Myths & Facts Online
The Palestinian War*, 2000-2005
Palestinian War, dubbed by Arabs the ‘al-Aksa
intifada,’ was provoked by Ariel Sharon’s
September 2000 visit to the Temple Mount.
“The Palestinian War, dubbed by Arabs the ‘al-Aksa intifada,’ was provoked by Ariel Sharon’s September 2000 visit to the Temple Mount.”
To believe Palestinian spokesmen, the five-year war was caused by the desecration of a Muslim holy place – Haram al-Sharif (the Temple Mount) – by Likud leader Ariel Sharon and the “thousands of Israeli soldiers” who accompanied him. The violence was carried out through unprovoked attacks by Israeli forces, which invaded Palestinian-controlled territories and “massacred” defenseless Palestinian civilians, who merely threw stones in self-defense. The only way to stop the violence, then, was for Israel to cease fire and remove its troops from the Palestinian areas.
The truth is dramatically different.
Imad Faluji, the Palestinian Authority Communications Minister, admitted months after Sharon’s visit that the violence had been planned in July, far in advance of Sharon’s “provocation.” “It [the violence] had been planned since Chairman Arafat’s return from Camp David, when he turned the tables on the former U.S. president and rejected the American conditions.”1
The violence started before Sharon’s September 28, 2000, visit to the Temple Mount. The day before, for example, an Israeli soldier was killed at the Netzarim Junction. The next day, in the West Bank city of Kalkilya, a Palestinian police officer working with Israeli police on a joint patrol opened fire and killed his Israeli counterpart.
Official Palestinian Authority media exhorted the Palestinians to violence. On September 29, the Voice of Palestine, the PA’s official radio station sent out calls “to all Palestinians to come and defend the al-Aksa mosque.” The PA closed its schools and bused Palestinian students to the Temple Mount to participate in the organized riots.
Just prior to Rosh Hashanah (September 30), the Jewish New Year, when hundreds of Israelis were worshipping at the Western Wall, thousands of Arabs began throwing bricks and rocks at Israeli police and Jewish worshippers. Rioting then spread to towns and villages throughout Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Internal Security Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami permitted Sharon to go to the Temple Mount – Judaism’s holiest place – only after calling Palestinian security chief Jabril Rajoub and receiving his assurance that if Sharon did not enter the mosques, no problems would arise. The need to protect Sharon arose when Rajoub later said that the Palestinian police would do nothing to prevent violence during the visit.
Sharon did not attempt to enter any mosques and his 34 minute visit to the Temple Mount was conducted during normal hours when the area is open to tourists. Palestinian youths — eventually numbering around 1,500 — shouted slogans in an attempt to inflame the situation. Some 1,500 Israeli police were present at the scene to forestall violence.
There were limited disturbances during Sharon’s visit, mostly involving stone throwing. During the remainder of the day, outbreaks of stone throwing continued on the Temple Mount and in the vicinity, leaving 28 Israeli policemen injured. There are no accounts of Palestinian injuries on that day. Significant and orchestrated violence was initiated by Palestinians the next day following Friday prayers.
The real desecration of holy places was perpetrated by Palestinians, not Israelis. In October 2000, Palestinian mobs destroyed a Jewish shrine in Nablus – Joseph’s Tomb – tearing up and burning Jewish prayer books. They stoned worshipers at the Western Wall, attacked Rachel’s Tomb in Bethlehem with firebombs and automatic weapons, and destroyed synagogues left in the Gaza Strip after Israel evacuated the area in August 2005.
None of the violent attacks following Sharon’s visit were initiated by Israeli security forces, which in all cases responded to Palestinian violence that went well beyond stone throwing. It included massive attacks with automatic weapons and the lynching of Israeli soldiers. Most armed attackers were members of the Tanzim – Arafat’s own militia.
“A handful of Israelis have been murdered in the war while thousands of innocent Palestinians have been killed by Israeli troops.”
During the Palestinian War, the number of Palestinian casualties has been higher than the figure for Israelis; however, the gap narrowed as Palestinian suicide bombers used increasingly powerful bombs to kill larger numbers of Israelis in their terror attacks. When the war unofficially concluded at the end of September 2005, more than 2,100 Palestinians and 1,061 Israelis had been killed. The disproportionate number of Palestinian casualties was primarily a result of the number of Palestinians involved in violence and was the inevitable result of an irregular, ill-trained group of terrorists attacking a well-trained regular army. The unfortunate death of noncombatants was largely due to the habit of Palestinian terrorists using civilians as shields.
