Slaughtering civilians does nothing to serve the Palestinian cause
By The Daily Star
Saturday, March 08, 2008
The general right of Palestinians to resist occupation is enshrined in international law, and the specific impulse to avenge the past week's atrocities in the Gaza Strip is perfectly understandable, but those who exercise these prerogatives have a responsibility to choose targets that will not undermine their cause. Thursday night's shooting attack on a Jewish seminary in West Jerusalem, which killed eight young civilians, did not meet that standard. Its effect will be to damage the interests of the Palestinian people, including those who, like the gunman, hold Israeli identification documents.
There are contrary arguments, but none are very realistic. Some will argue that because military service is mandatory for virtually all Jewish citizens of Israel, all of them are legitimate targets. But this approach ignores the fact that the civilians in question were in a library, not waging war for the Jewish state. Others will point out that while yeshiva students like those who were killed on Thursday are commonly granted exemptions from conscription, they contribute heavily to the conflict by helping to drive the so-called "settler movement" which protects and expands Israel's illegal colonization of occupied land. But killing them only causes more Israelis to acquiesce in the evil settlement project itself - and to demand that their government refuse to accept the compromises required if peace is ever to be achieved.
There are also those who will note that whatever tactics they use and whatever targets they select, armed Arabs will always be painted as terrorists by a good number of people in Israel and many other countries, especially the United States. That prophecy is probably accurate, but there is no point in guaranteeing its fulfilment by providing convenient propaganda to those who would benefit from it. And in any event, attacking civilians only increases the likelihood of yet another round of Israeli "retaliation" that can only result in more innocent victims on the Palestinian side.
Those who want to change the world - or even a small corner of it - have to accept a few of its practical realities or watch them become even solidly more entrenched. One of these is that a dead Israeli attracts more media attention than a dead Arab. Witness the war in Lebanon in 2006, when the lopsided civilian casualties did not stop Western television stations from pursuing their dogmatic version of "balanced coverage" by simply reporting the same Israeli ones over and over and over again to accompany the never-ending stream of dead and wounded innocents here.
These and other injustices will not be remedied by pretending they do not exist or by feeding the machine that propagates them. Their decisiveness can be eroded, however, by ensuring that when resistance is called for, it is carried out in a disciplined and professional manner against genuine military personnel. Admittedly, this can restrict one's operational flexibility and even make one more vulnerable: As Hizbullah discovered even before but especially after the 1996 April Understanding that committed both the resistance and Israel's occupation forces in South Lebanon to minimizing civilian casualties, the enemy can and will use the rules to protect himself, and/or openly break them when it suits him. In the long term, though, adhering to such standards increases the credibility of what is an unshakably legitimate cause: that of defending one's own land.