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Were targeted killings justified?

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Were targeted killings justified?


As long as the Palestinian leadership did nothing to stop the terrorist attacks, Israel had no choice but to act to prevent them, including by means of targeted counter-terrorism operations. Under international law, individuals who actively take part in hostilities are legitimate military targets.

In its signed agreements with Israel, the Palestinian Authority undertook to stop all violence, arrest terrorists, dismantle the terrorist infrastructure, collect illegal weapons and end incitement to violence. Yet in the years after the 1993 Oslo Accords, the PA did nothing to fulfill its obligation, but instead actively encouraged and supported terrorism. This terrorism has deliberately targeted civilians for murder. The inaction of the Palestinian leadership in the face of widespread terrorist activity in the areas under its control, coupled with its active support of this violence, left Israel with no alternative but to take itself the necessary action to prevent terrorist attacks.

Still, over the past years, Israel's security forces have been faced with an untenable dilemma - how to uphold Israel's democratic values and the rules of armed warfare while fighting terrorists who are willing to violate every norm of civilized behavior. Israel has desperately searched for ways to effectively stop terrorists, who are hiding among the Palestinian population, without harming innocent Palestinians.

Whenever possible, Israeli operations are directed toward apprehending terrorists and their accomplices, and bringing them to justice. In a small minority of cases, arrests are impossible, primarily due to the fact that the terrorist operatives and their ringleaders are given refuge in the heart of Palestinian controlled areas. When this happens and when there is a clear terrorist threat, Israel has had to undertake preventive measures, including targeted counter-terrorism operations aimed at stopping terrorists from perpetrating attacks.

International law, in general, and the law of armed conflict, in particular, recognize that individuals who directly take part in hostilities cannot then claim immunity. By initiating and participating in armed attacks, such individuals have designated themselves as combatants and have forfeited such legal protection. In many terrorist organizations, there is no true division between the so-called political arm and the military arm - leaders from all parts of the organization are actively involved in ordering and planning terrorist attacks, and, therefore, can be considered legitimate military targets. By the same token, an individual who becomes a combatant is considered to remain a combatant until hostilities come to an end and not merely during that exact instant when they are carrying out an attack.

Since September 2000, Israeli civilians and soldiers alike have had to face thousands of organized, violent and life-threatening attacks, only a small percentage of which have been reported in the media. These attacks have included suicide bombings, shootings, violent riots, lynchings, fire-bombings, roadside ambushes, mortar barrages, and car bombs directed at civilian targets. The Palestinians have also attempted - but fortunately failed - to carry out acts of "mega-terrorism," including attempted attacks on the Pi Glilot gas and fuel storage facility near Tel Aviv and the truck bombing of Tel Aviv's largest skyscrapers. To date, over 1,100 Israelis have been killed and many thousands more wounded as a result of this violence.

Under these difficult conditions, the Israel Defense Forces have acted with the greatest possible restraint, taking action only when inaction by Israel would have resulted in the loss of innocent lives. Israel always strives to use the minimum force necessary to prevent terrorism, acting in compliance with the principles and practice of armed conflict. It takes care to target only those responsible for the violence, and makes every effort to avoid the involvement of innocent civilians.

In contrast, Palestinian terrorists deliberately target innocent civilians and use weapons designed to cause the greatest possible injury and death.

The Israeli government regrets the loss of any life, whether Jewish or Arab, in the present wave of violence. Terrorist attacks have both taken innocent lives and gravely wounded the peace process. Terrorism remains the primary obstacle to peace and it is imperative that the violence ends so that both parties can return to constructive negotiations. A just and sustainable solution can be found only through dialogue, not armed conflict. However, while the terrorism continues, Israel has an indisputable responsibility to act in self-defense and protect its citizens.

In the final analysis, responsibility for all the casualties lies with the Palestinian leadership, which has initiated the violence and refuses to bring it to an end. Were Palestinian violence and terrorism to end, Israel would have no reason to take preventive countermeasures.


These texts are taken from material published by the Israel Ministry of Foreign affairs. with additional comments and hyperlinked materials. They were apparently published in connection with the Annapolis peace conference of 2007, but they have extensive applicability beyond it. They explain fundamentals of Israeli policy as well as the meaning of Zionism and history of the conflict.

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Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs text is at Israel, the Conflict and Peace. Original text  is copyright by Ami Isseroff and Zionism-Israel Center.

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