Commentary Magazine


Poetic Justice for a Murderer

For those who wondered about the fate of Palestinian murderers living in protected exile in Europe, it turns out life in the Emerald Isle for Jihad Jaara isn’t exactly a remake of “The Quiet Man.”

That’s the upshot of Joshua Hammer’s article in the New York Times Sunday Magazine that gives us an update on the man who masterminded the murder of an American immigrant to Israel who worked with Palestinians in Bethlehem back in 2002. Along with other Palestinian killers from the Al Aksa Martyrs Brigade, Jaara took refuge from Israeli forces in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem (or to be more accurate, he was one of the terrorists who hijacked the place). After a long siege, international pressure forced Israel to let the terrorists go free with some going to Spain and others to Ireland.

Hammer subsequently interviewed Jaara in Dublin in 2002 for a book about the siege and published his confession of responsibility for the killing. As the victim was an American citizen,  Hammer was later asked to testify about the confession before a federal grand jury.

Hammer goes on at length about his agonizing over whether to testify. This is as pointless as it is self-indulgent. There was no question of revealing sources since all the Justice Department asked of him was to verify in person the facts about the confession that he had already published. Unfortunately, nothing concrete came from the grand jury proceedings. Hammer leads his piece though with an account of a subsequent offer from the FBI, aimed at make him a government informant about Jaara. This gave Hammer a chance to show off his unwillingness to cooperate with law enforcement authorities.

Without too much trouble, Hammer again tracked down Jaara in Ireland. What he found was a sad remnant of a man living in fear of retribution from Israel and perhaps the United States. He and a Palestinian doctor both beg Hammer to tell them how he found them. Hammer refused them as he did the FBI and left the formerly brazen killer “sweating, sucking on a Marlboro, his eyes wide with fear.”

Hammer goes on:

I supposed he spent most of his exile holed up like this, watching bad movies and smoking Marlboros, waiting for the day when Mossad or the C.I.A. burst through the door … Jaara was trembling; the Palestinian physician placed two hands on his shoulders to steady him. He was still shaking when I slipped out the door …

Decent people everywhere can take some satisfaction from the fact that a man who got away with murder is now a sniveling coward in a living hell. There is nothing left for him but to wait for the inevitable day he gets his just desserts.

But there’s more to Hammer’s piece than this illustration of poetic, if not actual, justice. Hammer’s pose of journalistic integrity is especially tough to take because his portrait of the conflict between Israelis and terrorists like Jaara is based on a false moral equivalence. In discussing the outbreak of the second intifada, Hammer buys into the myth that it was a reaction to Ariel Sharon’s “provocative visit to the Al Aksa mosque, one of Islam’s holiest shrines in Jerusalem.” Of course, Sharon didn’t go into the mosque but just went for a stroll on the site of the Temple Mount (the original name of the place, which Hammer’s text doesn’t mention). Rather than place the outbreak of this campaign in the context of Yasser Arafat’s need to change the subject after he rejected an Israeli Peace offer months earlier, he chooses to falsely blame it all on the Israelis.

Interestingly, one fact that Hammer doesn’t conceal is that before Jaara killed Avi Boaz and took part in other terrorist shootings, he was an “officer in the Palestinian Authority’s Preventive Security Service.” This group was funded and trained by the West in order to maintain law and order and prevent terrorism. Instead, Jaara turned his rifle (no doubt given to him by Israel) on the Israelis and became part of Al Aksa, an organization that was financed by Arafat and his Fatah Party, the same group that is considered Israel’s ideal partner for peace today. There are  some who believe that those Fatah-supported Palestinians who are currently undergoing similar training by the United States will become an effective counter-terrorism force. Anyone who buys into that hope needs to learn more about why previous efforts to appease terrorists produced Jihad Jaara rather than peace. Despite its fractured portrayal of history, in this limited sense Hammer’s article is of some value.

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