What is more revealing than the tragic totals, however, is the specific breakdown of the casualties. According to one study, Palestinian noncombatants were mostly teenage boys and young men. “This completely contradicts accusations that Israel has ‘indiscriminately targeted women and children,’” according to the study. “There appears to be only one reasonable explanation for this pattern: that Palestinian men and boys engaged in behavior that brought them into conflict with Israeli armed forces.”
By contrast, the number of women and older people among the noncombatant Israeli casualties illustrates the randomness of Palestinian attacks, and the degree to which terrorists have killed Israelis for the “crime” of being Israeli.3 Israeli troops do not target innocent Palestinians, but Palestinian terrorists do target Israeli civilians.
“Violence is an understandable and legitimate reaction to Israel’s policies.”
The basis of the peace process is that disputes should be resolved through negotiations. One of the conditions Israel set before agreeing to negotiate with the PLO was that the organization renounce terrorism. It formally did so in 1993; however, the PLO and other Palestinian groups and individuals have consistently resorted to violence since the agreements. Whether or not Israel made concessions, Palestinians have still committed heinous attacks. In some instances atrocities are perpetrated because of alleged mistreatment; in other cases, they are deliberate efforts to sabotage negotiations. Even after Israel completely withdrew from the Gaza Strip, attacks continued. The Palestinian Authority, which has a nearly 40,000-person police force (larger than allowed under the peace agreements), and multiple intelligence agencies, must be held responsible for keeping the peace.
“Israel created Hamas.”
Hamas was legally registered in Israel in 1978 as an Islamic Association by Sheikh Ahmad Yassin. Initially, the organization engaged primarily in social welfare activities and soon developed a reputation for improving the lives of Palestinians, particularly the refugees in the Gaza Strip.
Though Hamas was committed from the outset to destroying Israel, it took the position that this was a goal for the future, and that the more immediate focus should be on winning the hearts and minds of the people through its charitable and educational activities. Its funding came primarily from Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
The PLO was convinced that Israel was helping Hamas in the hope of triggering a civil war. Since Hamas did not engage in terror at first, Israel did not see it as a serious short-term threat, and some Israelis believed the rise of fundamentalism in Gaza would have the beneficial impact of weakening the PLO, and this is what ultimately happened.
Hamas certainly didn’t believe it was being supported by Israel. As early as February 1988, the group put out a primer on how its members should behave if confronted by the Shin Bet. Several more instructional documents were distributed by Hamas to teach followers how to confront the Israelis and maintain secrecy.
Israel’s assistance was more passive than active, that is, it did not interfere with Hamas activities or prevent funds from flowing into the organization from abroad. Israel also may have provided some funding to allow its security forces to infiltrate the organization.6 Meanwhile, Jordan was actively helping Hamas, with the aim of undermining the PLO and strengthening Jordanian influence in the territories.
Though some Israelis were very concerned about Hamas before rioting began in December 1987, Israel was reluctant to interfere with an Islamic organization, fearing that it might trigger charges of violating the Palestinians’ freedom of religion. It was not until early in the intifada, when Hamas became actively involved in the violence, that the group began to be viewed as a potentially greater threat than the PLO. The turning point occurred in the summer of 1988 when Israel learned that Hamas was stockpiling arms to build an underground force and Hamas issued its covenant calling for the destruction of Israel. At this point it became clear that Hamas was not going to put off its jihad to liberate Palestine and was shifting its emphasis from charitable and educational activity to terrorism. Israel then began to crack down on Hamas and wiped out its entire command structure. Hamas has been waging a terror war against Israel ever since.7
“The Palestinian Authority arrests terrorists and confiscates illegal weapons.”
At times cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian security forces has been good, and Israel has publicly commended the Palestinian Authority. More often, however, the PA has failed to take adequate measures to prevent attacks against Israelis. While some terrorists have been apprehended, they are usually released shortly afterward and many have subsequently been involved in assaults against Jews.8
The PA is also filled with illegal weapons, including machine guns, hand grenades, rockets, explosives and mortars. Despite repeated promises, no effort has been made to collect the weapons. On the contrary, the PA has been actively stockpiling them and President Abbas has explicitly said he has no intention of disarming the terrorists.9 This is a serious violation of the agreements signed with Israel, one that provokes mistrust and threatens Israeli security.
“Palestinians do not encourage children to engage in terror.”
Most Palestinians who adopt terror in the hope of either “ending the occupation” or destroying Israel do so because they freely choose murder over any other option. Palestinian terrorists also use children, however, to do their dirty work.
