Speaking to the press Wednesday after a Palestinian woman suicide bomber murdered four Israelis at Erez, Gaza Division commander Brig. Gen. Gad Shamni spoke of the seeming pointlessness of the attack. Erez, Shamni noted, is a tangible manifestation of Israel's commitment to coexistence with the Palestinians.
Some four thousand Gazans work at the Erez industrial park, which was built for the sole purpose of enabling Palestinians to work even when security closures prevented them from entering into Israel. Its bombed out terminal has been constructed and reconstructed after repeated terrorist attacks in order to enable Palestinians to enter Israel to work and support their families. In the words of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's spokesman David Baker, "the Palestinian terrorists not only have blatant disregard for Israeli lives but an equally blatant disregard for their own economic interests."
Similarly, IDF sources noted that the roadside murder of Ro'i Arbel on Tuesday night probably came about as a result of the easing of roadblocks in Judea and Samaria to enable free movement of Palestinian traffic.
It's reasonable for Israeli officials to point out that Palestinian terrorists exploit Israel's humanitarian gestures to murder Israelis. But it really isn't the point.
Ever since Yasser Arafat spurned peace for war in the autumn of 2000, it has been absolutely clear that the Palestinian political and terrorist leadership have no interest in advancing their societal interests. What they are interested in is marshalling the sum total of their resources to destroy Israeli society. Terrorism is but one of the means employed to advance this goal. Other means include the indoctrination of Palestinian society – via schools, religious bodies, and the mass media – to seek the destruction of Israel as its highest national goal.
In the case of the media, this mobilization was brought to our attention when a delegation of 100 Palestinian "journalists" paid a visit to Arafat this past Tuesday in order to declare their fealty.
Addressing his vassals, Arafat lauded their work on behalf of the Palestinian cause. For their part, several of the "journalists" read poems they had composed in his honor.
The Palestinian total war against Israel is not simply a local story. The PLO advances its efforts with the full support of the Arab-Israeli leadership, the governments of Arab and Muslim states, most of the EU member states, the UN General Assembly and the bulk of the international human rights community. The point of this international campaign is to criminalize Israel in every possible way.
Every action that Israel takes to protect its citizenry from mass murder is condemned. Actions by Israel in the realm of law enforcement raise immediate outcries.
A seemingly insignificant incident this week in the Knesset is indicative of this larger campaign.
On Wednesday Arab MKs Issam Mahoul and Jamal Zahlakha had to be forcibly removed from the Knesset's Interior Affairs Committee when they sought to disrupt its proceedings. Committee chairman MK Yuri Shtern convened the committee to conduct a hearing on the illegal seizure of state and privately owned land by Palestinian criminal gangs in east Jerusalem. The gangs, with close ties to the Palestinian Authority, are the terror of Arab Jerusalemites.
They illegally seize land belonging to absentee Arab owners and to the state, construct multi-storey apartment buildings and sell the units. On average, between 800 and 900 such buildings are constructed every year. When the owners appear they are harassed and threatened.
And when the government takes action to stop the building or remove the illegal structures, Palestinian activists take to the human-rights circuit and accuse Israel of oppression.
For its part, the PA funds the illegal construction with low-interest loans and pays the builders' legal fines and lawyers' fees.
The hearing was only able to take place after Shtern expelled Zahlakha and Mahoul from the meeting because the MKs threatened the officials brought before the committee to provide testimony. They told the officials that they would write letters to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) at the Hague accusing the officials by name of war crimes.
As an Arab Jerusalemite lamented to me after the meeting, "These MKs are harming the interests of the Arabs in Jerusalem. It is we who suffer from the gangs who terrorize us and steal our land, but they don't care. All they care about is attacking Israel."
Zahlahka and Mahoul's threats came a day after Deputy Knesset Speaker Muhammad Barakei penned a letter on Knesset stationery to the ICJ asking to provide testimony on "Israeli war crimes" in constructing the security fence in Judea and Samaria. The proximate cause of Barakei's effort to undermine the legitimacy of the state's actions is the docket before the ICJ on Israel's construction of the security fence in Judea and Samaria.
In late November, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan issued a report claiming that, in building the fence, Israel is violating international law.
Annan's report was used as the basis for the PLO's resolution in the General Assembly, which passed overwhelmingly last month, asking the ICJ to issue an opinion on the legality of the fence. The court is scheduled to conduct hearings on the matter at the end of next month.
The case "is groundless," says David Rivkin, an international lawyer and former official in the Reagan and first Bush administrations."There is no basis in international law for this claim. The Geneva Conventions are in no way breached by the fence. This is a misinterpretation of international law for the purpose of misapplying international law," he says.
Of course he is right. But that's the point. If international law can be perverted to indict a lawful state taking the minimal measures necessary to defend its citizenry against slaughter, then the Palestinians and their allies will have taken one more step towards the criminalization of Israel. As international lawyer and fellow at the Washington based Center for Strategic and International Studies Laurence Rothenberg puts it, the case is "a form of 'lawfare' where the law is distorted to serve as a form of warfare against a state."
And no doubt, if the court decides that it has jurisdiction over the issue, it will be complicit with this "lawfare."
Egyptian judge Nabil Elaraby made his views clear in an interview he gave to the Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram in November 2002, where he called on the Arab and Muslim states to sue Israel at the ICJ for genocide. Jordanian judge Awn Shawhat Al-Khasawneh acted in 1994 as a special rapporteur to the UN Human Rights commission and filed a brief arguing that Israeli settlements are illegal.
Today, the government is trying to put together its line of defense and general approach to the ICJ. There is some dispute among those involved over whether Israel should simply state that the ICJ has no jurisdiction to hear the case or whether Israel should provide the legal basis for its actions. Those arguing for the minimalist approach claim that Israel should not grant the politicized court legitimacy by engaging it in legal arguments. Those arguing for the latter approach claim that the provision of the legal basis for the separation fence will, if nothing else, serve as the basis for Israel's public relations campaign against the expected anti-Israel decision by the ICJ.
While both approaches have merit, neither addresses the real issue. As it is reasonable for Israel to point out that bombers in Erez harm Palestinians, it is also reasonable to note that building the fence is legal. Those who are willing to
listen will hear. Those who still value the truth will be convinced. Those who care about the law will be disgusted with the perversion of international law and miscarriage of justice by the UN and the ICJ.
But the main point is to be found elsewhere. It is to be found in a recognition and presentation by Israel of the fact that the Palestinians are conducting a total war against us that encompasses nearly every facet of human life. In defending Israel in public forums, it is neither productive nor reasonable for Israel to limit its defense to reactions against Palestinian legalistic aggression and diplomatic perversion.
A more strategically apt defense would necessarily point out the larger picture. For instance: In her videotaped message before Wednesday's bombing, the terrorist said "It was always my wish to turn my body into deadly shrapnel against the Zionists and to knock on the doors of heaven with the skulls of Zionists."
This statement, like thousands of others made by bombers, their commanders, official PA spokesmen and media outlets over the years are sufficient for Israel to make a credible legal case against the Palestinians. That case would be based on The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.
By condemning each separate act of self-defense Israel adopts to protect its citizens, Palestinians and their allies seek to obfuscate the true nature of their campaign against the Jewish state and its citizens. Crafting a successful counter-strategy will necessarily center on the one ingredient that their campaign lacks: the truth.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.