Monday, May 30, 2005

Our world is “normally” silent in the face of evil. At worst, many are directly complicit in the maimings and slaughters. At best, the murderers are ignored. In this unchanging world Israel must soon decide whether to face the evil of Palestinian terrorism as a pitiable victim or to use whatever reasonable force is needed to remain alive.

The use of force is not inherently evil. Quite the contrary; in opposing terrorist mayhem, force is indispensable to all that is good. In the case of Israel, Palestinian terrorism is unique for its cowardice, its barbarism and its genocidal goal. Were Israel to depend upon the broader international community for relief — upon the so-called road map — its plea would be unheard.

All states have a right of self-defense. Israel has every lawful authority to forcibly confront the still-growing evil of Palestinian terror. Facing even biological and nuclear forms of terrorism, it now has the clear legal right to refuse to be a victim and to become an executioner. From the standpoint of providing security to its own citizens, this right even becomes an obligation.

Albert Camus would have us all be “neither victims nor executioners,” living not in a world in which killing has disappeared (“we are not so crazy as that”), but one wherein killing has become illegitimate. This is a fine expectation, yet the celebrated French philosopher did not anticipate another evil force for whom utter extermination of “the Jews” was its declared object. Not even in a world living under the shadow of recent Holocaust did Camus consider such an absurd possibility.

But Israel lacks the quaint luxury of French philosophy. Were Israel to follow Camus’ genteel reasoning, perhaps in order to implement Mr. Sharon’s disengagement, the result would be another boundless enlargement of Jewish suffering. Before and during the Holocaust, for those who still had an opportunity to flee, Jews were ordered: “Get out of Europe; go to Palestine.” When they complied (those who could), the next order was: “Get out of Palestine.” For my Austrian-Jewish grandparents, their deaths came on the SS-killing grounds at Riga, Latvia. Had they made it to Palestine, their sons and grandsons would likely have died in subsequent genocidal wars intended to get the Jews “out of Palestine.”

Failure to use force against murderous evil is invariably a stain upon all that is good. By declining the right to act as a lawful executioner in its struggle with terror, Israel would be forced by Camus’ reasoning to embrace its own disappearance. Barring Mr. Sharon’s disengagement, the Jewish state would never accept collective suicide. Why was Camus, who was thinking only in the broadest generic terms, so mistaken?

My own answer lies in his presumption of a natural reciprocity among human beings and states in the matter of killing. We are asked to believe that as greater numbers of people agree not to become executioners, still greater numbers will follow upon the same course. In time, the argument proceeds, the number of those who refuse to accept killing will become so great that there will be fewer and fewer victims. But Camus’ presumed reciprocity does not exist, indeed, can never exist, especially in the jihad-centered Middle East. Here the Islamist will to kill Jews remains unimpressed by Israel’s disproportionate contributions to science, industry, medicine and learning. Here there are no Arab plans for a “two-state solution,” only for a final solution.

In counterterrorism, Jewish executioners must now have an honored place in the government of Israel. Without them, evil would triumph again and again. For Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah and Fatah, murdered Jews are not so much a means to an end as an end in themselves. In this unheroic Arab Islamist world, where killing Jews is both a religious mandate and sometimes also a path to sexual ecstasy and personal immortality, an Israeli unwillingness to use necessary force against terror will invite existential terror.

Sadly, killing is sometimes a sacred duty. Faced with manifest evil, all decent civilizations must rely, in the end, on the executioner. To deny the executioner his proper place would enable the murderers to leer lasciviously upon whole mountains of fresh corpses.

Louis Rene Beres lectures and publishes widely on international relations and international law, especially war and terrorism.

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