Sunday, March 10, 2002
An excellent summary of the case under international law for Israeli retaliation against terrorism and of the case against that terrorism itself. It's a shame this stuff needs to be repeated, but it does.
For those who need a refresher, a few other fine points that need to be refreshed:
First, terrorism itself is being given a bad name by the murderous policies of the PA. Terrorism classically is the use of violence strategically to demoralize a population. It did not specifically mean the murder of civilians and, indeed, some of the classic terrorist groups of world war II and the immediate post-world took pains to focus on "legitimate" targets - i.e. soldiers, police, administration officials of an occupying regime - and to avoid civilian casualties. This was the case, in general, with the French Resistance and with the Irgun, for example. It was even, generally, true of the Basque terrorists under Franco. These forms of terrorism were still illegal, in that they constituted irregular and unauthorized warfare, but they were meaningfully different from the terrorism that has been practiced since the pre-state period by Arab fedayeen. The latter has overwhelmingly focused on the murder of innocent civilians.
The justification that has been offered for this kind of terrorism is the following: Israel, being a mobilized society, has no civilians. Every able-bodied man (except for yeshivah students) is drafted, and every able-bodied woman does some form of national service. Even their infants will grow up to be soldiers. Therefore, all people are legitimate military targets. It is also worth pointing out that the partisans of Osama bin Laden have extended this argument to justify terrorism against any Western state, whether mobilized or not, whether involved in military rule over Muslims or not. Their argument is that, since America is a democracy, all its citizens are effectively responsible for the actions of its leadership, and therefore all are legitimate targets in war.
As should be obvious, the purpose of this line of argument is to set up rules inevitably favorable to terrorists. Because terrorists are not state actors, they do not implicate the state in their actions; and, because they do not implicate the state, they do not implicate the general population. A policy of irregular warfare and murder thus becomes more morally defensible than a policy of honorable war, because the crimes of the former implicate only the individual terrorists while the crimes (or errors) of the latter implicate the entire nation. If we do not want to see the moral destruction of civilization itself, it is therefore absolutely essential to resist this logic. The right way to resist it is to adopt the rule that states are strictly liable for terrorist operations that originate from their soil. Britain would be fully justified in bombing Dublin in response to IRA attacks; Israel fully justified in declaring war on the PA, Lebanon and Syria in response to the attacks of Hamas and Hezbollah; etc. Moreover, since terrorist actions are war crimes, the nation that sponsors or permits terrorist attacks from its soil is subject to the kind of response that the civilized nations reserve for outlaw states like Nazi Germany: the potential for the state to be subject to sustained occupation, the trial and execution of its leaders, and even the elimination of the state's sovereignty.