of them does to international opinion.
3) I can post a commando unit on every street corner in Israel to intercept the
bombers when they reach their destinations. This is an excellent idea. There are
tens of thousands of such street corners. Perhaps NATO would like to send a
4) I can make careful use of the intelligence at Israel’s disposal to identify,
locate and kill the bombers’ ringleaders with minimal loss of innocent life by
such means as booby-trapping their telephones, rocketing their cars and offices,
etc. In a word, assassinate them.
Sounds good to me.
But this is illegal, right? It violates the principle of due process? So it does.
We’ll have to try something else then. Here’s what I propose.
Each time Israel discovers the whereabouts of a terrorist leader in Palestinian
territory, it should invade the area with a large force, cordon it off while
exchanging gunfire with Palestinian forces, and comb it – house-to-house and
cave-to-cave – until the suspect is apprehended. Then it should indict him in
court and hold a trial with the help of witnesses similarly abducted from the
If necessary it should apply physical pressure to these witnesses, since you can
hardly expect Amin el-Hindi’s Nablus friends to spill the beans on him
voluntarily in an Israeli court. Then it should repeat this procedure several dozen
times until all the guilty parties are behind bars fair-and-square. The
international community will, of course, approve of this.
Let’s get back to assassinations. They’re ugly, they’re brutal – and they’re the
most moral way of dealing with an ugly, brutal problem. In fact they’re the
opposite of Terror. Terror kills indiscriminately. Assassinations of the right
people are as discriminating as you can possibly get while fighting a war.
Of course, they are not totally so. Mishaps occur. Mistakes are made. There
have been cases of Israel targeting the wrong person. Innocent Palestinians in
the vicinity of assassinated terrorists have been killed. There are difficult moral
choices to be made. Do you fire a rocket at a past and future mass murderer
who may not be targetable again for a long time if innocent people are nearby?
But these are moral choices. Deciding between sending a suicide bomber to a
discotheque or to a pizzeria is not.
And assassinating terrorist leaders works. It throws them off-balance. It
depletes their ranks at the top where they are hardest to refill. It forces them to
spend energy on precautionary measures and hinders their freedom of
movement and communication. (You stay off the phone and the roads when
you know a helicopter may soon have you in its gun sights.) It makes them act
hurriedly and unpreparedly.
Although readers of this newspaper may be unaware of it – Palestinian bombs
that never reach their target do not make American headlines – many Israeli
lives have been saved as a result of inexperienced bomb-makers and their
delivery men acting under pressure and even blowing themselves up in ‘work
The assassinations deserve much of the credit for this. If you have better
advice for Israel, feel free to give it. Just don’t tell us it’s our duty to die.