On March 15, 2004, Israeli security forces caught an 11-year-old boy attempting to smuggle a bomb through a roadblock. The boy was promised a large sum of money by Tanzim activists in Nablus if he delivered a bag containing a bomb stuffed with bolts to a woman on the other side of the checkpoint. If the boy was stopped and searched, the terrorists who sent him planned to use a cell phone to immediately detonate the 15 to 22 pounds of explosives he was carrying, murdering nearby soldiers as well as the boy. The plan was foiled by an alert Israeli soldier, and the bomb apparently malfunctioned when the terrorists tried to remotely detonate it. A week later, on March 24, 2004, a 14-year-old Palestinian child was found to be carrying explosives when attempting to pass through the Israeli army checkpoint at Hawara, at the entrance of the town of Nablus.10
Just over a year later, on May 22, 2005, a 14-year-old boy was again arrested at the Hawara checkpoint with two pipe bombs strapped to a belt he was wearing. A few days later, a 15-year-old tried to get through the checkpoint with two more pipe bombs. Yet another teen, a 16-year-old, was caught on July 4, 2005, attempting to smuggle a bomb and homemade handgun. In August, another 14-year-old boy was caught carrying three pipe bombs packed with explosives, shrapnel and glass balls.11
These were just the latest examples of the cynical use of children by Palestinians waging war on Israel. Young Palestinians are routinely indoctrinated and coerced into the cult of martyrdom.
Despite occasional claims that terror is only promoted by “extremists,” the truth is the Palestinian Authority has consistently incited its youth to violence. Children are taught that the greatest glory is to die for Allah in battle as a Shahada. The PA regularly broadcast television shows that encouraged children to embrace this concept. One film used the death of Muhammad Al-Dura, the child killed in the crossfire of a shootout between Palestinian gunmen and Israeli forces, to show that life after death is paradise. An actor playing Al-Dura is shown in an amusement park, playing on the beach, and flying a kite. The Al-Dura in the film invited viewers to follow him. Similar messages extolling the virtue of the Shahid can be found in school textbooks and sermons by Muslim clergy.13
The indoctrination is having an impact. According to one Palestinian newspaper, 79-80% of children told pollsters they were willing to be Shahids.14
Palestinian children now play death games, competing to see who will be the Shahid. They also collect “terrorist cards” the way American kids collect baseball cards. The maker of the Palestinian cards sold 6 million in just over two years. “I take hundreds of these pictures from children every day and burn them,” said Saher Hindi, a teacher at a Nablus elementary school. “They turn children into extremists.”15
Many Palestinian youngsters have gone from pretending to carrying out actual terrorist attacks. More than two dozen suicide bombers have been under the age of 18. Between 2001 and March 2004, more than 40 minors involved in planning suicide bombings were arrested. In those years, 22 shootings and bombings were carried out by minors. For example, teens ages 11-14 attempted to smuggle munitions from Egypt into the Gaza Strip; three teenagers, ages 13-15, were arrested on their way to carry out a shooting attack in Afula; and a 17-year-old blew himself up in an attempted suicide attack. In just the first five months of 2005, 52 more Palestinian minors were caught wearing explosive belts or attempting to smuggle weapons through checkpoints in the West Bank.16
The situation has finally gotten so out of hand that Palestinian families are starting to protest. The mother of one of the three teenagers sent to carry out the Afula attack said of the letter he had left behind, “My son doesn’t know how to write a letter like that and has never belonged to one of the organizations. Some grownup wrote the letter for him.” The boy’s father added, “Nobody can accept to send his children to be slaughtered. I am sure that whoever recruits children in this kind of unlawful activity will not recruit his own children.”17
Martin Fletcher interviewed the parents of the 15-year-old stopped at the Hawara checkpoint. His parents expressed their anger at the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’’ Brigades, calling its operatives criminals and saying that Allah would punish them. The correspondent spoke with the boy and read him a letter from his mother asking him to confess and to give Israel all the information in his possession about the men who had sent him.18
Whenever the use of children in terror operations provokes an outcry, the terrorist groups either claim ignorance or promise never to do it again. Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority does nothing to stop the recruitment of children or to dismantle the organizations responsible for drafting them in their terror war.
“Palestinian women are becoming suicide bombers because of their commitment to ‘liberate’ Palestine.”
It may be that some Palestinian women share the ideology of the terrorists who believe that blowing up innocent men, women, and children will achieve their political objective, but many others are being blackmailed into carrying out suicide attacks by sadistic and manipulative Palestinian men.
More than 20 Palestinian women have engaged in suicide attacks and the terrorist organizations that recruit them do so in part because they believe women will generate less suspicion, and that Israeli soldiers will be more reticent to search them.
Some of the women have been convinced to engage in terrorist attacks to rehabilitate their reputations in their community if they have acquired a bad name or done something to bring shame upon their family. Shame is a powerful force in Arab society, and women who are promiscuous, engage in adultery, become pregnant out of wedlock, or behave in other ways deemed improper may be ostracized or severely punished (e.g., husbands may kill wives who shamed them in so-called “honor crimes”).
