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Sharon’s War on Terrorism

August 28, 2001

You can believe that Zionism is racism, that the state of Israel is tyrannical, that the Palestinians have been deeply wronged, that armed resistance against the Jewish state is entirely justified, and much else.

But however deeply you believe all this, you still have to be horrified when a bomb in a pizza joint kills 20 people. “Terrorism” is a feeble and inadequate word for such a sickening act. And there have been too many such acts.

In response, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has announced and begun to execute a policy of state assassination, killing suspected instigators of terrorism. No arrests, no trials, no formalities or niceties. Israeli forces — nobody is calling them “death squads,” for some reason — just single out those the government decides to hold responsible for terrorism and kill them. Monday they fired missiles into the office of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and killed Mustafa Zibri, a senior Palestinian leader.

Such discretionary killing by a state is obviously troubling. One reason for holding trials is to ensure justice for the accused; another is to present evidence to assure the public that the government is not acting arbitrarily. This is especially important when the government considers itself at war with a whole ethnic group, as Sharon’s government does.

Sharon has few scruples when it comes to non-Jews. He considers that the disputed land of Israel/Palestine belongs exclusively to Jews and he has never said what rights, if any, the Palestinians have. He feels justified in doing whatever is necessary to consolidate Jewish power over the land claimed by Israel, including the occupied territories. He neither recognizes Palestinian rights nor admits limits on Jewish rights.

[Breaker quote: But is it good for 
the Americans?]It was predictable, then, that he would react with little restraint to the recent atrocities. His defenders, even in the American press, say he has no choice but to target suspected terrorist leaders for death, even if innocent people are killed in the process. The trouble is that for Sharon and his defenders suspected terrorist leaders is a very broad category.

By their logic, Yasser Arafat, head of the Palestinian Authority, would qualify. They hold him responsible for the atrocities. There is no evidence that he favors these acts or could control them if he wanted to, since many Palestinian militants despise him as a quisling and homemade explosives used by suicide bombers are beyond his reach. But who’s splitting hairs? In his own mind, and by the logic of his partisans, Sharon would be fully justified in killing Arafat himself.

Is Sharon really trying to stop terrorism, or is he using terrorism as an excuse for killing off the Palestinian leadership? Given his ideology and his record, we are entitled to suspect that he sees an opportunity to rid himself of his enemies without having to justify himself in court. War nearly always serves as an occasion for serious expansions of state power and the destruction of legal protections.

A further problem is that these state assassinations aren’t being enacted with homemade bombs; they employ American-made missiles, jets, helicopters, and other weapons, which are supposed to be used only for defense against foreign attack. When Sharon attacks his enemies, he makes still more enemies for this country.

This is why American interests are at stake in the endless Middle East conflict. The United States is Israel’s chief benefactor; it doesn’t follow that Israel is a “reliable ally” of the United States, as its partisans claim.

Yet American politicians are rarely candid about the stakes for this country. They may sometimes shake their heads over Israeli “excesses” and even murmur about Palestinian rights, but they almost never discuss the price the United States pays in international hostility, even when Americans become the targets of terrorism.

Israel’s journalistic “amen corner” here unremittingly defends its harshest treatment of Palestinians and its military strikes against its neighbors. Even if all these acts were morally justifiable, the question would remain: What’s in it for America? Why should we be enmeshed in a bitter ethnic struggle on the other side of the globe?

The United States has sacrificed its interests and betrayed its principles in its support of the state of Israel. The policy may be bad for the country, but it seems to be lucrative for our politicians.

Joseph Sobran

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Reprinted with permission
Copyright © 2001 by the Griffin Internet Syndicate,
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