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October 23, 2015 4:22 am

What is the Right Moral Response to Palestinian Terror?

avatar by Jeremy Rosen

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13-year-old Jerusalem stabber Ahmed Manasra.  Photo: Screenshot

13-year-old Jerusalem stabber Ahmed Manasra. Photo: Screenshot

The painful scenes from Israel of young Arab men and women killing men, women and children randomly is all the more depressing, because most of them are not the products of poverty or unemployment. On the contrary, they are products of what we might call the “middle class.”

The problem is that they have all been given an education that has conditioned them to hate. I accept that anyone suffering from “occupation” will feel profound animosity, and I blame the political leadership on both sides for perpetuating a situation where neither side has a leader willing to do what it takes to really strive for a solution. It is equally clear that no matter what the rest of the world might say or do, no one will succeed in imposing a solution from outside.

Jews are subjected to constant Internet reminders of Muslim hate preachers inciting violence and murder in Israel, and encouraging their followers to attack Jews wherever they are. And Arab audiences can see the smaller number of Israeli extremists calling for crude retaliation. I have no doubt that the majority on both sides detests violence and wants to find a way of living in peace and dignity.

I am not concerned here with the morality of the Palestinian position. That is their problem. They need to wake up to the fact that they have a sick preoccupation with martyrdom and death. Neither do I give a fig for biased opinions that cannot tolerate the very idea of a Jewish state capable of defending itself.

As a rule, Israelis are constrained by moral laws, even if there are some who ignore them. Without an agreed peace treaty, conflict is inevitable. The judicial system allows attackers their day in court. Earlier this week, the three terrorists who pelted the car of Alexander Levlovitz with rocks on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, leading to his death, were found guilty of manslaughter — not murder. Israel even takes its attackers into its hospitals. It is not uncommon for Palestinian bombers, fighters or assailants shot, mid-stabbing spree, to lie just a few beds down from the civilians they’ve just tried to butcher.

It is right that there is a debate on the moral issues among Israeli Jews. What do you do when an Arab knife-wielder has severely injured Israeli civilians (or soldiers for that matter), is then shot and disabled and needs treatment to survive? First medical responders either come from Magen David Adom (MDA), which is predominantly secular, and ZAKA, which is haredi. MDA policy is to decide who is most severely injured and give that person priority, regardless of whether they are the aggressor or the victim. ZAKA, which collects and identifies body parts and tissue, says Jewish lives come first. On this issue, I side with ZAKA. Victims should always be given priority over attackers.

But there’s another debate, this time between two rabbis. One, Rav David Stav, represents the middle, moderate ground of religious opinion. The other, Rav Shmuel Eliyahu, is typical of right-wing ultra-nationalists.

The question was asked of Rav Eliyahu, “What if a terrorist has attacked and injured an Israeli and is disabled? Should he then be shot dead or not?” Rav Eliyahu argues that he or she should be shot dead on the grounds that, as we have seen on YouTube, even shooting a terrorist several times does not always not stop him from continuing to attack victims. Rav Eliyahu uses Jewish law to argue that self-defense requires us to remove any threat to life, even by killing. So when in doubt, kill him (or her). The trouble is that Rav Eliyahu has been guilty of dangerous, provocative statements in the past that frankly do stand comparison with Palestinian hate-preachers.

In 2007, according to a report in The Jerusalem Post, and not denied, Rav Eliyahu advocated “carpet bombing the general area from which the Kassams were launched, regardless of the price in Palestinian life.” Eliyahu is quoted saying, “If they don’t stop after we kill 100, then we must kill 1,000. And if they do not stop after 1,000 then we must kill 10,000. If they still don’t stop we must kill 100,000, even a million. Whatever it takes to make them stop.”

In March 2008, he called for “state-sanctioned revenge” against Arabs. According to Haaretz, in an article for the newsletter Eretz Yisrael Shelanu (“Our Land of Israel”), Eliyahu proposed “hanging the children of the terrorist who carried out the attack in the Mercaz Harav yeshiva from a tree.” Such language, even if one sympathizes with the pain, is unforgivable.

Compare his words with those of Rav Stav, who argues equally from a Jewish legal position that we only have an obligation to disable a terrorist, if we can.

“. . .[P]eople who are not involved in murderous activities and those who no longer pose a danger must not be harmed. The blood boils when you see Israeli Arabs, young and old, who have been making their livelihood from Jews, murdering children, soldiers, women and men indiscriminately, without any gratitude. It is precisely on such days that the strength and uniqueness of the Israeli society is put to the test.

