Today Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, founder of Hamas, was killed.
"Good riddance," declares much of the American media and political machine, "he was a terrorist. He deliberately killed civilians. He deserved to die."
This is a grave accusation. Possibly it is a true one, although nobody seems to be interested in airing evidence that Sheikh Yassin did more than direct Hamas' day-to-day operations in Gaza and elsewhere. Nonetheless, in a good part of the world we have a policy regarding such accusation: a person accused of crimes is put on trial, where their guilt must be shown, not simply declared. Further we do not allow one entity to serve as prosecutor, defense, judge and jury.
The phrase 'rule of law' comes to mind.
"But the situation is different in Israel," someone will no doubt declare. "In the face of daily terrorist attacks, Israel cannot be troubled to engage in such niceties as trying all those accused of crimes in court, especially when they are terrorists who can and will kill if given the opportunity."
It is interesting to think what the reaction of the world would be if Hamas went in and assassinated Ariel Sharon. I can say with confidence that the entire world would condemn such action as terrorism of the worst sort.
So then, should we hold Hamas to a higher standard of Israel? If Hamas kills an Israeli political leader, it is murder, but if Israel kills a political leader of Hamas (which Sheikh Yassin undoubtably was) it is simply self-defense?
Clearly, Israel believes it should be held to a lower moral standard than Hamas. When people call Mr. Sharon a war criminal, for the massacres of Sabra and Shattila, someone will always argue that there is no proof he knowingly facilitated the massacre of Palestinian refugees. Who today is willing to complain about the lack of proof being presented before the assassination of Sheikh Yassin?
Of course, there is one other question that bears asking, Why kill him now? Gaza is a small place. The IDF has effectively sealed it off from Israel, Egypt and even the sea. Sheikh Yassin, like the other nearly 1 million Palestinians there, was a virtual prisoner in a hermetically sealed environment. If Israel had really wanted to kill him, it easily could have many times before now. Why now?
Is it because the death of Sheikh Yassin will spawn massive calls for retaliation, in the form of suicide bombings, from Palestinians? Clearly that will make Israel more secure.
Is it because the death of Sheikh Yassin will further radicalize Palestinians in Gaza, eroding any residual power that the Palestinian Authority had in Gaza, and further weakening it throughout the occupied terrorities?
Is it because the death of Sheikh Yassin will remove one of the few remaining Hamas leaders who has spoken of the possibility of truth with Israel, something none of his potential successors have ever voiced support for?
Or perhaps, it is because, as I saw in headline in Ha'Aretz last week, Hamas had declared that Israel's pending withdrawal from Gaza was a victory for Hamas with Israel leaving "with its tail between its legs."
Were I to posit an explanation for Mr. Sharon's actions here, I'd call it a bit of all of the above.
Reprisals by Hamas in Israel will both strengthen Mr. Sharon's hand in the government, and allow him the excuse to delay the Gaza pullout. I seem to recall that the attempted assassination of Hamas' spokesman last year resulted in just such a rash of suicide bombings which gave Mr. Sharon the excuse to avoid having to talk to the Palestinian Authority's U.S. appointed prime minister, Mahmoud Abbas.
Weakening the P.A. in Gaza means Mr. Sharon will then be able to argue, if withdrawal should occur, that nobody is really in charge of Gaza. This will be true. At that point, he will retain the right to continue what he has been doing up until this point: bombing apartment blocks, demolishing houses with tanks and bulldozers, shooting people randomly on the streets, and so forth.
By radicalizing Gaza and the Hamas, Mr. Sharon wins an important public relations battle. "See, all Palestinians are terrorists," he will declare. And so far as the world media will see fit to explore, he may be right. By weakening secular authority and moderates, Mr. Sharon can rest assured that no P.A. government will ever be able to compromise with Israel without losing all credibility with the Palestinians themselves.
Finally, for his domestic audience, Mr. Sharon has a head he can wave around, when he claims, "we were not forced to leave Gaza." He will remain, as always, the same macho general and lying war criminal that he was twenty-two years ago when he shrugged off the massacre of a few thousands Palestinians by his allies as merely a slight administrative oversight.
In the end, the death of Sheikh Yassin merely confirms what Palestinians should already know. Mr. Sharon has the power and will to kill anybody when it suits him, and he will do so with the full backing of the Israeli public and the United States government. If the Palestinians every wish to have a state, they have two options: exterminate Israel, or leave.