Analysis from Israel

The Los Angeles Times published an eye-popping report this week: According to Kadoura Fares, head of the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club, roughly one-fifth of all Palestinian attacks on Israelis in recent months have been attempts to commit “suicide by cop.” Even if that estimate were exaggerated, Israeli security officials concur that there have been many such cases, which begs an obvious question: Given that suicides are usually interested mainly in killing themselves, why do so many suicidal Palestinians try to kill others in the process? And Fares is quite upfront about the answer: “In our culture, suicide for no reason isn’t honorable,” he said. “If they try to confront a soldier, however, it’s looked on with more respect.’’

Or to put it more bluntly, Palestinians have created a culture where mass murder is the quickest, easiest and surest path to glory. What distressed Palestinians are told by their society is roughly the following: “Do you feel like a failure? No problem. All you have to do is murder a Jew, and you’ll be an instant hero. You’ll be lionized on radio and television programs; schools and soccer tournaments will be named after you; politicians will sing your praises. And as a bonus, you’ll also earn the respect that goes with being a breadwinner: If you live, the government will pay you an above-market salary while you’re in prison, and if you die, it will pay your family.” For a distraught youngster, such a prospect of instant redemption is enormously tempting.

This, clearly, is a form of society-wide child abuse: Instead of being encouraged to seek help, distressed young people are encouraged to commit murder, thereby ensuring they will either be killed by security personnel or sentenced to years in jail. That this practice is ignored by all the myriad “human rights” groups active in the West Bank is ample proof that they care as little about Palestinians’ human rights as they do about those of Israelis.

But contrary to the LA Times’ headline writer, who titled the article “Politics isn’t the only motive driving Palestinian knife attacks on Israeli soldiers,” the fact that so many would-be suicides try to attack Israelis is all about politics–not the assailants’ politics, but those of their society. For in Palestinian society, murdering Jews is the height of political achievement. And you needn’t take my word for it; just look at the Fatah party’s election campaign for October’s planned municipal vote.

Last week, Fatah’s official Facebook page proudly sported a list of the party’s achievements. The very first on the list was “Fatah has killed 11,000 Israelis.” And what about numbers two, three, and four? In order, Fatah “has sacrificed 170,000 martyrs” (the Palestinian term for people killed attacking Israelis); it “was the first to carry out operations [i.e., terror attacks] during the first Intifada”; and “it was the first to fight in the second Intifada,” the brutal terrorist onslaught that killed more Israelis in four years than all the Palestinian terror attacks of the previous 53 years combined. In fact, there’s only one nonviolent “achievement” on the list, and even that relates to anti-Israel activity: “Fatah led the Palestinian attack on Israel in the UN.”

Elsewhere in the world, governing parties seeking reelection usually highlight their efforts to improve people’s lives–for instance, job creation, new infrastructure or anti-poverty measures. But no such measure appeared on Fatah’s list of achievements, even though it has run the Palestinian Authority for the last 22 years. Granted, it might be hard-pressed to find any such achievements to boast of even if it wanted to, but that’s precisely because it has consistently prioritized hurting Israel over helping its own people.

And lest anyone has forgotten, Fatah is the “moderate” Palestinian party–the one led by PA President Mahmoud Abbas, Israel’s ostensible peace partner. Hamas, as I’ve pointed out before, is at least equally bloodthirsty.

This, of course, is the main reason why more than two decades of “peace processing” have yet to produce peace. It’s hard to make peace when one side exalts killing the other as the highest possible good. Yet the West has consistently turned a blind eye to this problem rather than confronting it, preferring instead to pretend that peace would break out tomorrow if Israel would just make more concessions. And many Westerners even actively enable this abusive death cult by blaming not the Palestinian leaders who incite troubled youth to kill both themselves and others, but Israel, on the dubious theory that it must somehow be guilty if so many Palestinians want to attack it (if that doesn’t sound dubious to you, just try saying that women must be guilty because so many men want to rape them).

Neither Israeli-Palestinian peace nor a better life for Palestinians will ever be achievable as long as this culture of death continues to dominate mainstream Palestinian politics. This is a change Palestinians will ultimately have to make for themselves, but the West could help it along if it finally stopped playing enabler.

The latest report by the Middle East Quartet (the U.S., EU, UN, and Russia) took a positive first step; it did at least acknowledge that Palestinian incitement to terror is a problem. But until Western countries start condemning this behavior clearly and consistently, and actively penalizing it, rather than aiming most of their fire at Israel, Palestinians will have every reason to conclude that their death cult is working beautifully. For in a political system that deems harming Israel to be the highest good, any policy that encourages the West to turn against the Jewish state is a success, no matter how many young Palestinians have to die in the process.

Originally published in Commentary on August 11, 2016

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The International Criminal Court’s fundamental flaw

In my last column, I noted in passing that the International Criminal Court’s blatant anti-Israel bias is merely a symptom of a more fundamental flaw. That isn’t self-evident; court supporters would doubtless argue, just as many people do about the United Nations, that while the court’s anti-Israel bias is regrettable, it’s an isolated flaw that doesn’t outweigh the benefit of ending impunity for atrocities.

What convinced me both that the ICC is unredeemable and that the impunity problem has a better solution was actually a book by one of the court’s ardent supporters—Philippe Sands, a law professor and international lawyer who has worked on ICC cases. In East West Street, Sands traces the development of two key concepts in international law—crimes against humanity and genocide—to their respective culminations in the Nuremberg Trials of 1945 and the Genocide Convention of 1948. But for me, the real eye-opener was his description of the international wrangling that preceded the Nuremberg Trials.

Nuremberg is sometimes derided as victor’s justice. And in one sense, it obviously was: Four of the victors of World War II—America, Britain, Russia and France—decided to put senior officials of their vanquished foe on trial. But what was striking about Nuremberg was the massive degree of international concord required to hold those trials. Lawyers representing several very different legal systems and several very different systems of government nevertheless had to agree on every word and even every comma in the indictments. And since those lawyers were acting on their governments’ behalf, political approval by all four governments was also needed.

In contrast, the ICC needs no international buy-in at all to pursue a case. Granted, its prosecutors and judges come from many different countries, but they represent neither their home governments nor their home legal systems. Politically, they represent nobody but themselves. Legally, they represent one particular interpretation of international law—an interpretation popular with academics and “human rights” organizations, but less so with national governments.

At first glance, both of the above may sound like pluses. Prosecutorial and judicial independence are generally good things, whereas many governments and legal systems leave much to be desired when it comes to protecting human rights.

But the ICC’s version of prosecutorial and judicial independence is very different from the version found in most democracies because the latter is not completely unconstrained. In democracies, prosecutors and judges are constrained first of all by democratically enacted legislation, and usually by democratically enacted constitutions as well. They’re also constrained by the fact that they, too, are citizens of their country, and therefore share concerns important to most of their countrymen—for instance, national self-defense—but unimportant to judges and prosecutors from other countries (which those at the ICC almost always will be).

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