I’ve lost count of how many breaking news stories about terrorist attacks in Israel and the West Bank that I’ve posted on the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin website in the past six or seven months. But there have been many – with more added almost every week. Most of the attacks have been relatively small with often single terrorists launching firebombs, vehicular attacks or stabbings.
Between mid-September and late-March, 34 Israelis were killed in the attacks and more than 400 injured. But for the readiness of Israel’s police officers and soldiers – and their often heroic actions – the lists of dead and injured would be much longer.
Many of the terrorists committing those recent acts – mostly Palestinians from the West Bank, but also some Israeli Arabs – have been killed during the commission of their crimes or while fleeing, and few would argue about the need for lethal force in most cases where it has been used in these recent circumstances.
In Ottawa, we vividly remember the terrorist attack at the National War Memorial and Parliament Hill by a single individual on October 22, 2014. We remember our horror at the senseless death of a single innocent person – Corporal Nathan Cirillo on ceremonial sentry duty at the War Memorial – and we fully understood why Kevin Vickers, then the sergeant-at-arms of the House of Commons, and other security personnel used lethal force to stop the lone wolf terrorist.
We recall how affected our city was by that single incident. For Israelis, though, terrorist attacks, sadly, have become routine. One of the breaking news articles I posted to the Bulletin website on April 8 – about an hour before I started writing this column – was a report that Israel and Israeli-controlled areas of the West Bank had recorded a 26 per cent drop in the number of terrorist attacks in the month of March in comparison to February.
There were only 123 terrorist incidents in March – the least number for any month since July 2015. Imagine, 123 incidents, an average of almost four terrorist attacks per day in the quietest month for terrorism in three-quarters of a year.
Lethal force, though, is not always necessary – even in the circumstances of a terrorist attack. Indeed, many terrorists have been captured by Israeli security forces and brought to justice. And that is how it should be.
And that is what should have happened in Hebron on March 24. Two Palestinian terrorists stabbed an Israeli soldier and were shot as they attempted to flee. One of the attackers was killed instantly, while the other was wounded. The wounded terrorist was lying prone on the ground and should have been taken into custody to face justice.
However, video captured an Israeli soldier shooting the terrorist as he lay wounded on the pavement. The incident sent shockwaves through Israel.
Lt. Gen Gadi Eisenkot, chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), ordered an immediate investigation.
“This is not the IDF, these are not the values of the IDF and these are not the values of the Jewish people,” said Eisenkot.
“What happened today in Hebron does not represent the values of the IDF,” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “The IDF expects its soldiers to behave level-headedly and in accordance with the rules of engagement.”
Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon described the incident as an “utter breach of IDF values and of our code of ethics in combat.”
The soldier – whose name has not been released – now faces a manslaughter charge. Reports have said he feared the terrorist was carrying explosives (although he had already been checked for explosives by an IDF officer on the scene before the shooting).
However, there are some Israeli leaders – including Education Minister Naftali Bennett – who feel the soldier should not have been charged.
Israeli leaders often proudly point to the IDF as operating under the highest moral standards – and it must. And that means holding soldiers to account when they act outside their code of ethics.