Friday, December 28, 2007

Do Not Try This At Home

Last Thursday, an IDF helicopter gunship raid killed Mohammed Abdallah Abu Murshad, another in a very long string of young men no Israeli civilian ever thought to fear, or had even heard of, until his death by assassination was reported in the morning newspaper. Presumably, IDF intelligence had heard of him. And this was a highly professional hit, which apparently killed no Palestinian civilians this time, but did kill two of his “operatives.”

Mohammed Abdallah Abu Murshad was, according to IDF sources, “the head of rocket and explosive manufacturing for Islamic Jihad in Gaza.” I have no reason to doubt that he was, or that he has been involved in raining missiles on the Negev town of Shderot, or that if he wasn’t involved, he would have wanted to be, or that he thinks Jews are the children of Satan who will be ultimately scattered like the Crusaders, or that he used what high technology he could without appreciating the liberties and scientific doubt that produce high technology, or that he would have beaten his sister for petting with his friend, or that if he had had a teeny Iranian nuclear weapon to strap on, he would have tried to incinerate Tel-Aviv.

Nor do I doubt our need for professionals. A short walk from my home in the German Colony is Café Hillel, which was bombed in September 2003. (The blast gently pushed open my step-daughter’s bedroom door.) Across the street, Emeq Refaim (“The Valley of the Ghosts”), is another café, Caffit, where two suicide bombers were foiled on two separate occasions. At the summit of the main street’s rise, near Terra Sancta in the Rehavia quarter, another café, Moment, was bombed in 2002. Walk another half mile into the city center and you come to a pizzeria that was bombed twice. The nearby Ben-Yehuda Street mall was bombed. When I draw an imaginary radius around the outermost of these neighborhood landmarks, I can remember five bus bombings in the area, each kicking off a new round of sirens, days of mourning. My wife’s cafeteria at the Hebrew University was bombed. Yet there have been no bombings for a good many months.

I do not doubt that I owed my walk down Emeq Refaim this morning to people who make their living, or do their national service, by defending me. For all I know, the person who fired the missile that killed Mohammed Abdallah Abu Murshad, avenging the missiles on Shderot, was a relative of mine, or the child of a friend, or a former student, who came home for a Sabbath dinner last night and watched an episode of “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” But then, I also do not doubt that this young man will sleep less easily in the months ahead. The son of a couple once very dear to me became an undercover assassin in Gaza. The couple, his father and mother, had been killed when a Palestinian terrorist blew up their flight. The son, then three, now himself a father in his thirties, started a professional drumming ensemble a few years after leaving his service, to heighten spiritual consciousness. He wears white linen frocks and forelocks and preaches the Prophets. He thinks I am lost.

WHAT I DO doubt, alas, is that the killing of Mohammed Abdallah Abu Murshad means that there will now be no more “head of rocket and explosive manufacturing for Islamic Jihad in Gaza.” There may now be two or three such operatives. His replacements, whose names we will doubtless learn in a few weeks or months, are probably already at their posts, or will be when the funerals have dispersed. For Mohammed Abdallah Abu Murshad likely had brothers, sisters, cousins, and friends. All you need, after all, is love.

My own friend, the University of Toronto sociologist Robert Brym, carefully studied all 138 suicide bombings between September 2000 and mid-July 2005. He concluded that, in the vast majority of cases, the bombers themselves—whatever their “ideological” predispositions, or the groups that claimed responsibility—had lost a friend or close relative to Israeli fire. They acted, he wrote, mainly out of revenge. How many Hamlets can Israel cope with before our professionals run out of Guildensterns to inform on them?

DEFENSE MINISTER Ehud Barak, Israel’s ultimate defense professional, who among his other remarkable feats led the 1973 raid on the PLO in Beirut, killing Abu Youssef, allegedly responsible for the Munich massacre (along with Youssef's wife, two of his fighters, an Italian bystander and two Lebanese policemen), is reported to believe that the “military and economic pressure on Hamas could lead the organization to ask for a cease-fire and pledge to halt rocket fire by smaller factions.”

Except that spokespeople for the defense establishment routinely declare that any cease-fire will only be used by the militant factions to consolidate their power and prepare for the next round, so that targeted assassinations will have to continue against ticking bombs, which is what people like Mohammed Abdallah Abu Murshad are by definition. During the last hudna with Hamas, in the summer of 2003, these preemptive attacks against ticking bombs never stopped and, indeed, Hamas emerged from it strengthened.

Funny, when Barak led the raid on Beirut, the city had not yet experienced civil war, there were perhaps 15,000 settlers in the West Bank, which Israelis crisscrossed more or less freely, and Mohammed Abdallah Abu Murshad was eight years old. When Barak had the chance as prime minister to change the environment of vendetta, he seized it, but then retreated in the face of domestic opposition, including 200,000 settlers, hoping to force the Palestinians at Camp David to swallow a deal nobody would ask them to swallow today, warning that he would isolate and weaken the Palestinians “if they refused to yield. All of which leads you to wonder, does it not?, whether defense professionals can ever get us out of this, or even be trusted to know what makes young men tick.