When is it OK to shoot a terrorist?
It’s a complicated question. Imagine you’re a policeman, a soldier or just a passer-by and you see someone pull out a knife and stab a stranger repeatedly in the back. The stabber sees you, leaves the knife in the back of the victim, and heads away from you.
Imagine you’re armed with a gun. What do you do?
One response would be to think “well, I can’t see a knife anymore so the attacker’s probably not an immediate threat. I’ll chase him. He’s pretty far ahead and will probably escape, but it’s always wrong to shoot someone who appears unarmed”.
Another would be to say “He’s just tried to murder someone and probably didn’t expect to survive. So he’ll probably try again immediately. He could even have a second weapon and be rushing to stab someone else before I catch him”. With this logic, the right thing to do might be to shoot the attacker to disable them, even while knowing that a ‘shot to disable’ might prove to be a shot to kill.
I don’t own a gun and don’t have to make a decision like that in the spur of the moment. Others do, and they make their decisions quickly, based on their training, their orders and their own judgement.
It is better if terrorists are captured alive. It’s better because we can question them to find out if anyone sent them; it’s better because the death of a terrorist at the scene can inflame tensions that could lead to other attacks; it’s better because in a country of laws, justice should come from a trial through the legal process. It’s even better because it’s easier from a PR standpoint. Despite all this, sometimes the best option will still be to shoot.
It’s also legitimate to ask, after the fact, if the right decision was made. In 1990 in Northern Ireland, a British soldier St Lee Clegg shot at a car that crashed through a military checkpoint, killing two of the passengers. As far as he was aware, this was an attack on his position by terrorists who might have gone on to commit more attacks. In a highly controversial trial, he was prosecuted and found guilty of murder for using excessive force. The court found that the first three bullets he fired were fine, but the fourth shot was excessive because they’d already crashed through the checkpoint and were now escaping. He was later released on appeal after closer examination of that fourth shot.
And so, however uncomfortable it may be, it’s legitimate for pro-Palestinian groups to question whether a terrorist should have been shot after an attack. It’s a fair question. In most cases, it’s a question that can be easily and clearly answered ‘yes’, but it’s still a fair question.
In reality, though, anti-Israel groups have taken a different, more familiar, more depressing and more extreme approach. The UK’s Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) writes:
Yesterday, Israeli soldiers shot dead a 15-year-old boy, Hassan Khaled Manasra, and deliberately ran over his 13-year-old cousin, Ahmed Manasra (pictured) in East Jerusalem. Settlers surrounded Ahmed, shouting ‘Die’ and cursing him, while an Israeli ambulance stood by as he bled.
Hours earlier, Israeli forces had shot dead 18-year-old Mostafa al-Khateeb.
A 17-year-old schoolgirl, Marah al-Bakri, was also shot several times outside her school in East Jerusalem by Israeli forces yesterday.”
This is absolutely astonishing. In each case, the PSC has simply omitted that the injured Palestinians were carrying out terror attacks at the time. This is fairly relevant information. The vast majority of the people reading the PSC’s post will think that Israel decided to randomly shoot some Palestinians.
In fact, the Manasra brothers stabbed a 13-year-old Israeli who was riding his bike and another 15-year-old; the victims are still in hospital. Mustafa al-Khateeb tried to stab a soldier in the Old City of Jerusalem, and Marah Al-Bakri stabbed a border policeman outside of Police Headquarters in Jerusalem.
The PSC leaves out all of this. In their world, only Palestinians can be victims, so the terror victims must be erased. Most of their readers, without detailed information of the cases, will just believe them.
The PSC could have engaged in a mature dialogue about whether it was right, in these cases, for the soldier or policeman to pull the trigger in that split-second of indecision. They could have talked about the complicated balance of security and justice, prevention and preservation, and argued that maybe in some cases that balance has been wrong.
Instead, they erased the terror victims entirely, turning four attempted murderers into innocents and completely reversing the reality.
(One more point: an Israeli ambulance didn’t ‘stand by’ while Ahmed Manasra bled. In fact, an ambulance took him to hospital where he is recovering.)
This narrative isn’t just misleading and unfair. It’s also dangerous.
Palestinian media is full of similar stories, where every terrorist is an innocent victim. In fact, the PSC’s coverage might have been copied from Palestinian media. This coverage cultivates a sense of injustice against the terrorists and is used to incite even more attacks. There is no longer a ‘cycle of violence’ of IDF actions and terror attacks. Instead, each terror attack is its own cycle of violence, and the capture or killing of the attacker is seen as the ‘injustice’ that legitimises the next attack.
The only way to break this cycle is to tell the truth about terrorists. Covering up their attacks and erasing their victims legitimises future terrorism.
The Palestine Solidarity Campaign masquerades as a mainstream organisation, with Members of Parliament and Trade Union heads among its leaders. As long as it’s covering up terror attacks and to make the perpetrators into unambiguous victims, nobody should believe that the PSC is anything other than a lying hate-filled organisation of extremists.