Terrorist organizations have used emotional blackmail against these often vulnerable women to convince them that by carrying out a suicide attack against Jews, they may restore their honor or that of their family. Israeli intelligence declassified a report that said Fatah operatives went so far as to seduce women and then, after they became pregnant, used their condition to blackmail them into committing heinous crimes. The report cited two specific cases, one involved a 21-year-old from Bethlehem who blew herself up in the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem, killing six and wounding more than 60, and the other was an 18-year-old from the Dehaishe refugee camp who blew up a Jerusalem supermarket and killed two people and wounded 22 others.20
These examples show the merciless way Palestinian terrorists treat not only their victims, but their own people.
“Palestinians interested in peace and preventing terror are respected and allowed freedom of speech by the Palestinian Authority.”
One of the principal deterrents to speaking out against Palestinian irredentism and terror in the Palestinian Authority is the threat of being murdered. By the end of the first intifada in the early 1990s, more Palestinians were killed by their fellow Palestinians than died in clashes with Israeli security forces. During the Palestinian War, intimidation and murder have again been used to muzzle dissent. Usually those seeking peace or an end to terror are labeled “collaborators” and, if they are lucky, arrested by the Palestinian Authority. The unlucky ones are murdered, often in grisly and public ways, such as stringing them up from lamp posts in public squares to send the message that a similar fate awaits anyone who dares cross those seeking Israel’s destruction.
A Palestinian need not be interested in peace to become a target of violence; one need only express opposition or offer a challenge to the ruling Fatah party. For example, after student elections at Bir Zeit University in Ramallah resulted in the Islamic Bloc of Hamas and Islamic Jihad receiving more votes than Fatah, Palestinian security forces and members of Fatah attacked members of the Islamic groups and their supporters. Security forces opened fire on the crowd and wounded more than 100 students.21 When the president of the Gaza-based National Institute of Strategic Studies, Riad al-Agha, criticized the Palestinian security forces on Palestine TV for failing to impose law and order after Israel’s disengagement, he was arrested.22[FN, Khaled Abu Toameh, “PA arrests academic voicing criticism,” Jerusalem Post, (July 4, 2005).]
There are no exact figures for the number of Palestinians killed in the internecine war; however, Amnesty International reported that “scores of Palestinians” had been unlawfully killed and that the PA “consistently failed to investigate these killings and none of the perpetrators was brought to justice.”23 The Independent Commission for Human Rights, a Palestinian organization that monitors slayings of Palestinians by Palestinians, recorded 43 such murders in 2002; 56 in 2003, and 93 in 2004. By October, 151 Palestinians had already been killed in 2005, more than had died in clashes with Israeli troops.24 [ADD FN Mohammed Daraghmeh, “Palestinian Vigilante Killings on the Rise,” AP, (October 6, 2005).]
“Israel uses excessive force to respond to children who are just throwing stones.”
Palestinians, young and old, attack Israeli civilians and soldiers with a variety of weapons. When they throw stones, they are not pebbles, but large rocks that can and do cause serious injuries.
Typically, Israeli troops under attack have numbered fewer than 20, while their assailants, armed with Molotov cocktails, pistols, assault rifles, machine guns, hand grenades and explosives, have numbered in the hundreds. Moreover, mixed among rock throwers have been Palestinians, often policemen, armed with guns. Faced with an angry, violent mob, Israeli police and soldiers often have no choice but to defend themselves by firing rubber bullets and, in life-threatening situations, live ammunition.
The use of live-fire by the Palestinians has effectively meant that Israeli forces have had to remain at some distance from those initiating the violence. In addition, the threat of force against Israelis has been a threat of lethal force. Both factors have inhibited the use of traditional methods of riot control.
According to the rules of engagement for Israeli troops in the territories, the use of weapons is authorized solely in life-threatening situations or, subject to significant limitations, in the exercise of the arrest of an individual suspected of having committed a grave security offense. In all cases, IDF activities have been governed by an overriding policy of restraint, the requirement of proportionality and the necessity to take all possible measures to prevent harm to innocent civilians.
Meanwhile, the Palestinians escalated their violent attacks against Israelis by using mortars and anti-tank missiles illegally smuggled into the Gaza Strip. The Palestinian Authority has also been stockpiling weapons smuggled into Gaza by sea and underground tunnels linked to Egypt.
