The irony surrounding the assassination of Israeli Cabinet Minister Rehavam Ze’evi is striking. The act has been called “despicable” and has been condemned in the “strongest terms” by President Bush. State Department Deputy Spokesman Philip Reeker, said, “terrorism is what has occurred, and this is what terrorism is.” Reeker called on Yasser Arafat “to find and arrest all those responsible for this act.” At face value, these comments may not seem ironic or even questionable. The willful killing of a civilian, without trial or evidence of guilt, is indeed condemnable.
But the policy of assassinating political opponents is one that Israel introduced, some might say perfected, decades ago. Israel has assassinated Palestine Liberation Organization officials in Rome, London, Beirut and Paris. Israel has assassinated Palestinian poets and journalists. Not only did Israel assassinate three Palestinian political figures in the three days prior to the assassination of Ze’evi, but it has assassinated 59 Palestinian civilians in the past year.
“This is what terrorism is,” according to the State Department. But for Israel’s assassinations, a euphemism has been coined: “targeted killings.” When, on July 31st Israel assassinated two Palestinian political figures, killing two children, aged five and seven in the process, the State Department said, “We are against the practice of targeted killings.” When Israel assassinated Mustafa Zibri, the head of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, on August 27th, the State Department said “We remain opposed to targeted killings.” On October 15th after Israel assassinated another Palestinian, the State Department repeated, “We oppose a policy of targeted killings.” No mention of terrorism. No demands that the perpetrators be brought to justice. The perpetrator in these cases was, of course, the State of Israel. Its Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon, obstinately vowed that the campaign would continue.
The doublespeak coming out of the State Department and the Administration on this issue is not helpful. It plays into the hands of Ariel Sharon and the extremist elements of his government who remain unwilling to compromise on a single issue that fuels the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis today.
Ariel Sharon is attempting to portray the assassination of Ze’evi as Israel’s September 11th. That an alleged ally of the United States, would liken the horrific murder of more than 6,000 innocent civilians to the targeted killing of one political official is reprehensible. But since September 11th, Israeli officials have been desperately seeking a pretext to insert Israel into the battle against terrorism. As America urged calm, Sharon escalated incursions into Palestinian territory and assassinated three Palestinian political figures in as many days. Sharon knew that his heightened aggression would draw a Palestinian response. And then Sharon could cry victim and unleash his military assault on the Palestinians under the guise of fighting terrorism.
Sharon’s strategy will condemn the region to decades more of violence, occupation and oppression. America’s de facto accommodation of Israel’s campaign of assassinations has encouraged its continuation. This is clearly not in America’s interest. America must have one consistent benchmark for terrorism. Whether it is one Israeli official killed by a Palestinian or 59 Palestinians killed by Israel, assassination is assassination.
Ms. Margaret Zaknoen is Director of Programs, American Muslims for Jerusalem.