The call to impose a death sentence on the terrorist who murdered three members of the Salomon family in Halamish once again raises the issue of the morality of the death penalty. The death penalty is murder. The state grants itself the right to take human life, with extreme psychological cruelty. It holds a person in custody and tells him that it intends to kill him at a certain time. That is terrifying; it’s sadism.
How is the state better than the murderer himself? Murder is murder, even it is meted out as a legal sentence. Legal justification is a human act, just as the act of murder. This is not about absolute justice or divine justice. There is no such thing. This is impaired human justice. Sometimes humanity justifies murder. The motive for demanding the death sentence for the Halamish terrorist is, of course, national; political. The expectation is that the Jewish state will allow itself to murder Arabs on the pretext that they are terrorists. But it will not kill them because they are terrorists, since it will not execute Jewish terrorists. The state of Israel murders them because they are Arab.
What reason could there be for this murder? The appetite of the pro-annexation messianics to murder Arabs seeks legitimization under the thin cover of the law as a deterrent. That requires a response. Throughout history it has been proven beyond the shadow of a doubt that capital punishment does not deter simple criminal murder that stems from uncontrollable urges to violence, greed, passion or momentary insanity. All the more so, the death penalty will not deter murderers acting out of ideological motives. A person who murders for a purpose is willing to sacrifice himself and takes into account that he will die will carrying out his plot. Imposing the death penalty on Palestinian terrorists will not deter a single potential shahid. It could be that the ministers who support such a penalty know this in their hearts. If they don’t, they don't understand a thing.
And what about revenge? Clearly the death penalty symbolizes the need for biblical vengeance. Will revenge ease the burden of grief and loss? Will it provide a sense of closure? Will it heal bereavement? And how would it do so? It can’t bring back the dead. How will the execution of the murderer fill the void left behind by the loss of a loved one, the son who lost his father, the woman who lost her husband? That is senseless. The murder of a murderer will not repair the injustice he has done. It will only inflame the dark passions of the ignorant, and the people who lost their lives in their prime will gain nothing from it.
The call to impose the death penalty on the Halamish terrorist, which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also joined, was not intended to prevent damage or suffering, or even another such attack. Rather, it was simply intended to formally confirm and justify the hatred aroused by the terror attack, to give release to a moan of moral outrage. And as Herbert Hart, one of the greatest philosophers of the 20th century, said: Capital punishment is “uncomfortably close to human sacrifice as an expression of religious worship.”
On the slippery slope of the death penalty for Arab terrorists lies in wait the inevitable moment when terrorists will be publicly executed, perhaps on live television, as a national ceremony of empowerment. Then too, there will be talk of deterrent and the comfort of revenge. The ratings will be divine.
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