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Jewish World Review May 21, 2001 / 28 Iyar, 5761

Jonathan Tobin

Jonathan Tobin
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No moral equivalence -- THE death of a child can never be accepted with equanimity. When such an event occurs, there is no greater tragedy for both the family and society as a whole. Each life is precious. Grief over such a loss is unbearable and immeasurable.

But when we look at recent deaths in the ongoing war between Israel and the Palestinians, it would be a mistake, as many in the media have done, to merely add up the deaths of Arab and Jewish children who became the latest casualties and see a moral equivalence between the actions that led to them. In so doing, lumping accidents of war and deliberate homicides together only obfuscates the truth about this terrible conflict. Even worse, it is being used to fuel a drive to get the Bush administration to issue a call for Israel to make further concessions to the Arabs.

In one incident last week, two Jewish boys ó including one who was an American citizen ó were set upon by Arabs while they were hiking not far from their home in the town of Tekoa. The two were brutally butchered, and left in caves where their pitiful corpses were so horribly mutilated they were unrecognizable to their families.

In the other incident, an Arab baby was killed when an Israeli tank shell that was fired into her village struck the child and killed her while the infantís parents sought to flee the scene of the fighting.

For some who follow the regionís idiosyncrasies, the Arab child who died deserves to be mourned as a yet another "martyr" to the Palestinian cause. The story of the infantís death seemingly testifies to what Secretary-General of the United Nations Kofi Annan and U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell have alleged is Israelís recent use of "excessive" force.

Any death, especially that of a child, is unacceptable, but the assumptions that lay behind this argument, as well as the charges of "excessive force," are fundamentally false. Israelís attacks into Gaza, such as the one that resulted in the Arab childís death, is a reaction to a campaign of terrorism on the part of the Palestinians. The childís village was being used as a launching pad for mortar attacks on Jews in Gaza, as well as on Israeli towns inside Israelís pre-1967 borders.

What nation would not try and eliminate the source of those attacks? Why then is it "excessive" for Israel to do so? That such actions bring casualties, including those who are completely innocent, is awful. But the responsibility for the death of that Arab child lies not with Israel, but with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and the rest of the Palestinian Authority who seek to make their children targets for Israeli defensive measures.

On the other hand, the attack on the two Israeli boys was cold-blooded murder, pure and simple. The assertion of the P.A. that the presence of Jews in Tekoa is a provocation to Arabs and that terror against those Jews, whether young or old, is to be rationalized if not applauded, is outrageous. In fact, far from showing that the two sides are morally equivalent when it comes to child casualties, these two stories make it all the more clear just how different the two sides are.

Israelís military has done everything in its power to limit Arab deaths. It sought to avoid this conflict, with Israelís previous government even offering astounding concessions in the hope of signing a comprehensive peace agreement. Given the fact that Arafat responded by launching a war of attrition via terrorism makes it clear that his regime is completely uninterested in making peace.

Rather than sniping at Israel, as U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell has done, the United States should be doing its part to see that the murderers of an American citizen are brought to justice. Indeed, last weekís act of terror should remind us of the State Departmentís unconscionable policy of offering rewards for the apprehension of terrorist murderers of all American citizens ó except those killed by Palestinians.

Instead of offering rewards for the capture of the murderers, our government may wind up rewarding them by issuing a call for Israel to "freeze" the building of housing in the territories. Such a policy would be a major boost to Arafat and other sponsors of anti-Jewish terror. Rather than unfairly place the onus for making further demands on Israel, President Bush should be making it clear that terrorism will not gain the Palestinians any advantage at all.

JWR contributor Jonathan S. Tobin is executive editor of the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent. Let him know what you think by clicking here.

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