When You Have to Shoot, Shoot

Israel’s moral hangups often hinder its ability to effectively combat and deter terrorist violence

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Tuco from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966) didn’t suffer from the same moral qualms that plague many of us Israelis today. His choices were simple: “When you have to shoot, shoot; don’t talk,” he says to the dead talkative gunman who came to kill him. 

The mounting number of dead Palestinian terrorists who were killed before they had a chance to stab anyone raises voices of protest in some human rights circles that are troubled by this “shoot first, talk later” approach.

A recent poll conducted on behalf of Israel’s Mako news portal showed that 75% of Israelis think that terrorists should be killed on the scene either by security forces or civilians. At the same time, 78% of respondents think that a captured terrorist who no longer poses any danger should not be harmed. 

This survey demonstrates that most Israelis prefer to eliminate the danger even at the risk of killing a terrorist who no longer poses a threat. This can be explained by looking at past incidents in which some terrorists managed to kill their captors even after being severely wounded.

But, as always, there are those who call into question what they see as a trigger-happy, cavalier attitude toward Arab terrorists. 

Following an attack in which a 72 year old woman was shot dead after trying to ram soldiers with her car just north of Hebron, Channel 2 TV anchorman Arad Nir tweeted: “‘the footage’ [taken from a soldier’s helmet camera] is unconvincing. It appears that there is a need for investigation.” Nir repeated this “talk first, shoot later” position following Tuesday’s attack in which two young boys aged 11 and 13 stabbed a security guard on Jerusalem’s light rail. Nir commented: “The terrorist wanted to give him [the other terrorist] a piece of cake, why treat him violently.”


Credit: Idan Dvir
Poster stating: Soldier! Aim your weapon and shoot the killer in the head. Better to sit in jail alive.

After the tragic killing of an illegal alien from Eritrea who was mistaken for a terrorist during a recent attack in Beersheva, Nir and other like-minded people began to label as “lynchers” any Israeli civilians who harmed or killed knife-wielding terrorists. 

Nir’s tweet led to newsroom discussions about the precise moment at which it is permissible to kill a terrorist. These discussions were treated with disdain by many who viewed them as scholastic and irrelevant to the chaos and confusion typical of real-time terror attacks.

The “lynch” narrative some journalists and politicians are trying to establish seems to have been rejected, at least for now. 

At a press conference on Monday, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon suggested he continues to support Tuco’s policy of “when you have to shoot, shoot.”

“In a life threating situation,” said Ya’alon, “the job of security personal is to neutralize the one trying to harm him. You shoot a few rounds, and you also have to make sure that he [terrorist] can’t stand up.”

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