Is it acceptable to shoot wounded terrorists?

Dear Rabbi

Is it acceptable for Israeli soldiers to shoot to kill would-be terrorists, especially when they could just maim them?


Dear Matthew

We abhor murder in the Jewish faith under all and any circumstances. So if you first maim the terrorist, then to walk up to him and terminate him in order to “finish the job” is morally wrong. But when you are dealing with a terrorist who will at all costs, look to kill, sometimes you don’t have the luxury to pause and consider. For as long as the threat remains viable you have to do what you have to do to terminate it. The two cases that have come to light recently is the one involving British soldier Alexander Blackman who killed a mortally wounded Taliban after citing some Shakespeare and the other being Israeli soldier Elor Azaria who was found guilty of manslaughter for shooting a wounded terrorist lying on the ground.

There are two sides to the argument: On the one hand these terrorists were committed to kill and so you have to eliminate the threat regardless. On the other hand, once you’ve “neutralised” the threat, you don’t have the right, nor any reason to take it beyond that and doing so constitutes manslaughter.

However there are extenuating circumstances well beyond the simple arguments. For example, Blackman, it is argued, was suffering from post-traumatic stress. Reactions are different on the ground, especially when staring into the loathsome face of someone who just killed some of your colleagues. Some national newspapers and public figures are clamouring behind him in support of his freedom. Similarly, it is argued, when Azaria maintains he saw the terrorist moving he has reason to react especially where the terrorist is dressed in a coat while everyone is waiting for engineers to check if he has explosives. When he slightly moves, the instinct of the soldier might be valid in light of the events of Muslim suicidal culture we are witnessing in last decades.

So it’s easy for the public, the overwhelming majority of whom have zero battlefield experience, to pontificate from their ivory towers, but the hard facts remain much more considerable than that. If a court must find them guilty, then so be it. Losing their status is punishment enough. Locking them up for it, is to be insensitive to their plight and oblivious to reality on the ground.

But while we are at it, isn’t it amazing how in any other Middle Eastern country this wouldn’t even be a story and the soldier would be hailed a hero (just as every terrorist is). In Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East, there is a democratic process of trial and accountability. But why should anyone pay attention to that. Their minds are made up. Don’t confuse them with the facts.


Dear Rabbi

Why do Jews make it sound as though all Israelis are innocent and all Palestinians are guilty? There is guilt on both sides. I agree that murder in any form is wrong, but so is occupation and apartheid.


Dear Saeem

I too agree that murder in any form is wrong. I also think that equating killings with “occupation” and “apartheid” suggests that while you think murder is wrong, you don’t necessarily consider the wanton killings of Israelis as murder, rather more a stand against “occupation” and “apartheid.”

I’m not sure what you mean by occupation but if you are suggesting that Israelis are occupying a land that doesn’t belong to them let me refer you to the following story: An Israeli Ambassador got up in the UN and said, “Before I begin my remarks I want to tell you a little Biblical story. As you know, upon their Exodus, Moses and the Jewish people crossed the Dead Sea. Immediately after cross, Moses himself decided to go for a little swim. He removed his clothes by the waterside and went for a brief dip. Upon his return to shore he noticed that his clothes were missing. I suggest,” said the Ambassador, “that it was the Palestinians who stole his clothes!” At which point the Palestinian representative jumped to his feet: “I object! That’s preposterous! Everyone knows that the Palestinians weren’t even around at that time!” “Thank you,” said the Israeli Ambassador. “On that note I’d now like to make my remarks.”

As for your shameful allegation of apartheid, ask yourself one simple question: Do Arabs walk freely in Jewish quarters? Most certainly so. Can I, as a yarmulke clad Jew walk freely through an Arab quarter? I’ll let you answer that and then you can talk to me about apartheid.