I read this morning that Israeli troops had raided a Palestinian hospital in the West Bank city of Hebron and had captured a Hamas terrorist who was a patient there and who is suspected of having stabbed an Israeli settler last month. In the course of the raid on the hospital, a cousin of the suspect was shot dead by the Israelis.
My jaw dropped as I read the report, and I asked myself whether capturing this particular suspect was so important and necessary as to justify an Israeli raid on a Palestinian hospital, with all the attendant negative publicity and official condemnation that such an operation must inevitably produce. Hours later, I am still asking myself that question, and the more I think about it, the more mystified I become.
Israel certainly has a right and a duty to defend its citizens against terrorism, and that right includes the right to apprehend and punish those who commit terrorism. But, just as is the case with every other right that a person or a state might possess, there are more intelligent, more productive ways of asserting the right and less intelligent ways. I have the right to do lots of things, but that does not mean that it would be smart for me to exercise all my rights all the time, regardless of circumstances.
The Israeli raid on the Palestinian hospital comes very close to, even if it ultimately does not amount to, a violation of Article 15 of the 1949 Geneva Convention IV. Article 15 provides in essence that the parties to a conflict may agree that certain “neutralized zones” will be established where wounded persons, including wounded combatants, will be able to receive medical treatment while being “shelter[ed] from the effects of war[.]” Presumably, such “shelter” would include not being subject to capture.
Of course, Israel could not correctly be deemed to be at war or in an armed conflict with the Palestinian National Authority. If Israel is at war with any entities, it is with Hamas and other terrorist organizations. To my knowledge, Israel has never formally or informally agreed with Hamas that any places, including hospitals operated by the PNA, will be “neutralized zones” pursuant to Article 15. For that reason, the raid on the hospital probably was not a violation of that article. But, technicalities aside, pictures of Israeli armed forces, bristling with weapons, stalking Palestinian hospital corridors are not calculated to produce much sympathy for Israel around the world.
I would not disagree with anyone who asserted that Israel would be foolish to try to build its security on a foundation of sympathetic world opinion. In fact, it would be suicidal to do so. World opinion will always be unfairly tilted in favor of Palestinians for a host of reasons, not the least of which is that there are considerably more than a billion Muslims in the world and just over ten million Jews. But it does not therefore follow that it is wise or prudent for the Israeli government to ignore completely world opinion. In the case at hand, it looks to me as if that is exactly what the Israeli government did.
I am hoping that, in the coming hours and days, the government of Israel will provide some explanation of why the arrest of this particular suspected terrorist was so important. Perhaps there is a plausible explanation. But, until I hear one, I’m afraid I’m going to remain mystified.