Israel’s Dilemma: Humane Defense


After another horrific week of Palestinian terrorism, punctuated by the killing Sunday of 13 Israelis that brought the Israeli death toll to more than 600 in 22 months, Israeli officials continued to seek new ways to deter future attacks.

One proposal by Interior Minister Eli Yishai (to give him the power to strip Israeli Arabs of their citizenship if they engage in terrorist activity) touched off a debate on how far a democratic country can go before violating basic civil rights. And the controversial actions of an Israeli peace group raised similar questions on the other end of the political divide.

Israeli Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer presented a plan to Palestinian Interior Minister Abdel Razak Yahya on Monday to have Palestinian

security forces replace Israeli troops in forward positions in the Gaza Strip. The meeting between the two men was said to be the highest-level publicly announced session between the two sides in two years.

Ben-Eliezer said he chose Gaza first because the Palestinian security apparatus there is relatively intact. If the move proves successful in thwarting future terror actions, it could lead to Gaza residents being permitted to return to their jobs in the West Bank and be implemented in stages throughout the territories, beginning with Jericho, Bethlehem and Hebron.

Palestinian President Yasir Arafat convened his cabinet Wednesday to discuss the plan, to which it later gave preliminary approval. Ben-Eliezer said Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak had approved it earlier.

Matzia Baram, director of the Jewish-Arab Center at the University of Haifa, said that to achieve a cease-fire which would lead to a negotiated settlement, the "Palestinian street must be convinced that there is hope" in the future.

"It is very clear that whatever we do at the strategic level, it will probably take another year or so for things to get back to the pre-2000 situation," he said. ìThe next year, to my mind, is going to be very bad. Even if we had a prime minister who was willing to go back to the Clinton plan, even if we had Shimon Peres as prime minister, it would still take a year for serious negotiations to start."

Meanwhile, Israel launched an air strike in Gaza City, destroying what it said was a weapons manufacturing plant, and launched a series of forays in the West Bank and Gaza to arrest, apprehend or kill Palestinians wanted for terrorist attacks. Israel also destroyed the homes of several Palestinian terrorists, renewing a policy that had generated international condemnation when it was last used a decade ago.

Israel’s High Court of Justice cleared the way this week for the homes to be destroyed without notice, noting that this was a time of war. Thirty-five Palestinians had sought 48 hours notice, but the court agreed with Israeli authorities that such a delay would allow the Palestinians to booby-trap the buildings with explosives and thus pose a risk to Israeli soldiers.

Baram said he supported demolition of terrorists’ homes in the belief Palestinians will now think twice before carrying out a terror attack. Israeli officials said the threat has actually caused several Palestinians to abort missions.

Baram, an expert on Iraq, said Saddam Hussein has gone after opponents by raping their wives and daughters before killing them.

"He even sent the men videotapes of what he did to their families," Baram said. "It works very well. Many people I met said they refrain from opposition activity for fear that their family would be eliminated. Israel cannot do that. We need a deterrent but at the same time we must be humane.

"Destroying a family’s house is very unpleasant, but they are allowed to take out their belongings and Hussein pays $25,000 to the families of suicide bombers. With that money, they can build two or three homes on the West Bank."

In Sunday’s violence, nine people were killed and 45 wounded in a bus bombing in northern Israel. Also, an Israeli husband and his pregnant wife were killed and their toddler son wounded in a Palestinian ambush Sunday night.

Although Israeli troops continued to occupy seven of the eight major Palestinian cities this week, Efraim Eitam, an Israeli minister without portfolio, said he favored a more aggressive search by the Israel Defense Forces for illegal weapons.

"The IDF must systematically go through every yard and cave and pick up weapons," he said. "Every day you do not do that, more Israelis are executed. … Israelis [terror victims] are being buried every week, which is something that a government cannot tolerate. You don’t defeat terrorism by words but by actions, through disarmament and by getting rid of the planning and command echelon."

