The reaction to this week’s killings of two IDF soldiers showed that Israel’s moral condemnation of deliberate civilian killings is a tactic, no more.
The most powerful argument Israel makes in its campaign to paint the Palestinians as the bad guys and itself as the good guy is to point out that Palestinians deliberately kill innocent civilians, which Israel doesn’t do, at least not as policy. Although this claim conceals much more than it reveals (for example, that Israel doesn’t have to target civilians because its policy of aggression makes killing them inevitable), it is true as far as it goes. By making this claim, Israel is saying that it’s okay when it kills Palestinians, it’s okay when it kills Palestinians at a rate of 20-to-1, or 50-to-1, or 100-to-1 as in Operation Cast Lead, because Israel only aims at legitimate targets (including political leaders and “ticking infrastructure”), while the Palestinians aim at civilians (even though given the opportunity, they’d just as soon kill soldiers, probably sooner).
Another reason Israel leans so heavily on this argument about targeting civilians is to preempt discussion of whether it has the right to rule over the Palestinians. This, after all, could lead into a discussion of whether the Palestinians have the right to resist, which could lead to a discussion of what Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Shamir and their comrades did when the Jews of Palestine lived under British rule, and who wants that? Keep it simple: The Palestinians deliberately kill innocent civilians, we don’t, which is above all what makes our cause right and theirs wrong.
Yet look at the Israeli reaction this week to the killing by Palestinians of two Israeli soldiers, Sgt. Tomer Hazan and Staff Sgt. Gal Kobi. Did anybody here say, “It’s tragic, but that’s war, soldiers get killed.” Did anybody even say, “It’s evil, but not as evil as when civilians are killed.” Of course not. Nobody said it, and I doubt if anybody outside the left-wing fringe even thought it.
As far as Israel is concerned, the killings of Hazan and Kobi qualified as terrorism every bit as much as the killings of civilians, and the Palestinians who killed those two soldiers are terrorists no less than the killers of an Israeli cab driver or hiker or whomever. Here is Netanyahu after Kobi’s killing in Hebron: “We will continue to fight terrorism and strike at terrorists on the one hand and strengthen settlement with the other.”
In fact, Israel doesn’t see the killing of its civilians as being any worse than that of its soldiers; in an Israeli court, the crime as well as the punishment in both instances is the same. And out of court, Israel considers the killing of a soldier, or of some soldiers at any rate, to be a greater crime than that of killing a civilian. Ask yourself if Israel would respond the same way if a Palestinian killed an Israeli schoolteacher as it would if a Palestinian killed an IDF general.
So this whole sanctimonious routine about the absolute evil of the Palestinians’ deliberate killing of civilians is just a red herring: Israelis don’t believe it themselves. If they did, they’d react differently when Israeli soldiers were killed than they do when Israeli civilians are killed, and they don’t; not at all.
If they were honest, Israelis would say that the real absolute evil in this conflict, the only one, is this: The Palestinians are fighting us, the Israelis. They don’t have the right. They don’t have the right to attack our civilians or our soldiers. They don’t have the right to shoot us, they don’t have the right to throw a rock at one of our tanks, they don’t have the right to spray graffiti on our wall. Why? Because we are good and they are bad. Why? Because we fucking say so.
That’s what Israelis would say if they were honest. But when you’ve made an idol of power, honesty is something you can’t afford.