The possession and use of these weapons and other arms by the Palestinians violates commitments they made in various agreements with Israel. Under the Oslo accords, the only weapons allowed in the Palestinian-controlled areas are handguns, rifles and machine guns, and these are to be held only by PA security officers.25
The number of Palestinian casualties in clashes is regrettable, but it is important to remember that no Palestinian would be in any danger or risk injury if they were not waging a terror campaign. If children were in school or at home with their families, rather than throwing rocks in the streets, they too would have little to fear. And children throw more than rocks. Abu Mazen, revealed that children are paid to carry out terrorist attacks against Israel. He told a Jordanian newspaper that “at least 40 children in Rafah lost arms from the throwing of Bangalore torpedoes [explosive charges]. They received five shekels [approximately $1.00] in order to throw them.”26
Also, while the number of Palestinians who have died is greater than the number of Israelis, that should not minimize the traumatic loss of life on the Israeli side. Contrary to Palestinian assertions that they are fighting a war against armed forces, fewer than one-third of the Israelis that have been killed were soldiers. In 2004, Palestinians successfully carried out 15 suicide attacks and Israeli security forces thwarted 367 others.27
It is also worth cConsidering how police
in the United States and other nations react to mob
violence. Abuses do sometimes occur when police are
under attack, but no one expects them to stand by
and allow their lives to be put in danger to assuage
international opinion. In fact, the PA
It is only Israelis who are denied their right to self-defense or see it used as a propaganda weapon against them.
“The shooting of a child being protected by his father shown on TV proves Israel does not hesitate to kill innocent Palestinian children.”
Perhaps the most vivid image of the Palestinian War was the film of a Palestinian father trying unsuccessfully to shield his son from gunfire. Israel was universally blamed for the death of 12-year-old Mohammed Aldura, but subsequent investigations found that the boy was most likely killed by Palestinian bullets.
The father and son took cover adjacent to a Palestinian shooting position at the Netzarim junction in the Gaza Strip. After Palestinian policemen fired from this location and around it toward an IDF position opposite, IDF soldiers returned fire toward the sources of the shooting. During the exchanges of fire, the Palestinian child was hit and killed.
Contrary to the conventional belief that the footage of the incident was live, it was actually edited before it was broadcast around the world. Though a number of cameramen were in the area, only one, a Palestinian working for France 2, recorded the shooting. Raw footage of the day shows a far more complex picture of what was taking place and raised questions about the universal assumption that Israel had killed the boy.
An IDF investigation of the incident released November 27, 2000, found that Aldura was most likely killed by a Palestinian policeman and not by IDF fire. This report was confirmed by an independent investigation by German ARD Television, which said the footage of Aldura’s death was censored by the Palestinians to look as if he had been killed by the Israelis when, in fact, his death was caused by Palestinian gunfire.30
James Fallows revisited the story and found that “the physical evidence of the shooting was in all ways inconsistent with shots coming from the IDF outpost.” In addition, he cites a number of unanswered questions, which have led some to conclude the whole incident was staged. For example, Fallows asks, “Why is there no footage of the boy after he was shot? Why does he appear to move in his father’s lap, and to clasp a hand over his eyes after he is supposedly dead? Why is one Palestinian policeman wearing a Secret Service-style earpiece in one ear? Why is another Palestinian man shown waving his arms and yelling at others, as if ‘directing’ a dramatic scene? Why does the funeral appear — based on the length of shadows — to have occurred before the apparent time of the shooting? Why is there no blood on the father’s shirt just after they are shot? Why did a voice that seems to be that of the France 2 cameraman yell, in Arabic, ‘The boy is dead’ before he had been hit? Why do ambulances appear instantly for seemingly everyone else and not for al-Dura?”31
More recently, Denis Jeambar, editor-in-chief of the French news weekly l’Express, and filmmaker Daniel Leconte, a producer and owner of the film company Doc en Stock, saw raw, unedited video of the shooting and said the boy could not have been shot by Israeli soldiers. “The only ones who could hit the child were the Palestinians from their position. If they had been Israeli bullets, they would be very strange bullets because they would have needed to go around the corner.” France 2 claimed that the gunshots that struck al-Durra were bullets that ricocheted off the ground, but Leconte dismissed the argument. “It could happen once, but that there should be eight or nine of them, which go around a corner?”32
Despite the growing body of evidence that the report was inaccurate, France 2 refuses to retract the story.
“Israel’s use of F-16 fighter jets typifies the disproportionate use of force applied by Israel against innocent Palestinian civilians.”
How do you determine the proportionate use of military force? When Palestinian terrorists plant bombs at Israeli shopping malls and kill and maim dozens of civilians, would the proportionate response be for Israelis to plant bombs in Palestinian malls? No one in Israel believes this would be a legitimate use of force. Thus, Israel is left with the need to take measured action against specific targets in an effort to either deter Palestinian violence or stop it.
