The Murder of "Gandhi" and the Assassination of Terrorists

By Beres, Louis Rene | Midstream, January 2002 | Go to article overview

The Murder of "Gandhi" and the Assassination of Terrorists


Beres, Louis Rene, Midstream


The grotesque murder of Rechavam Ze'evi (nicknamed "Gandhi" by his friends) in October 2001, has been described by the Palestinian terror groups involved as "retaliation" for the earlier Israeli assassination of a known terrorist leader. Although the media have picked up on this description and generally accepted the notion of "equivalence" between Israeli and Palestinian actions, there are substantial differences to be noted. The Israeli assassination was a genuinely law-enforcing action needed to fulfill international legal expectations of punishment and national self-defense. The Palestinian murder of Ze'evi, on the other hand, was an unmistakably law-violating action carried out by a subnational group dedicated to violence as an end-in-itself. There is no "cycle of violence" here, only crimes by the Palestinians and punishments by the Israelis.

When a police officer shoots a fleeing murderer to protect human life, that action is hardly comparable to the murderer's prior criminality. The latter is an obvious instance of law-violation, one that must be circumscribed and punished. The former is an obvious example of law-enforcement, one that is indispensable to providing public order and security. They are not merely different actions from the standpoint of legality, they are diametric opposites.

Normally, assassination is a crime under international law, by whomever it is committed. There are occasions, however, where assassination may be permissible. One such case would be essential counterterrorism, so long as the state-run assassination were directed only at the target terrorist and not at surrounding innocents. By definition, on the other hand, assassination by terrorists of a state official is always murder. It is true that in certain extremely rare circumstances, assassination of a public official by insurgent forces could be construed as law-enforcing, but surely not when these forces had repeatedly declined diplomatic methods of conflict resolution while simultaneously targeting noncombatants with deliberateness and cruelty.

Let us consider an eye-opening and plausible scenario. The United States is currently conducting various military operations in explicit reprisal for the acts of terror of September 11th. A major objective in these operations is the killing of Bin Laden himself. If the operations succeed, and Bin Laden is "removed," Al Qaeda agents might then plan to murder an American high official, say, God forbid, Secretary of State Colin Powell. If, following such a murder, the United States responded with essential "targeted killings," could any civilized human being see "equivalence" in these reciprocal killings? Not at all. They would necessarily understand that in all cases violence by the Al Qaeda side was entirely criminal while violence by the American side was entirely law-enforcing.

Israel has been conducting operations for many long years against Palestinian terrorist murderers. A major objective in these operations has been the "targeted killing" of terrorists who attack Israeli women and children in pizza restaurants or in family disco dancing establishments.

When, on August 27, 2001, Israel managed to dispatch Mustafa Zibri, the PFLP murderer of Israeli women and children, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine began to prepare for the killing of "Gandhi." Immediately after the death of Gandhi on October 17th, PFLP and associated Arab/Islamic terror groups announced repeatedly that their actions were "in retaliation" for the Israeli killing of Zibri.

The analogy here is clear and straightforward. …

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