Ethics & International Affairs Volume 17.1 (Spring 2003): Debate: Israel's Policy of Targeted Killing: By Any Name Illegal and Immoral: Response to "Israel's Policy of Targeted Killing"[Abstract]

Mar 2, 2003

Since November 2000, Israel has been implementing an assassination policy in the occupied territories. The Israeli policy is both illegal and immoral. The legal questions are much more complicated than would appear from David’s argument. Although individual killings may be lawful in specific cases, this debate concerns a policy providing systematic justification for such acts. Neither international nor Israeli law ensures any backing for this policy. Armed Palestinians are not combatants according to any known legal definition. They are civilians––which is the only legal alternative––and can only be attacked for as long as they actively participate in hostilities.

The argument that this policy affords the public a sense of revenge and retribution could serve to justify acts both illegal and immoral. Clearly, lawbreakers ought to be punished. Yet, no matter how horrific their deeds, as the targeting of Israeli civilians indeed is, they should be punished according to the law. David’s arguments could, in principle, justify the abolition of formal legal systems altogether.

The Israeli government has not endorsed the minor changes of policy that David suggests, and for a reason. Israel’s initial refusal to acknowledge the very existence of this policy and even its later hesitant admission suggest it is aware of the problems the policy entails and of the difficulties of dismissing them. Assassinations have been part of Israel’s security policy for many years, and Israel is currently the only democratic country that regards such measures as legitimate. The Palestinian violations of international law, however, cannot be used to grant legal and/or moral legitimation to these violations when perpetrated by others.

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