Two Palestinian terrorists stabbed and moderately injured a member of Israel’s Kfir brigade in Hevron Thursday. One was killed immediately; the other was lying wounded on the ground.
Some time later the wounded terrorist was killed by a shot to the head by another soldier. This was caught on video by several witnesses. The soldier has been arrested and may be charged with murder, on the grounds that the terrorist was already ‘neutralized’ and no danger to anyone. The soldier argues that the terrorist was moving (this is visible on the video) and that he believed that he was wearing a suicide belt which he could have detonated at any moment.
On a second video, recorded some time before the shooting, a voice is heard ordering that no one (medical personnel were present) should touch the terrorist until the demolition expert arrives, since he may be wearing a suicide belt. The terrorist is seen wearing a heavy jacket on a hot day, which supports the soldier’s defense.
Some Israeli politicians, including the Prime Minister and the Minister of Defense have made statements sharply critical of the shooting. PM Netanyahu said that what occurred “didn’t represent the values of the IDF.”
Several officers who were present have been reprimanded for not ensuring that the terrorist received prompt medical attention.
Those are the facts in broad outline.
I want to look at this from several points of view. First, as it relates to the demonization of the IDF, which has been accused of ‘executing’ Palestinians and even planting knives on their bodies to justify killing them. Second, the moral aspect.
Now that the soldier has been arrested – and his supporters say, tried by politicians in the media – there are two possible outcomes, both bad. He can be convicted and punished severely, in which case those who claim that the IDF murders Palestinians will be vindicated, and the ‘fact’ that the IDF kills terrorists after they have ceased being a threat will become part of the conventional wisdom. Or, he could be exonerated or only lightly punished, in which case they will say that a corrupt system has whitewashed a clear case of murder.
Need I say that the officials who made public statements based on the initial video should have known better? It isn’t the first time: when 12 year old Muhammad al-Dura was allegedly shot by IDF soldiers in September 2000, the IDF was quick to apologize. Later it turned out that the incident was probably the most damaging case of a ‘Pallywood’ production ever; al-Dura was probably not shot at all by anyone, and could not possibly have been shot by the IDF.
It seems that some of our leadership is so concerned about Israel’s image in foreign media that they tend to jump at the chance to agree that we are as bad as they say we are and beg forgiveness. It should be obvious that this is a losing strategy.
It’s also necessary to blame the foreign-funded B’Tselem NGO which publicized the video and inflamed the Israeli and foreign media. Had they simply turned it over to the army the incident would have been investigated and the soldier punished (or not). B’Tselem insured that it would become an international scandal.
The moral aspects of the case are more interesting. If the soldier had good reason to believe that the wounded terrorist had a suicide belt or weapon under his heavy jacket and was capable of using it, then he would have been justified in shooting. I expect that this will be discussed and re-discussed in the near future. But what if he didn’t believe this? Is there any way in which his action could be justified? IDF rules of engagement say no. According to protocol, once a terrorist is neutralized, he should be given medical treatment, not killed.
I think rules of engagement like this are a mistake. I think that we (the West) have adopted an inappropriate set of moral standards. Let me explain.
Everyone knows that moral judgments are different from factual ones, which can be compared to reality as we experience it. Moral judgments are based on standards that a culture develops in an evolutionary way, and different cultures develop different standards. What is admirable for an ISIS fighter may not be acceptable for an American or an Israeli. This doesn’t mean that the various standards and cultures are equal – some of them produce happiness and reduce suffering, while others do the opposite.
Moral rules have some limitations. A moral system becomes incoherent when following it leads to the destruction of the culture that created it. A moral rule that forbade having children could not be maintained – either the rule would be disobeyed or the culture that promulgated it would disappear.
Western culture and its moral systems have changed greatly in the decades after WWII, in part as a result of the trauma of the two world wars. Suddenly nationalism or any kind of ethnic particularism are looked at as dangerous and evil. Tolerance and appreciation of other cultures, even when their mores and behavior place them in opposition to our moral principles, is good. ‘Racism’, defined as oppression of one culture by another (and there are specific rules about who can be an oppressor and who a victim) is the greatest sin.
