Predictably, a wave of intense international condemnation. "Completely unacceptable," says Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller about yesterday's IAF strike on Hamas military chief Salah Shehadeh, that left him and 14 others dead, reportedly including several children.
"Unacceptable and counterproductive," adds the British Foreign Office.
"Heavy-handed" pronounces White House press secretary Ari Fleischer.
"The Secretary General calls on the government of Israel to halt such actions and to conduct itself in a manner that is fully consistent with international humanitarian law," intones Kofi Annan spokesman Fred Eckhard at the UN.
All of which is fair enough up to a point. Though few of the above-mentioned have stooped to notice, throughout the conflict Israel has consistently distinguished itself for the extreme care taken to avoid civilian Palestinian casualties. Even by Palestinian counts, fewer than five percent of all Palestinian fatalities in the current conflict have been women, which gives a sense of just how "indiscriminate" Israel has been in its reprisals. In yesterday's bombing, both Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon approved the operation only after they had received assurances that the likelihood of collateral damage was low. That the opposite proved the case is both tragic and deplorable, and possibly reflects an intelligence failure that the government would be wise to investigate so as not to repeat.
But that is about all Israel owes its Palestinian foes, and about all the "international community" is entitled to demand of Israel. If responsibility is fairly to be assigned for the death of innocents yesterday, it lies heavily on Palestinian shoulders.
Begin with the responsibility of the Palestinian Authority. Following the attack, the PA released a statement condemning "these criminal military attacks against our unarmed people" by "this Nazi army." But what of the fact that Shehadeh had earlier been released from a Palestinian prison by Yasser Arafat, who also had repeatedly refused requests from both the Israeli and American governments to have him rearrested? Plainly, no Palestinian civilians would have been wounded in an attack indeed, no attack would have been necessary had Shehadeh been properly imprisoned.
Yet we do not hear international condemnation of the PA for its failure to meet its obligations to arrest, isolate, and punish known terrorists. On the contrary: Israeli attacks against the PA security apparatus are now taken as the cause of Palestinian nonfeasance in combatting terror, leading to efforts to rebuild that apparatus.
Nor do we hear much by way of EU, US, or UN finger-pointing about the man who brought such ruin both on himself and his neighbors. "We recognize and understand Israel's need to take action against suspected suicide bombers and their accomplices," said British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw in the preamble to his condemnation of Israel's actions. Plainly, however, he does not understand. Shehadeh operated from a densely populated Gaza City neighborhood precisely because he knew the children on the street served him as a shield against assassination. For Straw to condemn Israel, and not Hamas, in the wake of the attack serves only to reward Shehadeh's cynical tactics in the first place.
Finally, there is the moral responsibility of the Palestinians themselves. We have great sympathy for the suffering Palestinians have endured at Arafat's hands, as we do for the innocent victims of yesterday's attack. But we have no sympathy for the Palestinians who joined in spontaneous pro-Hamas rallies that erupted in the Gaza Strip following the attack. Before Palestinians can be entrusted with self-rule, they must show themselves equal to the task, first of all by ostracizing and expelling the terrorists in their midst. That they have not only means that they must accept the consequences, including future Israeli attacks.
Meanwhile, we note that the Pentagon now accounts for its killing of dozens of Afghans celebrating a wedding earlier this month as an accident that took place while US forces were in hot pursuit of Taliban leader Mullah Muhammad Omar. We await Messrs. Straw, Annan, Moeller, and Fleischer's pontifications on that score, as well as any insight they might have on how to conduct an accident-free war on terrorism.
©2002 - Jerusalem Post