The announcement by the Israeli government of indictments in the shocking arson murder of an Arab family in a West Bank village last summer is, in a very real sense, not a big deal. In decent nations, those who commit murder shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it no matter what the circumstances. hThat it took several months of investigations and interrogations of suspects was regrettable but, assuming that the case has been solved, the final result in which the guilty are punished is the main thing. Israel neither seeks nor deserves any special honors for enforcing the law. But there is nothing ordinary about this case. By putting the full resources of the state behind an effort to punish a Jew for killing Arabs in the midst of a bloody national conflict testifies to the resilience and the integrity of Israeli democracy and the rule of law.
This is important not because those points are really in question but because the ongoing ideological war to destroy Israel is, at least in part, predicated on the notion that it does not seek to extend the protection of the rule to those who are not Jews or even citizens. Moreover, by having a so-called right-wing government take the threat of Jewish terrorism seriously, the country has once again reaffirmed its commitment to principle against pressure from those of its citizens who would have it descend to the level of its enemies.
It is unfortunate that a few Israelis and Jews believe the mere fact that Israel’s enemies have seized on this case is reason enough to doubt the government’s position. Others have raised the issue of context in a manner so as to potentially justify or rationalize Jewish terrorism as an “understandable” response to the far more prevalent Palestinian terror attacks on Jews. Fortunately, the Israeli government has rejected such impulses. This was important not just because it is the right thing to do but because it makes a vital point about the conflict in which Israel still finds itself mired.
The crime was not only heinous in an of itself but also a flash point for conflict serving to justify Arab terrorism against Jews as well as to further besmirch the reputation of Israel and the West Bank settlement movement. The perpetrators of the firebombing of a home in the village of Duma had to be found and brought to justice.
Those on the far right speaking up in defense of the accused murderer and some of his associates that were questioned in connection with this case or charged with other crimes against Arabs are claiming that their civil liberties were violated during the course of the investigation. By American standards, this is almost certainly true. They were held without charge for long periods and denied counsel for some of that time. They were also subjected to what some call “enhanced interrogation” methods designed to deal with potential “ticking bomb” threats. None of that would be possible in the United States, but it is permitted in much of the democratic world including Israel. The question of whether Israel would be better off living by U.S. standards of justice is an interesting one but not likely to be given much credence in a country under siege from terrorists in a manner that most Americans couldn’t envision in their worst nightmares. That some of those criticizing the Israeli security services for their behavior in the case are the same people who cry out for harsh methods to be used against Arab terrorists is ironic and might be humorous if it were not so tragic.
The Israeli courts, which are sticklers for the law, will have the final say in these cases, and one should not presuppose the outcome of any trial. But if we assume, as seems likely, that the Israeli intelligence services have done their job well, the issue here was not one of innocence or guilt but of what kind of country Israel is or wants to be.
As I’ve written here previously, the contrast between Israel’s behavior and that of its Palestinian foes is instructive. The Palestinian Authority and Hamas incite terrorism against Jews on a daily basis. Those Arabs who try or succeed at stabbing, shooting, or firebombing Jews are praised as heroes and martyrs. Far from being punished by the governments of the West Bank and Gaza, their efforts subsidized. If they are caught and imprisoned, they receive pensions from the PA treasury that is dependent on European and American government aid. If they are killed in the attempt, their families receive compensation. In that sense murder of Jews is not merely considered laudatory behavior but also normative in a Palestinian political culture predicated on hate.
To state that Israel is better than a society that behaves in this fashion this is to damn it with faint praise. But it is nonetheless worth pointing out because the critique of Israel throughout the world seems to rest on the notion that the Jewish state is a violent tribal entity that does not live up to Western standards and, as a result, has no right to exist. The fact is every sector of Israeli society, including the overwhelming majority of West Bank settlers, deplored what happened in Duma. Israel-haters will never accept it, no matter what it does. But by refusing to lower itself to the kind of behavior accepted by its enemies, Israel has demonstrated that it is possible to have a democratic society even when it placed under extreme pressure. Jewish terrorists were not so much at war with the Arabs as they are with their fellow Jews and Zionism.
Had the Duma crime been carried out by an Arab against an Israeli family Palestinians would have cheered. Had it been perpetrated by Arabs in an Arab country against the members of any religious minority, the odds are those responsible would never have been arrested, let alone the full resources of the nation deployed to find them.
It is sad that even a small minority of Jews think that “revenge” for the many Arab attacks on Jews is understandable, let alone defensible. But what these few misguided people seem to forget that Israel is right to insist on being judged by a higher standard than the complacency with which most of the world views Arab terrorism against Jews. As Israel has proved over the decades, doing so does not mean it cannot defend itself against terror. Israel has thrived and grown in strength because it is a democracy and a place where the rule of law prevails even against Jews who kill Arabs or the powerful who abuse the system (see Olmert, Ehud).
Those who care about Israel may not think there is anything extraordinary about this. But at a time when so many intellectual elites have deluded themselves into believing lies about it being an “apartheid state,” these facts must not be ignored.
In the Duma case, Israel has past the justice test by which we rightly judge civilized states. Peace with the Palestinians will become possible only when they are prepared to meet the same standard.