“These days, when the boiling blood is mixed with civilian willingness and resourcefulness, it’s important to maintain our moral superiority: To avoid harming a person who is uninvolved in murderous activity, and to avoid harming those who have already been neutralized and no longer pose a danger. Harming a terrorist who has been neutralized causes double damage: The collateral damage is when these images are distributed, and the main damage is harming our moral norms. We will not stoop down to our enemies’ despicableness, and we will not contaminate ourselves with a moral breakdown.”

Some may not feel comfortable with Rav Stav’s idea of Jewish exceptionalism, but at least he cares about morality and public perception, rather than promoting crude physical aggression.

Rabbi Stav has a record of speaking out against religious narrow-mindedness, shortsightedness and primitiveness. In the past, speaking out against the refusal of the Chief Rabbinate to help facilitate conversions of non-Jewish Russians living in Israel and serving in the army, he needed police protection from right-wingers. Such is the nature of “civilized” debate in Israel. Rav Eliyahu, on the other hand, represents everything I cannot stand about extreme right-wing attitudes. They produce the vigilantism that saw groups of Israeli youths with sticks trying to get at disabled terrorists. Thankfully, the police were able to prevent them. But they couldn’t prevent an innocent Eritrean from being bludgeoned to death after being mistaken for a terrorist — nor other cases of mistaken identity. Once the dogs of terror are unloosed, reactions are inevitably raw, and one needs voices of calm, not provocation.

I know there is a strong argument to treat aggression with force, particularly where that is clearly the currency of the prevailing culture in the Middle East. But talk that dehumanizes, that encourages violence, whichever side it come from, is what makes matters worse. Because once you get used to the language and actions of aggression, it is very difficult to return to normality. Rav Eliyahu is the type of example I reject. Rav Stav’s is the one I admire. Rav Eliyahu’s diminishes; Rav Stav’s elevates.

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  • Julian Clovelley

    Terrorism is what distinguishes representative Democracy from authoritarian administrative and social structures. If we want to reduce the incidence of terrorism then we must promote the exercise of Democracy

    But to do this we need first to rid ourselves of a British Public School myth that infects middle class thinking worldwide. Democracy is NOT the product of an elitist middle class development of an Ancient Athenian structure, preserved as an ideal over two thousand years, and implemented by a benevolent bourgeois class that came out of the Renaissance city states. Modern Democracy is the product of thinking that developed in the French and American Revolutions, was taken up by the antislavery movement, and by Trade Unionism and socialism. Like it or lump it Democracy was the product of the Industrial Revolution Left

    It was developed as an alternative to Revolution and the use of violence – especially terrorist acts – to change society. The evolving Left viewed Democracy from its own position of “Social Democracy” a movement that largely split into a strongly Democratic Reformist wing and a Vanguard party wing, the latter of which came to be dominated by Lenin. Social Democracy in its entirety quickly gained the resistance and contempt of Roman Catholicism – one of history’s greatest mistakes

    Terrorism is closely linked to the vanguard party concept, the belief that social change should (or worse still can only) be brought about by a spearheading force. This concept of the use of violence rather than reason and dialogue provides the bridge between Leninism and later Stalinism – and Fascism. All three are essentially anti democratic Right wing behavioural patterns. it is across this behavioural bridge that the Socialist Mussolini crossed to become the Fascist Mussolini, who further inspired the rise of Nazism.

    The moral answer to the use of terrorism is “never”. The use of terrorism turns the left into the right and results in destruction of the reform process. It bastardises social change and always results in dictatorship. However there is a second wing to the question of morality and terrorism. It is always a mistake to give the appearance that nothing can be achieved without the use of violence. That was the dilemma that confronted the founders of Israel and confounded the Mandate Authorities. For the Democratic process to operate it must be strong and

    Modern Democracy is a mess – as president Wilson said a hundred years ago “The government, which was designed for the people, has got into the hands of the bosses and their employers, the special interests. An invisible empire has been set up above the forms of democracy.” It is far worse now. The evolution of Democracy was stillborn as early as the late nineteen twenties

    We can progress this essential bastion against terrorism again. But that requires a will to equality, a move away from racism – including the delusion of discreet special Genealogy. It needs a moving away from caste and class structures and from media dominated by them that can behave in irresponsible manners. It requires massively better education, rehabilitation and retraining standards and the establishment of minimum living standards worldwide. It requires the closing of the gap between rich and power. The Market Economy can never achieve this

    As a result of reliance on the Thatcherite Reaganite Market Economy, instead we see a pattern of alliances, corporate behaviour, imposed austerity, and trade agreements that is sending the world in the direction of a two class feudal system in which even the middle class is increasingly obliterated. It is this brutal trend that is being echoed by terrorism. If terrorism is to be rightly ruled immoral then its greatest opposition must be strengthened at every level local, national regional, international – including the ICC and the UN – and that is representative democracy

