Better off without ethical codes
Ultimately, defining who is innocent and who constitutes the brains or the driving spirit behind an act of terror, is in the eye of the beholder. The same is true for defining what constitutes an ethical target.
Professor Asa Kasher agreed to help the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) formulate an ethical code to justify killing those who mastermind, encourage, plan or carry out terror attacks - and also innocents who happen to be in the area of a targeted hit. Kasher has broadened the concept of "ticking bomb" to include anyone suspected by Israeli intelligence of having any connection to a bomb.
In olden days, this concept was more concrete. It allowed interrogators to put pressure on someone who had access to timely information about an attack. Now the ticking bomb has gone from being an operational code word to a woolly, philosophical term and the intelligence services have been granted a free hand in determining who deserves to die.
But broadening the ticking bomb concept works both ways. Taken far enough, Kasher himself, who is on very close terms with those who are working to wipe out terror, might be considered a ticking bomb from the Palestinian perspective. After all, Kasher talks to those who carry out targeted hits, those who give the green light and those who sit and plan them. He meets with the ideologues, the initiators and the big chiefs. He advises them, provides them with moral support, drafts their defense arguments and soothes their consciences.
In Kasher's eyes, an organized army is always more ethical than a terror organization because military operations are designed to hit military targets and stay clear of civilians. Anyone who looks at the intifada casualty lists knows how wrong he is. Over the past few years, IDF soldiers have had such light trigger fingers that most victims of the intifada have been innocent bystanders.
When it comes to targeted attacks from the air, Kasher's moral assumptions are even more mistaken. The fact that innocent people will die is taken into account during the planning of these operations. It is not just a matter of luck or lack of caution. Killing innocents is an integral part of the order. In targeted assassinations, writes Kasher, "one is forced to accept there may be collateral damage."
The majority of intifada victims on the Israeli side have also been innocent bystanders - older women on the way to visit their grandchildren, an entire family lunching at a restaurant wiped out of life. Looking at the statistics, it gets even sadder. On both sides, most of the victims have been poor, hardworking people - not the ones who drive around in fancy cars. Even the restaurants targeted by suicide bombers are cheap diners, not gourmet establishments. Someone should do the math one day and find out how many people who barely eke out a living pay with their lives in wars.
If a philosophy professor on the Palestinian side framed an ethical code for terror, what would it look like? Ahmed Yassin, in his less elegant way, reframes such a code after every terror attack. He says that Hamas prefers killing soldiers over civilians, and settlers over ordinary Israelis. But in his eyes, all Israelis, or at least the overwhelming majority of them, judging from the election results, have been supporting occupation for thirty-odd years. They finance the settlements and serve in the army, and even when they're back in civilian life, they are potential reservists. So as far as he's concerned, they're all ticking bombs in the broad sense of the word.
Widening the circle of guilt is possible on both sides. Would a bus where 80 percent of the passengers are soldiers and 20 percent are women and children be an ethical target for a suicide bomber? Are the women and children merely "collateral damage?" Are the soldiers "ticking bombs," as Kasher's criteria would seem to imply? A Palestinian could say that soldiers traveling home on a bus will be back on their bases tomorrow, and might conceivably kill Palestinians.
None of this justifies killing innocent people on any side. But the attempt to establish an ethical code for the war on terror is no different from laying down rules for legitimate terror targets. Ultimately, defining who is innocent and who constitutes the brains or the driving spirit behind an act of terror, is in the eye of the beholder. The same is true for defining what constitutes an ethical target. That is why ethical codes like Asa Kasher's should not be written.
Morality is not something that can be reinvented in keeping with changing defense needs. Moral laws are set in stone in every covenant and constitution. They are part of every religion. If there is no choice but to kill, better that it be done without an ethical code, without some university educator trying to take away the pain. Forget trying to justify the death of a 6-year-old who happened to be standing next to the Subaru of an Islamic Jihad operative when it was hit by an Apache helicopter missile. Better to kill the boy and just feel guilty about it, without all the excuses. Let those who embark on such a mission know that they do so with only the law and their own consciences to rely on - not some prettified, off-the-rack reply brief.