Jewish World Review July 26, 2002/ 17 Menachem-Av, 5762

Wesley Pruden

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The tale of grief, as told in two cities | "We have to say it as it is: The incident that took place the night between Monday and Tuesday of this week was not a successful military operation (as the prime minister claimed), nor was it a mistaken military operation (as some commentators argued). On July 23, 2002, just after midnight, the State of Israel deployed an F-16 fighter airplane and a one-ton bomb in order to carry out the first terrorist attack it has perpetrated in years."

Harsh stuff. This was newspaper commentary, not in Riyadh, Baghdad or Damascus, but in Ha'aretz, arguably the most influential newspaper in Jerusalem. But not just in the left-of-center Ha'aretz. Consider this from the right-of-center Jerusalem Post:

"The Israeli Defense Force insists that it did not intend to kill any innocent people in its deadly strike by an F-16 bomber in Gaza City yesterday that targeted the Hamas military commander Salah Shehadeh. It even issued a statement and sent generals to speak to the press to say they were saddened by the 'killing of civilians.' It added laconically that there was 'no intention of hurting his family.' Come on! Really?"

Nothing illustrates with starker simplicity the differences between the two mortal antagonists in the Middle East than the debate in the aftermath of the Israeli air assault that killed not only the Hamas commander, who was a legitimate target, but his family, who were not. His wife and daughter died with him, along with 12 others, perhaps not all innocents but indiscriminate victims all. The Palestinians routinely target women and children, and when they routinely kill a dozen or so they routinely gloat, boasting that such acts of barbarity assure them the approving smile of Allah. There was no gloating to G-d in Jerusalem.

In the angry debate now roiling Israeli society, some Israelis argue that the operation, sad as it was, was nonetheless necessary, that the civilian casualties are the inevitable result when Palestinian men cower behind the skirts of their women, amidst the squeal of innocent children.

All true enough, but irrelevant to a society that holds itself to a moral - ethical, if you like - standard that is alien to much of the Arab world, where jihad, with death to the infidels - i.e., everyone else - is held to be the highest calling of man. This is what makes the conflict in the Middle East ultimately insoluble.

Ariel Sharon, whose wooden insensitivity would qualify him for service in an American corporate suite, called the operation "one of our greatest successes." Militarily, perhaps it was; Israel is, after all, at war with an enemy whose sworn goal is the death of the Jews, an enemy determined to accomplish this a dozen Israeli children at a time. But the Israeli air force, whose pilots must live with the remembrance of a mission that went horribly wrong, was not so boastful, and expressed "regret" that civilians died. When have similar deaths of Jews struck pain in the hearts of their Arab adversaries?

The Israeli government quickly made the point, rejected by the White House because it was so close to being on the mark, that the Gaza City bomb was similar if not identical to the U.S. bomb that fell on an Afghan wedding party a month ago. This hardly cools the debate going now over the tactics of "pinpoint prevention."

"Pinpoint prevention," similar to the strike-first doctrine that George W. set out this year to deal with enemies bent on destroying America, has nevertheless been subjected to the kind of debate unknown in Palestine. Many Israelis argue that pinpoint prevention is merely another name for summary execution, that the leaders of Hamas and Fatah killed under this doctrine are killed without benefit of judge or jury. And so they are. It's called "war," which is why starting one is risky business.

The Israeli Defense Force, for all its dispatch and efficiency, has never killed without compunction, and it has generally taken care to look out for civilians. That's why the Gaza City raid shook up so many Israelis: This time it looked as though sufficient care was not taken.

Nevertheless, the operation, muddle-headed or otherwise, is not likely to change much. The killing will go on. The usual bubble-and-squeak in Europe and on the editorial page of the New York Times, that the raid snuffed the (latest) prospects of peace, doesn't mean anything, either. If the Palestinian Authority wants to end the war and get on with making a life for Palestinians, it can still do so. Yasser Arafat and his men won't do that so long as they think they can squeeze out more concessions by spilling more Jewish blood.

The tears for slain children, by men who send their women and children out to die as suicide bombers, are the tears of crocodiles.

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JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

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