If we lived in a world where universal sympathy were directed toward Israel for the horrors it suffers daily -- supermarkets, bakeries, buses, synagogues, hotels and bedrooms being blown to bits by terrorists who lace their bombs with nails dipped in rat poison -- the criticism aimed at Israel after last week's attack on Salah Shehada would be less disgusting.
The words "war crime" and "atrocity" never seem to pass the lips of European diplomats, intellectuals or journalists regarding Arab homicide bombers. But the minute Israel retaliates, the "world community" is seized by horror and indignation.
It isn't just that the world has chosen sides in a conflict. It is that the free, democratic world has bullied and abandoned a small free nation valiantly attempting to live by the civilized norms the free world theoretically champions, against an enemy that does not recognize them at all.
When was the last time anyone accused the Palestinian Authority of Nazi-like tactics? Israel is so accused constantly. And when was the last time there was even so much as a whiff of conscience or regret from the whole Arab world about the low, immoral war being waged against Israel's shoppers, babies in strollers and teen-agers at dance clubs?
Yes, a few Arab voices have been raised recently urging an end to homicide bombings of civilians. But read the fine print. This is always couched in prudential terms. They argue that the tactic is backfiring -- giving the Israelis an excuse for ever harsher measures against the Palestinians. It is never urged as a matter of humanity or conscience, never because Israeli babies are regarded as human beings.
Who can blame the Israelis for their bitterness? The Israeli nation grieves
over every innocent Arab caught in the crossfire and does its best to avoid civilian casualties even when it means greater risk to its own soldiers (e.g. Jenin).
But when Israel succumbs to the world's pressure and apologizes for defending herself, she has lost a piece of the psychic armor she so desperately needs to win.
Israel had been hunting Shehada for months. One of the terrorist planners who had hundreds of murders to his credit, Shehada knew he was being stalked. He never slept in the same place two nights in a row. That he was sleeping with his wife and numbers of children on the night in question is just further proof that he understood -- even if the rest of the world chooses to pretend otherwise -- that he might be able to rely upon the Israelis' reluctance to kill innocents.
Usually, as Shehada certainly knew, the Israelis stay their hand when a strike will mean the deaths of children. They've gone to extraordinary lengths -- even in the face of a demoralizing murder campaign against their civilians -- to limit civilian casualties. But this time the Israelis decided that they had to strike. By using women and children as shields, when he knew he was a wanted man, Shehada bears responsibility for the deaths of those civilians.
But now Israel has apologized and called the attack a mistake. Though its reasons are understandable (unlike Palestinians, who rejoice in the sight of dead Israeli children, Israelis get pangs of remorse when they see dead Palestinian children), this will come back to haunt the nation. It sends a clear message that hiding among civilians is sure to be successful from now on.
Israel chose to bomb an apartment building in Gaza because the man it had to kill was so dangerous. The U.S. military has risked (and caused) civilian deaths when we thought we had no other choice. It isn't just that we firebombed Dresden and incinerated Hiroshima and Nagasaki when we felt that our national survival was at risk. Who doubts that if we saw Osama bin Laden at a cafe in Kabul that we would hesitate to strike even if some of those around him would surely be killed as well?
Obviously, neither Israel nor we would adopt the tactics of our adversaries. Israelis are not going to bomb souks and mosques on the West Bank for sport. Nor will the U.S. blow up apartment complexes in Baghdad for no purpose except to inflict suffering. But sometimes, in war, even the good guys must do bad things -- if they are serious about winning.