Israel’s “Operation Protective Edge” is Irrational

by Benjamin Studebaker

Last month, three hitchhiking Israeli teenagers turned up dead in the West Bank. The Israeli government’s reaction to these murders is completely irrational. It achieves nothing for Israel and causes immense unnecessary suffering to the Palestinian people. Here’s why.

The Israeli government believes the three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped and murdered, but it does not know who did the deed. It suspects three men with Hamas affiliations, but no evidence has yet been produced which directly ties these men to the murders. Two of them did disappear shortly before the kidnappings. The third protests his innocence. Israel claims the suspects are part of Hamas and blames Hamas for the murders. Hamas denies involvement, but called the kidnappers “heroes”. There are several possibilities:

  1. Hamas is lying–it ordered the murders.
  2. Hamas did not order the murders–they were  committed by rogue Hamas militants.
  3. Hamas did not order the murders–they were committed by terrorists with no Hamas affiliation.
  4. Hamas did not order the murders–they were murdered by a non-terrorist for non-political reasons.

Regardless of which of these four is the case, the murder of three people is a law enforcement issue. It should be handled like a law enforcement issue–the police should investigate, identify suspects, locate those suspects, question them, and charge them if it has a sufficiently strong case. Every day in the United States, people get murdered. Far too often these days, the murderer kills more than three people for reasons that are to some degree political. No matter how many people the mass shooter kills, the United States responds with a criminal investigation, a manhunt, and, eventually, a trial. Reasonable governments do not start targeting all of the affiliates of the suspects or all of the people who are similar to the suspects in race, religion, ethnicity, or political opinion. This is a mark of civilization–no matter how terrible the crime, we don’t give into hysteria and we don’t lash out against the innocent.

Here’s what Israel did:

  1. It arrested over 500 Palestinians with no clear connection to the murders.
  2. It raided more than  1,200 homes in the West Bank.
  3. It blew up the homes of the suspects’ families.
  4. It prevented thousands of Palestinians from moving among villages and going to work.
  5. Israeli extremists kidnapped a Palestinian teenager in retaliation and burned him alive.

This last incident sparked Hamas to begin firing rockets at Israel, demanding that Israel release the captured prisoners. Israel has responded to these rockets with “Operation Protective Edge”, which entails air raids on targets in the Gaza Strip. Hamas was foolish to launch rockets at Israel–these rockets have only served to enable Israel to justify deadly air raids against the Palestinians. They do almost no serious damage to Israel. All told, more than 41 Palestinians have died for every Israeli since the initial kidnapping:

Operation Protective Edge Fatalities


Not a single Israeli has been killed by Palestinian rocket fire. Israel has lost three citizens–the kidnapped teenagers. The Palestinians have lost 124 and counting in addition to the hundreds of people imprisoned and more than a thousand households raided. There is no evidence that these people were involved in the murders.

The murder of the three Israeli teenagers is a terrible crime, but the response of the Israeli government to this crime has been unnecessarily heavy handed and invasive. By treating the entire population of Palestine as suspect in these murders, it has recklessly and unnecessarily further alienated this population, driving it to desperate and ultimately futile acts of frustrated violence–i.e. the rockets. It has then used that violence as an excuse for further unnecessary collective punishment. Israel is said to have a “right of self-defense”, but Israel is not being attacked by an enemy state with formidable armed forces, it is being attacked by rogue criminals with pea shooters and it is responding with an assault against the Palestinian people as a whole.

Imagine if something like this were to happen in any other supposedly civilized country. What if a few white American teenagers were kidnapped and murdered on the south side of Chicago by black supremacists and the US government began indiscriminately raiding the homes of black people, arresting hundreds on the basis of race or organizational affiliation, and prevented black Americans from commuting to work outside their predominately black neighborhoods? What if white Americans kidnapped and burned a black teenager alive in retaliation? Would we be surprised if what followed was a race riot? Would it be okay for the US military to respond to that race riot by conducting air strikes on predominately black neighborhoods, killing a hundred black people? Would the US government be able to defend this action by calling it “self-defense”? It’s a ludicrous notion, and it’s a ludicrous notion if you substitute the United States for almost any other developed country. Not only would such an action clearly be wrong, but we cannot imagine any American administration conducting or attempting to justify such a policy in the 21st century.

What we’re seeing in Israel is not the kind of civilized law enforcement we’ve come to expect in America, Europe, Canada, Australia, or other such places. This is the kind of thing we see in explicitly racist or openly autocratic countries. This is the kind of thing apartheid South Africa might do to its blacks. And we know how the South African regime would have justified it–they would claim that the blacks are dangerous and violent, that they’re defending themselves from a “black menace”. They wouldn’t be lying–many white South Africans had a deep-seated fear of the blacks, as I have no doubt many Israelis have a deep-seated fear of the Palestinians. But this fear would not reflect the balance of power on the ground. The apartheid South African state would crush an armed uprising by the black population, killing many more blacks for each white lost, and the Israeli state easily crushes any kind of military resistance put up by the Palestinians.

All of this senseless violence will achieve nothing in the big picture for either side and will only serve to worsen relations. The fundamental mistake was made by the Israeli state. It chose to see a mass murder as an act of war, as an act for which a military response was reasonable, even necessary. Murders, even when committed by terrorists, are not acts of war. There’s no state that can be held collectively responsible for ordering an “attack”. Yes, the murderers may be part of an extremist group, and yes, that group may have been involved in planning the attack, but even then, the group is not analogous to a state but to organized crime–to the mob. You don’t fight the mob with air raids, you fight the mob with good law enforcement and good community relations, by giving local populations real alternatives to joining the mob or having to deal with it. That means building strong communities where there are jobs and opportunities for people outside of organized crime, outside of organized terror. That means treating the Palestinian population with dignity, it means providing for a higher quality of life in the territories. It means giving people real alternatives to joining Hamas and relying on Hamas for economic survival. As long as Israel sees the Palestinians as a collectively criminal people, to be suspected and collectively abused whenever any of their members commits any serious crime, it will continue to drive Palestinians into the arms of Hamas and perpetuate the cycle of violence.

Nothing good will come of further antagonizing and alienating the Palestinian people with retaliatory violence, and no appeal to “self-defense” will change that. Even if Western governments and Western media buy into this narrative, the Palestinians won’t, and they’re the hearts and minds that Israel needs if it wants its teenagers to be able to hitchhike in the West Bank unmolested.