In the specific case of Israel’s use of F-16s, Major General Giora Eiland, Head of the IDF Operation Branch, explained Israel’s reasoning:
Israel’s deployment of the fighters came after 88 Israelis had already lost their lives, including 55 civilians. The civilians were not killed accidentally, they were deliberately targeted. In the previous two-and-a-half months, Palestinians had attempted to place 28 bombs inside Israel. The F-16 attack came in direct response to one that exploded at a Netanya shopping mall May 18, 2001, killing five Israelis.
A month before deploying the F-16s, the U.S. State Department accused Israel of an “excessive and disproportionate” response to Palestinian violence when it launched air strikes against targets in Gaza, even though the spokesman admitted the retaliation was “precipitated by the provocative Palestinian mortar attacks on Israel.”35 The U.S. position is ironic given the so-called Powell Doctrine enunciated by Secretary of State Colin Powell, which holds that “America should enter fights with every bit of force available or not at all.”36 Consider a few examples of the application of this doctrine:
The United States has not hesitated to use overwhelming force against its adversaries, even though the threats have been distant and in no way posed a danger to the existence of the nation or the immediate security of its citizens. While U.S. military objectives were accomplished, they also were routinely accompanied by errors and collateral damage that resulted in the loss of civilian lives.
Israel is in a different position. The threat it faces is immediate in time and physical proximity, and poses a direct danger to Israeli citizens. Still, Israel has not used its full might as the Powell Doctrine dictates. The use of force has been judicious and precise. In those instances where mistakes occur — as inevitably happens in war — the incidents are investigated.
The bottom line is that Israel would have no need to respond with military force if the Palestinians were not attacking its citizens and soldiers. MYTH
“Israel’s policy of assassinating Palestinian terrorists is immoral and counterproductive.”
Israel is faced with a nearly impossible situation in attempting to protect its civilian population from Palestinians who are prepared to blow themselves up to murder innocent Jews. One strategy for dealing with the problem has been to pursue negotiations to resolve all of the conflicts with the Palestinians and offer to trade land for peace. After Israel gave back much of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and offered virtually all of the remainder, however, the Palestinians chose to use violence to try to force Israel to capitulate to all their demands.
A second strategy is for Israel to “exercise restraint,” that is, not respond to Palestinian terror. The international community lauds Israel when it turns the other cheek after heinous attacks. While this restraint might win praise from world leaders, it does nothing to assuage the pain of the victims or to prevent further attacks. Moreover, the same nations that urge Israel to exercise control have often reacted forcefully when put in similar situations. For example, the British assassinated Nazis after World War II and targeted IRA terrorists in Northern Ireland. The Clinton Administration attempted to assassinate Osama bin Laden in 1998 in retaliation for his role in the bombings of the United States embassies in Tanzania and Kenya. The Administration of George W. Bush has said it also would not hesitate to kill bin Laden and has targeted a number of other al-Qaeda operatives.41On November 4, 2002, for example, the United States killed six suspected al-Qaeda members in Yemen with a Hellfire missile fired from an unmanned CIA drone at the car in which they were traveling.42
In April 1986, after the U.S. determined that Libya had directed the terrorist bombing of a West Berlin discotheque that killed one American and injured 200 others, it launched a raid on a series of Libyan targets, including President Muammar Qaddafi’s home. Qaddafi escaped, but his infant daughter was killed and two of his other children were wounded. In addition, a missile went off track and caused fatalities in a civilian neighborhood. President Reagan justified the action as self-defense against Libya’s state-sponsored terrorism. “As a matter of self-defense, any nation victimized by terrorism has an inherent right to respond with force to deter new acts of terror. I felt we must show Qaddafi that there was a price he would have to pay for that kind of behavior and that we wouldn’t let him get away with it.” 43 More recently, George W. Bush ordered “hits” on the Iraqi political leadership during the 2003 war in Iraq.
Israel has chosen a third option – eliminating the masterminds of terror attacks. It is a policy that is supported by a vast majority of the public (70 percent in an August 2001 Haaretz poll supported the general policy and a similar percentage in 2003 specifically backed the attempt to kill the leader of Hamas). The policy is also supported by the American public according to an August 2001 poll by the America Middle East Information Network. The survey found that 73 percent of respondents felt Israel was justified in killing terrorists if it had proof they were planning bombings or other attacks that could kill Israelis.44
Then Deputy Chief of Staff Major-General Moshe Ya’alon explained the policy this way:
The Israeli government also went through a legal process before adopting the policy of targeted killings. Israel’s attorney general reviewed the policy and determined that it is legal under Israeli and international law.46
Targeting the terrorists has a number of benefits. First, it places a price on terror: Israelis can’t be attacked with impunity anymore, for terrorists know that if they target others, they will become targets themselves. Second, it is a method of self-defense: pre-emptive strikes eliminate the people who would otherwise murder Israelis. While it is true that there are others to take their place, they can do so only with the knowledge they too will become targets, and leaders are not easily replaceable. Third, it throws the terrorists off balance. Extremists can no longer nonchalantly plan an operation; rather, they must stay on the move, look over their shoulders at all times, and work much harder to carry out their goals.
