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Media Analyses

CAMERA ALERT: Hussein Ibish Op-Ed Accuses Israel Of Terrorism

Ibish blurs the line between terrorism and collateral damage

Hussein Ibish of  the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) authored an incendiary op-ed in the July 24 LA Times entitled, "Barbarism Runs Rampant in the Holy Land; Atrocities are now a tactic accepted by both sides."  The essay is a disturbing display of false moral equivalency and Israel-bashing.

**The op-ed's point of departure is the targeted killing of Salah Shehadeh, commander of Hamas terrorists in both Gaza and the West Bank.  "...The latest atrocity in the Middle East," writes Ibish, "is emblematic of the degree of barbarism that has come to characterize this hideous conflict."   Ibish claims that the raid on Shehadeh "would certainly meet any reasonable definition of the term 'terrorism.' "  

Israel targeted a terrorist -- not civilians -- and has apologized for the deaths of the civilians and opened an investigation into how so many civilians were harmed in a type of operation that it has successfully completed before with very little collateral damage

But all that notwithstanding, it should be remembered that it is due to Arafat's refusal to arrest Shehadeh that Israel was forced to seek him out where he was hiding among civilians.  Also, it is Shehadeh who chose to hide in a populated neighborhood, among children, even though he knew that he was on Israel's most-wanted list and was inviting danger to whomever was near him.

** Ibish first introduces Shehadeh to his readers by writing that Israel wanted "to kill a noted Palestinian," although later he does explain that Shehadeh was "one of the top leaders of the military wing of Hamas."

It's analogous to writing the following about the US mission to bomb Osama bin Laden in his cave: "The US sought to kill a noted Saudi."

** Ibish does castigate Hamas et al for "regard[ing] the murder of Israeli civilians in buses, discos, cinemas and pizzerias as not only acceptable but somehow heroic"-- but he goes on to write that it is a "wanton brutality...perfectly mirrored" on the Israeli side by the Shehadeh murder.

This is a disturbing example of false moral equivalency.  Israel is engaged in a war to prevent terror.  Terrorists are the target, although as in any war, civilians are sometimes inadvertently harmed.  When this occurs, Israelis are saddened and express remorse.   Hamas and other Palestinian terror groups are engaged in a relentless effort to kill and maim civilians. Civilians are the target and their deaths are celebrated by Palestinians. Israel and Hamas are certainly not mirror images of each other. 

** Ibish fails to mention the large-scale terrorist attacks that Shehadeh had been planning that were thwarted by the Israeli raid:
        1) an attack at a public beach that was to kill hundreds
        2) a mall bombing
        3) exploding the main bridge connecting the Gaza settlements to Israel proper.

And of course, Shehadeh was also responsible for planning and /or recruiting terrorists for the following deadly attacks:
-29 Israelis murdered attending a Passover seder at the Park Hotel in Netanya on
March 27, 2002. 19 of the dead were 70 years old or older. 140 injured.
-15 mostly elderly bus passengers murdered in Haifa on December 2, 2001. 40 wounded.
-5 Israeli teenagers murdered and 23 other teenage students wounded in Atzmona on March 7, 2002.
-11 young adults murdered, 10 of them in their 20's, who were sitting in a cafe in
Jerusalem on March 9, 2002. 54 wounded.

** Rather than laying the blame squarely on the shoulders of the terrorist and the corrupt Palestinian govenment that refused to contain him, Ibish accuses Israel of "adopt[ing] an attitude in which the entire population of Palestinians is the target" -- in short, of collective punishment.  Ibish wonders:  "How else can one explain the plan--later rejected by Israel--to expel relatives of suspected militants?  And finally, what other mind-set could have resulted in the killing of more than 1,000 Palestinian civilians in less than two years, hundreds of them children?"

The unfortunate reality is that it is a very difficult task to discourage potential bombers from their deadly goal when the vast majority of Palestinian society supports and glorifies their efforts, and when their families receive large financial benefits.  Israel hypothesized that if a potential bomber knew that, instead of bringing their family financial rewards, his actions would bring them displacement and hardship, then perhaps he would decide that becoming a "martyr" wasn't ultimately worthwhile.  While this may indeed be a potentially effective deterrent, and while the idea was floated, Israel ultimately rejected it.  The Israeli Attorney General decided that only family members who were directly involved in terrorism themselves could be forced to move.  Since Ibish notes that the idea was later rejected, one wonders why he included it as proof of anything.  Israel's rejection of the idea would seem to contradict Ibish's theory.

