Targeted killings contradict Jewish values

The assassination of Sheik Ahmed Yassin, spiritual leader of Hamas, is just one more act in the cycle of violence that continues to prevent a negotiated settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israel, unquestionably, has the same right and obligation that all sovereign nations have to ensure the security of its citizens. Hamas, founded by Yassin, is without doubt a terrorist organization that does not recognize the right of Israel to exist on any of historic Palestine. Hamas is Israel’s sworn enemy.

But the right of self-defense does not automatically justify, morally or pragmatically, a policy of targeted assassination. Morally, I find assassination repugnant and not consistent with any Jewish values I’ve been taught. If, in fact, Yassin was guilty of leading his people in terrorism, Israel certainly has sufficient military force to re-arrest him and put him on trial, or merely hold him under administrative detention without trial (which is legal in Israel as an emergency measure).

Realistically, the question is whether targeted assassination in general and this particular target fosters Israel’s security. How will Israeli security be served any better with Yassin dead? In fact, the practical consequences of the decision to send three attack helicopters to assassinate a blind old man in a wheelchair may well be entirely negative and long-lasting.

Short term, it is virtually certain that Hamas will exact a price that Israelis will pay with their lives. The only uncertainty is when, where and who.

Long term, the assassination of a figure as revered as Yassin in the Islamic world can only contribute to the growing willingness of Palestinian youth to be suicide bombers. A new study by London psychiatrist Iyaad al-Saraj reveals the shocking fact that the fondest desire of one in four children and youth in Gaza is to die a martyr’s death at age 18. The study found that most of these children have witnessed violence first-hand and that they show severe psychological symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

The rage and insult felt today by Palestinians of all political movements, moderates included (and in the Arab world at large), will inevitably fuel the flames of violence and revenge for some time to come. This throws a major wrench into the upcoming discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Tunis by the heads of Arab states. Moderate states, like Egypt and Jordan, will have a much harder time making their case for further attempts to arrange a cease-fire.

Within the Palestinian territories, the assassination of Yassin can only increase support for Hamas and decrease support for the more moderate Palestinian Authority. In view of the proposal being developed by the Sharon government to withdraw the army and settlements from Gaza, this would hardly seem a consequence Israel would be wise to encourage. The Israeli withdrawal will inevitably create a power vacuum that Hamas will rush to fill. For all the successful fencing and patrolling, a Gaza Strip ruled by Hamas is a much more dangerous neighbor than one ruled by the Palestinian Authority.

What then did Israel’s policymakers believe would be gained from assassinating Yassin? To date, the only reason that has been offered by those who support it is that Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is punishing Hamas, and Yassin directly, for declaring the unilateral withdrawal a victory for Hamas. The pictures of Hezbollah forces celebrating the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon is still fresh in the Israeli mind.

But this is not so much a “reason” as an underlying motivation that is more a response to perceived shame than rational grounds for decision-making. The only thing that can be accomplished by stepping up the pace of military actions in the Gaza Strip is to make the Palestinians pay a high price for Israeli withdrawal. It won’t, in the end, make them any less elated to see Israel go; it will only undercut them in rising to the challenges of self-governance

The assassination of Yassin and the consequences thereof may be the first of the negative effects of Sharon’s unilateral withdrawal proposal. If so, the U.S. government needs to take it as a further warning that unless the withdrawal is carefully controlled and fully coordinated with the Palestinians and the international community, it could lead to disaster, not only for Israel but for the United States as well.

Marcia Freedman, a resident of Berkeley and Israel, is president of Brit Tzedek v’Shalom, the Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace, and a former member of Knesset.

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