Eitam, an outspoken hard-liner, said he favored the controversial policy of targeted killings of terrorist leaders in order to keep them on the run.

"They should be worried that each night they may be killed," he said. "Once they are arrested or killed, the intensity of terrorist activity would be reduced."

Ben-Eliezer announced this week that 140 would-be Palestinian suicide bombers are being held in Israeli prisons.

Meanwhile, the proposal by Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai to strip two Israeli Arabs of their citizenship and to revoke the permanent residency of a third Israeli Arab on the grounds that they engaged in terrorist activity against the state won the support this week of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. He called it "correct, considered and balanced," and said that at a time when Israel "finds itself in a bitter battle against murderous terror, [it] has to take measures to protect itself as a democracy."

Yishai told Israel Army Radio: "Someone can’t have citizenship and enjoy all its benefits and at the same time be a threat to the existence of the State of Israel. We are now involved in a war for our existence."

But Allegra Pacheo, a Jewish lawyer in Bethlehem who handles Palestinian civil rights cases, said the proposal has "racist undertones." And she pointed out that under international law, "you cannot strip a person of citizenship acquired by birth." She said the proposal suggested that "Arabs living in Israel are second class and not real citizens.

"I don’t think the law could pass [a court challenge] and it increases the growing rift between Arabs and Jews," she added.

Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres said he also did not believe it would be upheld in court, but Israeli Attorney General Elyakim Rubinstein said Yishai had acted legally in making the threat.

Ben-Eliezer said he "vehemently opposes" the move, arguing that the "revoking of citizenship does not go hand in hand with the democratic values of the State of Israel." And the Israeli daily Haaretz said that to give Yishai such power would damage the "civil rights of every citizen of Israel."

Nawaf Mazalha, an Israeli Arab who is vice president of the Knesset, said he opposes giving Yishai or even the prime minister such power.

"I believe only the Supreme Court" has that authority, he said.

"I won’t protect Arabs or Jews who act against the security of the country, but it must be done in court and not by the government. … We cannot put our future into the hands of politicians."

He noted that the vast majority of Israeli Arabs are loyal citizens of Israel who help the country.

Earlier this week, Mazalha pointed out, an Israeli Arab thwarted a Palestinian suicide bomber when he refused to permit him to commandeer his car so that he could detonate the explosives he wore in the Israeli city of Afula.

"When the driver refused to let him take his car, he exploded his bomb," said Mazalha.

The bomb killed the Palestinian and seriously wounded the Israeli Arab.

Debate also raged in Israel this week over the actions of a left-wing Israeli peace group, Gush Shalom, which sent letters to 15 Israeli military officers telling them that it was monitoring their actions and might submit evidence of war crimes charges against them to the new International Criminal Court in the Hague.

"It is inconceivable that something like this could happen here," Sharon said in asking Rubinstein to consider possible legal actions against the group.

The group insists it has committed no crime and would prefer to present any charges it levels to an Israeli court first.

But the Jerusalem Post in an editorial called upon the "moderate left" in Israel to speak out against Gush Shalom.

"The first word that comes to mind for the legal harassment of soldiers in wartime is treason," the paper wrote.

Meanwhile, a group of 17 American Jewish college students left for Ben-Gurion University of the Negev this week, undeterred by last week’s bombing in the cafeteria of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem that killed seven people, including five Americans.

The attack brought to 15 the number of Americans killed in Israel since the Palestinian violence began at the end of September 2000. The FBI joined Israeli authorities this week in tracking down those responsible for planting the remote-controlled bomb in a handbag on a lunchroom table.

Rebecca Kazzaz, 18, of Bethesda, Md., said a lot of friends called her after the bombing to see if she was still going, but that she believes Beersheva is a "very safe place."

Batyah Levine, 19, of the Sunset Park section of Brooklyn, said she would have been more nervous had she been going to universities in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv or Haifa. She said she plans to restrict her travel and not even go to Jerusalem in the evening.