The name Raed Youssef Jadallah means nothing to Israelis. He was an ordinary man – a 39-year-old gardener and father of four young children. Those are exactly the same words with which my colleague, Josh Breiner, began his op-ed “Murderers, not freedom fighters”. Only instead of Raed Jadallah, he was writing about Samuel Milshevsky, whose name, he noted, means nothing to most Israelis.
Milshevsky was an Israeli who was killed in a Palestinian terror attack in 2002. But Jadallah was also killed in a terror attack by the Israel Defense Forces. Soldiers shot him after he lit a cigarette in the dark and in the hour and a half that followed didn’t trouble themselves to see what they had shot at. Jadallah’s 15-year-old son found his body dumped on the side of the road.
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The unfortunate Milshevsky was killed in a suicide attack on the bus he was riding. The unfortunate Jadallah was killed by soldiers shooting blindly. Would Breiner dare call them murderers? Did they plan to kill? They certainly did nothing to avoid killing.
The question of intent is irrelevant. It only serves Israeli demagoguery. Did the Israeli soldiers intend to kill Mohammed al-Alami, the boy from Beit Ummar, when they showered his father’s car with bullets as they were returning from a shopping trip? Isn’t this terror? The killing of the four children of the Bakr family while they were playing soccer on the Gaza beach – was that intentional? It wasn’t intentional? Does it make a difference? Were all the approximately 400 children killed in Operation Cast Lead killed unintentionally?
There’s a limit to what the mind can tolerate. Breiner and almost all Israelis don’t dare to answer these questions directly. For them, the Jews are always on the side of the right, always defending themselves; the Palestinians are always terrorists and murderers. Killing is only permitted for the Jews. I see things differently.
Breiner tries to pull at our heartstrings by recounting the acts of terror that landed the escapees in Gilboa Prison in the first place. He’s successful. When I try to do the same for the victims of the occupation, I meet with less success. But it’s not really that success that should concern us, rather it is Breiner’s question: What mental state brings someone to glorify the murderers? In asking it, he is hinting at the dubious mental state of those who justify murder. But it’s a healthy mental state, which is known by other names, such as human rights, international law, universal values and even humanity – identification and compassion for the oppressed and weak.
Breiner holds that the escapees are terrorists who should rot in jail till their dying day. I hold that they are courageous freedom fighters. Why? They are fighting for the freedom of their people and that makes them no less courageous than many of the soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces by virtue of their willingness to sacrifice themselves.
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Are their ends just? There is nothing more just. Are the means they adopt to achieve them criminal, cruel and shocking? Certainly so. But they are no less cruel than launching an attack drone on impoverished children playing on a Gaza beach. The six escapees from Gilboa Prison would have preferred to stage a drone attack with a joystick rather than a suicide attack. They would have preferred to attack an army base instead of innocent civilians if they had the sophisticated weapons required to do that. Should they be able to carry weapons? No less than the IDF.
Our terrorists are our heroes. When Shlomo Ben-Yosef threw a grenade at a bus traveling between Rosh Pina and Safed, he intended to kill innocent people to avenge the deaths of Jews. There’s a street named after him in Tel Aviv. Those who placed the bombs at the King David Hotel wanted to drive out the British colonialists. They were freedom fighters, even if their actions weren’t accepted by the majority of the yishuv, the Jewish community in Palestine. And, when a Palestinian stabs a settler in an attempt to drive the invader from his land, he’s also a freedom fighter, even if the means he uses are appalling.
“These are the people that Levy sees as ‘freedom fighters,’ the murderers of fathers, brothers, youngsters.” Murderers of fathers, brothers and youngsters are, to our great horror, to be found on both sides. On our side, however, there are a lot more of them because the balance of power is in our favor. The question of which side is right in the struggle to end the occupation is at the heart of the debate and to that my answer is clear. For Breiner, it is less so. For him, it’s enough to improve conditions at Israeli prisons.