The new Commentary has a review by Jonathan Tobin of a book about a notorious 1947 case in Palestine, in which a 16-year-old Jewish boy was abducted and killed by a British intelligence officer on suspicion of being a terrorist. The boy, Alexander Rubowitz, was a supporter of the terrorist Stern Gang, but not a combatant, Tobin says (his piece is abstracted here). The case inflamed the Jewish population of Palestine against the British; especially when the murderer, Roy Farran, was let off after a show trial. A year of so later the Stern Gang tried to murder him him in England by delivering a package bomb to his home. Ala Kaczynski, it killed his brother, an innocent.
David Cesarani is the author of the book, which is called Major Farran’s Hat, after a clue in the case, and he says that western forces in the Middle East should heed the British lesson here– and not alienate the locals by targeting civilians, even civilians who are supportive of terrorists.
Tobin reaches his own conclusion. “Counterterrorism can only be successful when those whom it seeks to protect actually want to be protected and cooperate with the forces fighting the terrorists. Farran found himself turning to extralegal violence because he was trying to root out Jewish groups that were in many cases not only acting to protect their own people but also whose existence was a legitimate expression of suppressed Jewish political ambitions.”
Pretty sophisticated attitude, huh? Tobin goes on to say that such a standard would allow “targeted killings” of al-Qaeda and Taliban operatives. Well, I guess that’s true. But then he adds: “the State of Israel’s attempts to forestall Arab terrorist attacks on its population cannot be compared with the last gasps of the British Empire in the same territory.”
I don’t understand which principle is at work here. Why can’t Hamas terrorists aspire to the same shelf in Tobin’s regard: "a legitimate expression of suppressed [Palestinian] political ambitions.” Doubtless, they too have the support of many of their people. Many a 16-year-old boy is filled with rage against the Israelis and wants to join the freedom fighters. Yes, Israeli terrorists were fighting colonialism, per Tobin; but Palestinian terrorists are fighting a neo-colonialist ideology that is denying their right of self-determination.