Assassination and Its Consequences
By Marcia Freedman
The assassination of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, spiritual leader of
Hamas, is just one more act in the cycle of violence that
continues to prevent a negotiated settlement of the
Israel, unquestionably, has the same right and obligation
that all sovereign nations have to ensure the security of its
citizens. Hamas, founded by Sheik Yassin, is without doubt a
terrorist organization that does not recognize the right of
Israel to exist on any of historic Palestine. Hamas is Israel's
But the right of self-defense does not automatically justify,
morally or pragmaticly, a policy of targeted
Morally, I find assassination
repugnant and not consistent with any Jewish values I've been
taught. If, in fact, Sheik Yassin was guilty of leading his
people in terrorism, Israel certainly has sufficient military
force to re-arrest him and put him on trial, or merely hold him
under administrative detention without trial (which is legal in
Israel as an emergency measure).
Pragmatically, the question is whether targeted assassination
in general and this particular target fosters Israel's security.
How will Israeli security be served any better with Yassin dead?
In fact, the practical consequences of the decision to send
three attack helicopters to assassinate a blind old man in a
wheel chair may well be entirely negative and long-lasting.
Short term, it is virtually certain that Hamas will exact a
price which Israelis will pay with their lives. The only
uncertainty is when, where and who.
Long term, the assassination of a figure as revered as Ahmad
Yassin in the Islamic world, can only contribute to the growing
willingness of Palestinian youth to be suicide bombers. A new
study by London pyschiatrist Iyaad al-Saraj reveals the shocking
fact that the fondest desire of one in four children and youth
in Gaza is to die a martyr's death at age 18. The study found
that most of these children have witnessed violence first-hand
and that they show severe sychological symptoms of
post-traumatic stress disorder.
The rage and insult felt today by Palestinians of all
political movements, Moderates included (and in the Arab world
at large), will inevitably fuel the flames of violence and
revenge for some time to come. This throws a major wrench into
the upcoming discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in
Tunis by the heads of Arab states. Moderates, like Egypt and
Jordan, will have a much harder time making their case for
further attempts to arrange a ceasefire.
Within the Palestinian Territories, the assassination of
Yassin can only increase support for Hamas and decrease support
for the more moderate Palestinian Authority. In view of the
Sharon proposal being developed to withdraw the army and
settlements from Gaza, this would hardly seem a consequence
Israel would be wise to encourage. The Israeli withdrawal will
inevitably create a power vacuum that Hamas will rush to fill.
For all the successful fencing and patrolling, a Gaza Strip
ruled by Hamas is a much more dangerous neighbor than one ruled
by the Palestinian Authority.
What then did Israel's policymakers believe would be gained
from assassinating Yassin? To date, the only reason that has
been offered by those who support it is that the Prime Minister
is punishing Hamas, and Yassin directly, for declaring the
unilateral withdrawal a victory for Hamas. The pictures of
Hezbollah forces celebrating the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon
is still fresh in the Israeli mind.
But this is not so much a "reason" as an underlying
motivation that is more a response to perceived shame than a
rational grounds for decision-making. The only thing that can be
accomplished by stepping up the pace of military actions in the
Gaza Strip is to make the Palestinians pay a high price for
Israeli withdrawal. It won't, in the end, make them any less
elated to see Israel go, it will only undercut them in rising to
the challenges of self-governance.
The assassination of Yassin and the consequences thereof may
be the first of the negative effects of Sharon's unilateral
withdrawal proposal. If so, the U.S. government needs to take it
as a further warning that unless the withdrawal is carefully
controlled and fully coordinated with the Palestinians and the
international community, it could lead to disaster, not only for
Israel but for the United States as well.
Marcia Freedman is president of Brit Tzedek v'Shalom, the
Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace and a former Member of