Of course, the policy also has costs. Besides international condemnation, Israel risks revealing informers who often provide the information needed to find the terrorists. Soldiers also must engage in sometimes high-risk operations that occasionally cause tragic collateral damage to property and persons.
The most common criticism of “targeted killings” is that they do no good because they perpetuate a cycle of violence whereby the terrorists seek revenge. This is probably the least compelling argument against the policy, because the people who blow themselves up to become martyrs could always find a justification for their actions. They are determined to bomb the Jews out of the Middle East and will not stop until their goal is achieved.
“Israel indiscriminately murders terrorists and Palestinian civilians.”
It is always a tragedy when innocent civilians are killed in a counterterrorism operation. Civilians would not be at risk, however, if the Palestinian Authority arrested the terrorists, the murderers did not choose to hide among noncombatants and the civilians refused to protect the killers.
Israel does not attack Palestinian areas indiscriminately. On the contrary, the IDF takes great care to target people who are planning terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians. Israeli forces have a history of accuracy in such assaults, nevertheless, mistakes are sometimes made. Whereas the terrorists make no apology for their attacks on civilians, and purposely target them, Israel always investigates the reasons for any errors and takes steps to prevent them from reoccurring.
Israel is not alone in using military force against terrorists or in sometimes inadvertently harming people who are not targets. For example, on the same day that American officials were condemning Israel because a number of civilians died when Israel assassinated a leader of Hamas, news reports disclosed that the United States bombed a village in Afghanistan in an operation directed at a Taliban leader that instead killed 48 Afghan civilians at a wedding party. In both cases, flawed intelligence played a role in the tragic mistakes.
The terrorists themselves do not care about the lives of innocent Palestinians and are ultimately responsible for any harm that comes to them. The terrorists’ behavior is a violation of international law, specifically Article 51 of the 1977 amendment to the 1949 Geneva Conventions, which prohibits the use of civilians to “shield, favor or impede military operations.”48
“Israel perpetrated a massacre in the Jenin refugee camp in April 2002.”
Secretary of State Colin Powell concisely refuted Palestinian claims that Israel was guilty of atrocities in Jenin. “I see no evidence that would support a massacre took place.”50 Powell’s view was subsequently confirmed by the United Nations, Human Rights Watch and an investigation by the European Union.51
The Palestinians repeatedly claimed that a massacre had been committed in the days immediately following the battle. Spokesman Saeb Erekat, for example, told CNN on April 17 that at least 500 people were massacred and 1,600 people, including women and children, were missing. The Palestinians quickly backpedaled when it became clear they could not produce any evidence to support the scurrilous charge, and their own review committee reported a death toll of 56, of whom 34 were combatants. No women or children were reported missing.52
Israel did not arbitrarily choose to raid the refugee camp in Jenin. It had little choice after a series of suicide bombings had terrorized Israeli civilians for the preceding 18 months. To defend itself and bring about hope for peace, Israeli forces went into Jenin to root out one of the principal terrorist bases.
The Palestinian Authority’s own documents call Jenin the “suiciders capital.” The camp has a long history as a base for extremists, and no less than 28 suicide attacks were launched from this terror nest during the wave of violence that preceded Israel’s action. These terrorists violated the cease-fire agreed to by Israel and undermined Israeli efforts to resume political negotiations toward a peace agreement.
Palestinian snipers targeted soldiers from a girls’ school, a mosque, and a UNRWA building and, in returning fire and pursuing terrorists, some noncombatants were hit. Any civilian casualty is a tragedy, but some were unavoidable because Palestinian terrorists used civilians as shields. The majority of casualties were gunmen.
While Israel could have chosen to bomb the entire camp, the strategy employed by the U.S. in Afghanistan, the IDF deliberately chose a riskier path to reduce the likelihood of endangering civilians. Soldiers went house to house and 23 were killed in bitter combat with Palestinian terrorists using bombs, grenades, booby-traps and machine guns to turn the camp into a war zone.
