Today in Haaretz, one of Israel’s best columnists, B. Michael, penned a brilliant piece of satire based on a major event in the history of Mandatory Palestine. In 1942, the rightist Zionist militias Etzel and the Stern Gang had been engaging in a massive terror campaign. The British authorities decided to strike decisively in order to decapitate them. They’d been tracking the most wanted Jewish terrorist in Palestine, Avraham Stern. He’d eluded them every time. But his luck ran out in a little house at 28 Mizrahi Street in Tel Aviv. There a British detective, Geoffrey Morton, cornered his prey. When Stern came out of a closet of the bedroom, Morton shot him twice and he died. The announcement said Stern had been apprehended and shot in the process of attempting to flee. Anyone who reads IDF accounts of its murder of cornered Palestinian fugitives will recognize the script.
This was perhaps the first targeted killing in the history of Israel. But certainly not the last. One of the latest was the assassination attempt on Mohammed Deif. It’s in this context that Michael wants us to view the Stern murder.
He portrays a distraught Morton tossing and turning in his bed, unable to sleep because of the enormity of taking Stern’s life in cold blood:
But the days after the [Stern] killing eased Morton’s mind considerably. They proved to him how effective and blessed was his act [of murder]. The very next day Lehi dissolved itself completely. Its members gave themselves up to the police and scattered everywhere. Even Etzel and the Haganah hurried to give up their weapons to the police and they swore allegiance to the British crown. Within a month all the institutions of the Yishuv were closed. The Jewish people gave up their aspiration for an independent state. Even the words of HaTikvah were changed to mark this: “The hope of thousands of years to be a colony in our own land, the Land of Albion and Jerusalem.”
So, the rest is well-known: by dint of that wise targeted assassination on Mizrahi Street the British Mandate continues to rule in Israel-Palestine to this very day.
These are precisely the sentiments I’ve expressed here after almost every Israeli assassination. But satire brings home the point even more powerfully. If the assassination of Avraham Stern failed to stem the movement for national independence in Mandatory Palestine, why will the murder of Deif turn back the movement for Palestine? Of course it won’t. In fact, Palestine will win just as the campaign for Israeli independence reached fruition in 1948. The only question is how many bodies will it take before the inevitable is realized? How many murdered Sterns and Deifs before Israel’s leaders are, like those of apartheid-era South Africa, forced to accept destiny?
Similarly, the U.S. counter-terror policy of drone strikes in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Syria, and Somalia will not address the root causes of the success of jihadism. They are a band-aid placed on a fatal wound. To fight jihadism you must engage in serious and constructive ways with the Muslim-Arab world. You cannot send planes by remote control to kill people and believe this is a real policy. It is policy built on quicksand.