Playing By Hama Rules

In the 1980's, a number of Americans were kidnaped in Lebanon. Some were held for years before they were released, a few were killed. During that time, there was a story about the kidnaping of a Soviet citizen in Lebanon. The Soviets sent a message to the Lebanese that if he was not released they were going to kill the kidnaper’s father, mother, sister, brother, aunts, uncles, grandparents and everyone else in the family. The Russian was immediately released and no others were ever kidnaped. The Soviets understood that the Arabs play by Hama rules.

For those who don’t recall, “Hama rules” was the description Thomas Friedman gave for the Arab approach to dealing with their enemies. The name is taken from the town that Syrian President Hafez Assad razed in 1982 to eliminate the Muslim fundamentalists who were challenging his rule. Rather than arrest or target the specific individuals, Assad killed an estimated 20,000 people in the town. End of opposition.

I was reminded of the Lebanon story by the debate over how to best fight terror and suggestions that extreme measures — from demolishing the homes of terrorists to deporting or even killing their family members — are required to stop, or at least deter the violence. Clearly threatening the lives of terrorists themselves has little deterrent effect, because, by definition, the suicide bombers are prepared to die. But are they willing to see their families die as well?

Israel’s assassination of Salah Shehadeh has provoked a firestorm because of the number of bystanders killed along with him, including his wife and children. The United States flayed Israel for using such heavy firepower in an urban environment and for being “heavy-handed.” Did anyone notice the irony that on the very same day, it was disclosed that the Bush Administration had been trying to assassinate a Taliban official and, because of faulty intelligence, bombed an Afghan village and killed 50 people (five times more than died in Gaza) at a wedding party? Not only did innocents die, but the target was not even there.

No one seriously believes that Israel deliberately targeted those civilians, in fact, Israel has a record of pinpoint accuracy in taking out bad guys without harming innocents. Commandos, for example, assassinated Arafat’s deputy in Tunis while he was in bed with his wife and the woman was unharmed. It was a terrible tragedy that innocent people were killed in Gaza, and Israel has apologized. Imagine Hafez Assad or some other Arab leader doing that?

The message Israel has now sent is one of weakness. The terrorists’ point has been proven. They can hide with impunity among Palestinian women and children. They can kill Israeli women and children with impunity. Had the Israelis stood up to the criticism and said they will go after the terrorists — and their families — wherever they are, and they will do what they did in Gaza again and again, a different message would have been sent, that the terrorists can’t count on civilians as shields, that they are putting their own families in danger, and that Palestinian bystanders should think twice before protecting terrorists.

But Jews don’t behave this way. We don’t play by Hama rules. I am glad that we adhere to a set of rules value human life. Those of us who like it up here on the moral high ground, however, have to understand that we are alone, and that the Palestinian terrorists do not have the slightest hesitation about killing our women and children. The terrorists know the United Nations and the international community will not say “boo” when they blow up pizzerias, buses, and discos. Jews will continue to die and their lives will be assigned less value by the rest of the world than the Palestinians. That is the cost of playing by Torah rules.