As for why so many Palestinians under the age of 18 have been killed in the conflict, Ibish should look at the Palestinian culture of death and hatred that incites young people to get involved with violence against Israelis: dancing in the streets and parties thrown in honor of "martyrs" who murdered scores of Jews; rock-throwing, Jihad and martyrdom taught to the youngest of school children. Palestinians are primarily victims of their own society and corrupt leadership -- not of Israel's acts of self-defense.

In a study recently released by the International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism (ICT), it found that only 16.1% of Palestinians killed could definitely be classified as non-combatants.  That means that approximately 1317 of the 1570 Palestinians killed were involved in violence, usually initiating it, and many of them were young men between the ages of 15 and 19.   This also means that approximately 253 of the Palestinians killed by the Israelis were civilians.  While these deaths are regrettable, it is inaccurate and inflammatory to write as Ibish did that Israel killed "more than a 1000 civilians." Apparently he considers gunmen and bombers "civilians."  And there is certainly no proof that Israel targeted any civilians.    

** Ibish also blunders when he inaccurately cites a statement made by Harvard professor Alan Dershowitz.  Ibish alleges that the noted lawyer "advocate[s] the destruction of an entire Palestinian village in revenge for each suicide bombing attack."  What Dershowitz actually suggested was bulldozing a village if it had been used as a base for terrorist operations, and only after a 5-day warning period. 

ACTION ITEMS: [If you are reading this alert more than a week after it was written, do not respond to these action items.]

Please write to the LA Times to protest Ibish's apparent lack of a moral compass which allows him to blur the line between terrorists and those who try to stop the terrorists' deadly deeds.  Or comment on one of the letters (see below) published in the LA Times on July 28 regarding Israel's raid and/or Ibish's op-ed.  The first letter supported Ibish, the second castigated Hamas, and the third denounced targeted killings, calling Israel's actions "evil."

Write to:

The 7/28 published letters appear below:
Los Angeles Times
July 28, 2002 Sunday

Letters to the Editor: 

Middle East Leaders Defer to Extremism

   It was encouraging to read Hussein Ibish's straightforward and
evenhanded denunciation of both Palestinian and Israeli extremism
("Barbarism Runs Rampant in the Holy Land," Commentary, July 24). For
far too long the Palestinian leadership and Ariel Sharon's government
have deferred to the desires of right-wing and fanatical elements who
have no intention of taking the necessary first steps toward resuming a
peace process. This has predictably led to a mutually abhorrent dance of
death and destruction.

     Equally significant, this deference to extremism has simultaneously
diverted attention from the urgent goals of ending the occupation,
establishing a viable Palestinian state, ensuring Israel's territorial
and physical security and establishing normalized relations between
Israel and all the nations of the Arab and Muslim world. The time has
come for those of us in the United States who are committed to these
goals to speak out in support of new Palestinian and Israeli leaders who
will reject and isolate the many extremist elements on all sides--both
here and in the Middle East.

   Douglas Mirell
   Progressive Jewish Alliance
   Los Angeles

Re Hamas plans to retaliate against Israel: If I understand the situation correctly, Hamas is going to use bombs that have already been built, in locations that have already been selected, carried by children who have already been recruited to retaliate against Israel for assassinating the person who headed up the planning and funding of these terrorist attacks. Hamas might have credibility if it would cease suicide terrorism and recognize Israel's right to exist.

David Lewis
Los Angeles

Re "The Necessity of Targeted Assassinations," Commentary, July 25: I was disgusted and outraged by Steven R. David's article. After all, murder is murder and evil is evil. When any government makes murdering its enemies without proof or due process its official policy, it removes any moral ground that the perpetrators of these acts might claim to stand on.

How are the lives of the 14 innocent Palestinian civilians killed in the Israeli bombing in Gaza any different from those of innocent Israeli civilians killed in bombings in their cities? More important, how can apologists like David rationalize these evil activities? Peace in that region can only be achieved by talking to each other. It seems by their actions that the current government in Israel has no interest in doing that.

Michael Olnick
Sherman Oaks

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