Part of this revolution in thinking is a wholly new way of looking at conflict, which would have been incomprehensible in years past. The idea is that conflict is simply a result of imperfect communication and lack of empathy; and that therefore the best response to an attack is to prevent the attacker from hurting you while hurting him as little as possible. Meanwhile, a solution has to come from improving communication which will inevitably lead to understanding of each side’s point of view and thence to successful compromise.
While this might make sense (sometimes) within a Western culture, it often fails when we confront a different culture. For example, how can we ‘understand’ the radical Islamist’s belief that the only morally acceptable options for a Jew or Christian are to convert to Islam, accept dhimmitude, or die? How can we empathize or walk in his shoes, so to speak?
Nevertheless, we have developed a set of international institutions – the UN is a primary example – that are based on this concept, and a set of rules for behavior as well. Both the institutions and rules fail when they are applied to cultures that do not accept their basic premises.
In particular, rules of warfare based on the behavior of relatively civilized nations give an advantage to those who fight by violating them. Such groups deliberately attack civilian populations, use their own as human shields and seek to terrorize their enemies with an excess of brutality. Indeed, the various jihadist organizations have carefully studied the West and its moral principles and have developed a system of warfare that exploits them to negate the West’s technological, organizational and logistic superiority.
The Islamic jihad against the West has not been taken as seriously as it should because of the relative lack of technological sophistication of its weapons (at least, until Iran’s nuclear development bears fruit). Instead of total war in which the combatants enlist the greater part of their economies and build huge well-equipped armies, today’s conflict is of lower intensity. But unlike the great wars of the 20th century in which the sides were exhausted after a few years, it will go on for decades.
Some of the jihad’s best strategic offensives haven’t even been strictly military. The recent successful invasion of Europe is an important battle that the jihad has won, even if the West doesn’t realize it yet. A great part of the reason for its success is that it is taking advantage of a moral code in which migrants – invaders – are provided with benefits instead of being expelled.
Western moral principles in general, and the view of conflict that we have based our rules of engagement upon, have turned out to be what I called incoherent. If we follow them, they will lead to the destruction of our culture, just as surely as if we made it immoral to have children. They are therefore not acceptable guides for behavior.
In order to survive, we must adopt a different world-view, one that – just as a small example – embraces the Talmudic principle that “when they rise up to kill you, come and kill them first” and rejects the idea that “terrorists are people too.”
Survival will require a more particularistic world-view in which our culture is considered more worthy of continuing than theirs. In this view, enemies are enemies, people to fight, not empathize with. If they try to kill our civilian populations, we must kill theirs too. Deterrence comes from fear, and fear is created by disproportionate responses, not offers to surrender territory. Honor – a concept that has been all but forgotten by the West – is of supreme importance to the jihadists, and we must maintain ours. A man or a nation without honor becomes a target. Killing terrorists who have tried to murder our people, whether on the spot (preferable) or with a sure and speedy death penalty, is a way of preserving our honor.
This kind of moral system is not barbarism. It was commonly accepted several decades ago, and would have been recognized by Churchill, Roosevelt, Eisenhower and Thatcher. The ‘evolution’ of what we call morality since their day, which has brought us multiculturalism, post-colonialism, the insane political correctness in our universities, the UN Human Rights Commission, B’Tselem and Peace Now, has failed to stand against the assault of the Islamic jihad. It will not protect our culture, but rather will lead to its destruction at the hands of the true barbarians at our gates.
It’s time for a massive rethinking. Is it even possible that the West can turn itself around, can re-embrace the values that defeated Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan? And can it change attitudes and behavior in time to save itself? I have no idea.
But I suggest we start here in Israel by dropping the charges against the soldier who simply did the job of every soldier from the beginning of warfare: he killed the enemy.