By Barbara Amiel, April 20, 2004.
Dr Abdel Aziz al-Rantissi, who replaced the recently assassinated Hamas leader
Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, had been at his post less than a month before Israel’s
targeted killing removed him on Saturday. A month is scarcely enough time to
follow up on your initial meet-and-greet, but Rantissi got a few projects off the
On the very morning of his death, a Hamas suicide mission killed an Israeli
border guard at the Erez Crossing in an industrial area where Palestinians cross
to work alongside Israelis. Had he lived, Rantissi would have kept the Israeli
body count high.
Targeted killings are counter-terrorism and as such they are not an activity any
civilised human being can relish. Still, there is a moral distinction between
counter-terrorism and terrorism, best described as the distinction between acts
of war and war crimes.
A further distinction on grounds of utility can be made: the targeted
killings ordered by Israeli prime minister Golda Meir after “fedayeen” terrorists
killed 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics eliminated eight Arab
operatives of varying importance but not the masterminds behind them. The
deaths of Yassin and Rantissi, on the other hand, were a blow to the brains of
the West Bank Hamas operation.
Yassin, bizarrely described by Westerners as the “spiritual leader” of Hamas,
certainly embodied the spirit of Hamas: he called on all Muslims to kill
Westerners “everywhere”, declared that Israel would disappear by 2027, and
forbade any peace initiative or dialogue with Israel. He was successful.
Moral indignation over the deaths of Yassin and Rantissi remains impossible to
fathom. The existence of monsters such as Yassin and Rantissi only forces
more civilised people into measures that spill blood on decent hands. That is a
tragedy indeed, but that is about all one can mourn.
Trying to serve a judicial warrant on Hamas leaders, deliberately living among
the civilian population, would cause scores more innocent deaths than targeting
them from a helicopter. None of us likes “extra-judicial” measures, but it is
hypocrisy laid on with a trowel to suggest that psychotic beings such as Yassin
and Rantissi are anything other than murderers in cold blood.
The Palestinian cause is an honourable one, but Hamas and similar groups, such
as Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad or Arafat’s al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, have no
interest in an honourable two-state solution.
Apologists for these groups routinely condemn suicide bombers and then
describe them as part of “the cycle of violence in the Middle East” that would
stop if only Israel would look at their grievances. No doubt. Their grievance is
the existence of Israel.
Arab terrorism against the state of Israel began in 1948 and never stopped. The
only relationship to peace that terrorism may have is that it generally flares up
at any sign of progress towards it.
Rantissi vowed to take every inch of Israel by blood, accused
then-Palestine Authority prime minister Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) of
thrusting “a knife” into the Palestinian peace bid by offers to restrain the
intifada, and called for “convoys of suicide bombers” with “thousands of
sophisticated explosive belts”.
One has much sympathy for the response of the father of a young suicide
bomber who wrote to the London Arabic daily Al-Hayat:
“But what tears at the soul, pains the heart, and brings tears to the eyes
more than anything else is the sight of these sheikhs and leaders evading
sending their sons into the fray … Rantissi’s wife has refrained from sending
her son Muhammad to blow himself up.”
Terrorism can be countered with guns or by preventive measures such as
Israel’s security fence. It cannot be appeased, which is perhaps why the Israeli
Government was intent on simultaneously assassinating Hamas leaders and
announcing its withdrawal plans from Gaza.
But the withdrawals, which saddle Prime Minister Ariel Sharon with the
politically thankless job of dragging some protesting Israeli settlers out of their
homes, have been rejected by both the Palestinian leadership and most leaders
in the West.
If you are against Israel’s security fence, in favour of the Arab so-called “right
of return” (a demographic weapon of mass destruction that no Israeli
government could accept) and opposed to Israel’s withdrawal plans, the only
possible end you have in mind is the elimination of the Jewish state.
In effect, the return of land by Israel is good news if your purpose is to
create an independent Palestinian state but bad news if you want to destroy Israel.
All the same, one would expect that with Hamas weakened by the
assassinations, Yasser Arafat might see the opportunity to come out of the
rubble, take a bath and become the leader of an actual, functioning state.
Palestine as a political entity has never existed. It has been an area
owned or ruled by Turks, Egyptians, Lebanese, British and Jordanians. In a
democratic election, it is most likely Arafat would be elected and in any event
would be the new nation’s titular head of state.
But he seems unable to give up the “struggle” and metamorphose from
terrorist into statesman. That is the tragedy of the Palestinians: no leadership in
their own land and allies in the West determined to encourage the worse
elements among them.
It is nearly 10 years since I walked on the streets of Ramallah. One could see
then, in spite of the neglect and poisonous nihilism of an occupation with no
exit in sight, that this was once a city of spacious boulevards and seductive
culture. Trees grew and flowered in Ramallah where now only piles of stones
and litter can be seen. Arabs must have sat sipping dark, sweet coffee from
small cups in outdoor restaurants or on the verandas of their homes without
fear of mobs or the dreaded sound of Israeli tanks in search of bomb-makers.
The most fleeting contact with remnants of this culture evokes a fury at the
forces among the Palestinians – zealots, ideologues and political theocrats – that
are responsible for its destruction.
From Paris to Moscow, from Jenin down to Hebron, there are neither
Arabs nor Occidentals, it seems, willing to liberate Palestinians from Palestinian
That, rather than targeted killings, is the roadblock on the road map to peace.