    Can political conservatism do this – understand this – I think not. and so we go round in circles – the violence continues – a new Lenin rises and takes the path to becoming a new Hitler

  • David Levavi

    “… Once the dogs of terror are unloosed…”

    Never mind rhetorical dogs. Real dogs that bite are put down. Likewise aggressive bears and mountain lions. My youngest daughter who was once a schoolgirl in Rabbi Rosen’s charge is now an archaeologist with the Israel Antiquities Authority. I just sent her belt holsters for her pickax and pointed trowel so she has them on her person at all times. If attacked, I pray she uses them to maximum effect. A wounded shahid is a sexually frustrated shahid. Best send him to his heavenly reward.

    • Los Angeles

      I hope your daughter is also getting some self-defense training, possessing implements useful for self defense is meaningless without knowledge and practice of how to use them for such.

  • Los Angeles

    The gemara says if someone is coming to kill you, rise up and kill him first, and chazal explain that this applies also if the person is coming to kill someone else or commit rape. Mr. Rosen does not appear to question the propriety of killing a terrorist who is trying to kill a Jew. However, he appears to agree with Rabbi Stav’s position that once the terrorist is rendered unable to continue the attack, the rescuer or victim should not complete the process of killing the assailant. While this position matches self-defense law in many states in the US, including California, I think it begs the halachic question. Besides the issue of a person who has been shot not dying immediately but rather getting up (and frequently attempting to continue the attack), we have seen time and time again where convicted terrorists once released from prison proceed to go right back to terrorism. And the gigantic elephant whose presence in the room is not mentioned in this article is that the Hamas charter explicitly calls for the annihilation of all Jews anywhere in the world. So I think the halachic question is: Where a shot-but-not-dead terrorist does not give any indication of repudiating his desire and intention to kill Jews, does the halacha requiring to kill him first still apply?

  • Is this article a rhetorical question

    Is this article a rhetorical question

  • steven

    History has proven that Arabs do not want peace but rather want to take over Israel and replace it with an Arab state. The time is now to reckognize that there cannot be peace with people who teach their children to be murderers the only way to deal with these animals is to kill all of them.
    I repeat to kill on sight any Arab with a knife drawn to harm a Jew.

  • DockyWocky

    Look at the title of the article. “A moral response to terror?” Like there was ever a standard civilized response to primitive barbarianism?

    There is NO possible moral response to terror other than eradicating, eliminating, and erasing those anti-humans who happily use terror as their major weapon. Trying to sanitize a moral response to absolute barbarity by couching it in terms of morality is a guaranteed loser and is fundamentally amoral.

    Who chose to use terror as their weapon? That choice condemned them. Period.

    The sooner they are wiped out, the better for everyone else.

  • Theodore “Ted” Crawford

    Target the Pally hate-preachers and schoolteachers, but especially the parents. Incitement begins in the cradle!

  • Yoel Nitzarim

    Lowering one’s standards of morality based on the cultural acceptance and even encouragement of strength over weakness should never be a choice for Israel. Israel must always choose superior moral behaviour over excessive, unrestrained physical aggression in dealing with terrorists. However, self-defense is imperative for Jews living in Israel; moreover, sometimes it is necessary to stop a murderer from committing a potential deadly act by taking a pro-active stance based on the perpetrator’s perceived body language in a life-threatening situation.

  • Dommy

    The very question betrays Judaism’s suicidal moral obtuseness.
    You don’t philosophically hand-wring over those out to slaughter you.
    You kill them.

    • Bertram Cohen

      True. Israel shows mercy to terrorists and releases them to murder again. Thus the terrorists gets better treatment than the Jewish victim. Why not fight ‘American style’ as in WWII? We firebombed entire civilian cities in Germany and Japan killing hundreds of thousands of innocent men women and children. The killing ceased when the enemy accepted unconditional surrender.

  • b. harris

    isn’t that photo the accursed 13 year old terrorist? “Don’t look at the face of a Rasha – evil person.” Please show the victims, not the Nazis, may their names be erased. As a Jewish paper, we should know better.

    May it be a Shabbat of True Peace,


  • A retail soultion on a case by case basis which resolves to individual moral dilemmas solves nothing.

    Who are those who cause middle class males to perform these atrocities?
    REMOVE THEM and save the Palestinians as well as the victims.

  • Sherlock Holmes

    When the fighting stops we have to learn to live together. No point worrying too much about the West because ‘Esav sonay es Yaakov’. Better to remember that Ishmael and Isaac came together to bury Father Abraham and to remember that G-d blessed Ishmael to be a great nation. (Genesis 17:20)