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Two days before the attempt on the life of Abdel Aziz Rantisi, three Palestinian gunmen killed four Israeli soldiers at a military outpost in the Erez industrial zone of the Gaza Strip. During the gun battle, the three armed Palestinians were also killed, while responsibility for the operation was claimed by three organizations - Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Fatah.

Some say there was a direct causal relationship between the attack on the outpost and the decision to assassinate the senior Hamas leader, when it was obvious to all that this would open a new round of vengeance killings.

The collective pain in Israel over the death in battle of soldiers cannot be less than the pain from the murder of civilians killed in terror attacks. But from comments made by politicians after the battle, from the formulations that appeared in the Israeli press, from the immediate acts of demolition by the Israel Defense Forces in northern Gaza that disrupted the little that remained undisrupted in the lives of thousands of residents of Beit Hanun, and from the attempted assassination, it's clear that the killing of three soldiers inside a military position, in an area that Israel conquered in 1967, is considered by Israelis as purely an act of terror.

An attack on a military post is defined as a terror attack, and the attackers are deemed terrorists - the exact same terms used to describe the suicide bombing in Jerusalem.

This is the prevailing Israeli view: Israeli soldiers are always involved in "combat," even when they bomb a refugee camp and kill children. Palestinians are always terrorists, even when they face a tank, even when their targets are Israeli soldiers in an Israeli army base, even when one of the missions of that base is to make sure that Jews are allowed to settle without obstruction in areas conquered by Israel in 1967.

Obviously, the Israelis can't share the feelings of Palestinian pride about the three young men, who never went through any kind of formal military training and knew they had little chance of surviving the attack, and who managed to infiltrate an area surrounded by walls, barbed wire and observations posts, and to attack a military target. But when there's no distinction made between an operation that targets soldiers and one that targets civilians, and when a military attack is defined as a terror attack, it is, in effect, the same logic that the Palestinians use when they say that in their resistance against their occupation, attacks on civilians are as legitimate as attacks on soldiers.

The argument - if there's a difference or not - is constantly underway in the Palestinian public. A tiny minority believes there's a moral injunction against harming civilians. A larger minority argues that tactical reasons should prevent attacks on civilians inside the Green Line.

But they find it difficult to respond to the counter-arguments: The IDF doesn't mind killing civilians - and civilians are the majority of Palestinians who are being killed. There's no difference between a one-ton bomb dropped on a residential building, a tank shell, or a human bomb: Every civilian was or will be a soldier. They kill our mothers, too.

This week, people in Gaza asked who in Israel was interested in how 30-year-old Rafat Za'anin was killed last Sunday.

This is what the eyewitnesses said: Around 1 A.M., residents of Izbet Beit Hanun saw soldiers on foot in the neighborhood. Za'anin was officially a policeman. Now it turns out, he was a member of the Fatah military wing. But he wasn't going into battle. He was going into a courtyard to be with a neighbor who was afraid to remain alone, and he had invited the neighbor inside. While following the neighbor into the house, Za'anin was shot and wounded in his leg. Apparently, there was no intention of an assassination; had there been, he would have been shot in the head. One of his brothers went out to help him and was also shot. When the shooting died down, his brothers and neighbors carried him about 700 meters to a nearby clinic. But he had already lost a lot of blood and died.

And there's another question in Gaza. Who in Israel knows that Sunday night also saw the death of 8-year-old Amal al-Jarusha, whose only crime was that she wasn't far from Rantisi's car when it was hit by Israeli rockets?