Also, contrary to media reports, Israel had “carefully worked out ambulance evacuation routes with local Jenin medical officials and the International Red Cross.”54 Israel also kept the hospital running in Jenin. Lt. Col. Fuad Halhal, the Druze commander of the district coordinating body for the IDF, personally delivered a generator to the hospital under fire during the military operation.55
Television pictures gave a distorted perspective of the damage in the camp as well. Jenin was not destroyed. The Israeli operation was conducted in a limited area of the refugee camp, which itself comprises a small fraction of the city. The destruction that did occur in the camp was largely caused by Palestinian bombs.
Palestinians have learned from fabricating atrocity stories in the past that a false claim against Israel will get immediate media attention and attract sympathy for their cause. The corrections that inevitably follow these specious charges are rarely seen, read, or noticed.
“Rachel Corrie was murdered by Israel while she was peacefully protesting against the illegal demolition of a Palestinian home.”
American Rachel Corrie was killed in the Gaza Strip on March 16, 2003, when she entered an area where Israeli forces were carrying out a military operation. The incident occurred while IDF forces were removing shrubbery along the security road near the border between Israel and Egypt at Rafah to uncover explosive devices, and destroying tunnels used by Palestinian terrorists to illegally smuggle weapons from Egypt to Gaza. Corrie was not demonstrating for peace or trying to shield innocent civilians, she was interfering with a military operation to legally demolish an empty house used to conceal one of these tunnels.
A misleading photo published by the Associated Press gave the impression that Corrie was standing in front of the bulldozer and shouting at the driver with a megaphone, trying to prevent the driver from tearing down a building in the refugee camp. This photo, which was taken by a member of Corrie’s organization, was not shot at the time of her death, however, but hours earlier. The photographer said that Corrie was actually sitting and waving her arms when she was struck.56
Israel’s Judge Advocate’s Office investigated the incident and concluded that the driver of the bulldozer never saw or heard Corrie because she was standing behind debris that obstructed the view of the driver whose field of view was limited by the small armored windows of his cab. An autopsy found that the cause of Corrie’s death was falling debris.58
The State Department warned Americans not to travel to Gaza, and Israel made clear that civilians who enter areas where troops are engaged in counter-terror operations put themselves unnecessarily at risk.
This was not the first time protestors have tried to obstruct Israeli operations, but the and the IDF has made every effort to avoid harming them. This case received worldwide publicity in large measure because it was the first such incident where a protestor was killed. In fact, the army had told Corrie and other demonstrators from the anti-Israel International Solidarity Movement (ISM) to move out of the way. “It’s possible they [the protesters] were not as disciplined as we would have liked,” admitted Thom Saffold, a founder and organizer of ISM.59 It is also possible Rachel Corrie was doing just what ISM placed her there to do. The International Solidarity Movement was spawned, largely funded and directly supervised by the PLO. American members of the organization are trained and funded by the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee. Though ISM touts non-violence, in practice, it does the opposite by organizing riots by the security fences between Gaza and Israel every Friday. In the words of a spokesperson for the California ISM on al-Jazeera: “We recognize that violence is necessary and it is permissible for oppressed and occupied people to use armed resistance and we recognize their right to do so.”59a
The death of an innocent civilian is always tragic, and the best way to avoid such tragedies in the future is, first and foremost, by Hamas putting an end to terror, and stopping the smuggling operations that have brought huge quantities of illegal weapons into the Gaza Strip. Activists interested in peace should be protesting the Palestinian actions. Activists also have every right to express their views about Israel’s policies, but they should take care to avoid the appearance of siding with the terrorists or placing themselves in positions where they could be inadvertently caught in the crossfire of a counter-terror operation or otherwise endangered by entering an area where military operations are being conducted.
“Israel poisoned Yasser Arafat.”
Farouk Kaddoumi claimed that Israel poisoned Yasser Arafat because it wants Palestinian leaders who obey it and agree with its policies.61 This was just the most recent of a number of such allegations that have persisted since Arafat’s death.
We don’t know for sure what killed Arafat, but even then Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath ruled out poisoning.62 At the time of his death, the French government, constrained by privacy laws, discounted the possibility of foul play when it announced, “If the doctors had had the slightest doubt, they would have referred it to the police.”63 Moreover, members of Arafat’s family, including ones who have made the poisoning charge, have had access to the records and produced nothing to substantiate the rumors. Arafat’s wife, Suha, could have released the findings of French physicians, and you can be sure she would have done so if they would have implicated Israel in her husband’s death.
*The war was never formally declared, but began in September 2000 with a surge of Palestinian terrorist attacks in Israel. The war also had no formal ending resulting in a cease-fire or peace agreement. The Israeli Defense Forces succeeded in suppressing the violence to the point where the war had petered out by the end of September 2005.
1Jerusalem Post, (March 4, 2001).
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