12 November '15..
In recent months, Americans have been debating the impact of having sanctuary cities. Over the summer, we saw what happens when authorities refuse to hand over illegal immigrants to federal officers even if they are recidivist violent criminals. A 32-year-old woman was murdered in San Francisco by just such a person who should have been in a federal jail rather than free to kill on an American street. But think about the possibility of institutions, even hospitals, acting as sanctuaries for terrorists with blood on their hands? That’s tough to imagine even in liberal San Francisco. But that’s the situation in the West Bank right now, where Israel is being criticized for snatching a wanted terrorist out of his hospital bed. Though coverage of the incident in the New York Times depicts it as another “cycle of violence” story in which both sides are seen as being in the wrong, there’s more here than just another incident in the long saga of conflict between Jews and Arabs. The debate over whether there is a right of sanctuary in hospitals for terrorists goes straight to the heart of the reason why peace in the region is nowhere in sight.
The incident in question concerns the effort by Israeli security forces to secure the capture of 20-year-old Azzam Azat Shaaban Shalalda, a Palestinian who lives near Hebron. He stabbed and attempted to murder an Israeli civilian last month. The victim lived and was able to get off a shot at his attacker who fled though wounded. Shalalda reached Ahli Hospital in Hebron where he was given treatment in a private room in its surgical ward. At the time the Israelis came for him, he had two cousins, who were known members of the Hamas terrorist organization, staying with him in the room in order to guard against capture.
Hebron is under the control of the Palestinian Authority, which is obligated by the Oslo Accords to cooperate with the Israelis against terror attacks. But the PA probably had no more chance of getting a hospital located in a Hamas stronghold to hand Shalalda over than the Israelis. So the Israelis sent in a covert security team disguised as a group of Arabs wheeling into the hospital what appeared to be a pregnant woman. Once inside, the Israelis sought out the terrorist and snatched him from his room, but not before fending off an attack from one of Shalalda’s cousins whom they shot and killed.
In a normal country, the question arising from this incident would be, why would a hospital give safe haven to a person who was known to have committed an act of terrorism and to allow his family to guard him against seizure? But instead of asking that question, Palestinians are voicing outrage about the capture, claiming not only that the person killed should not have been shot but also that the Israelis had no right to seize Shalalda.
We don’t know exactly what happened in that hospital room but suffice it to say that when a known terrorist attacks an armed security officer in an attempt to prevent the arrest of a second terrorist, he’s putting his life at risk. It might have been preferable to capture Shalalda’s cousin, but second-guessing the actions of covert operatives in those circumstances is not something those of us who watch from the sidelines should do with confidence.
But the bigger question is whether sanctuary for terrorists at Palestinian hospitals should be respected.
The answer is an obvious no. Sanctuary is a legal fiction that is more the stuff of classic novels than a reasoned debate. Violent individuals who commit crimes don’t have the right to expect impunity from arrest anywhere. The notion that they should be allowed to hold out in hospitals surrounded by bodyguards has no standing in any concept of law. It also begs the question of why authorities would endanger their other patients by letting their wards be turned into hideouts.
But in Hebron, as is the case throughout the territories, those who stab, kill, or blow up Jews are not considered criminals. They are heroes to be honored and protected. Even if they commit random acts of violent terror on civilians as was the case with Shalalda.
As I noted last week, a new study of 20 years of opinion surveys by Daniel Polisar showed overwhelming majorities of Palestinians support attacks on Jewish civilians as well as opposing the right of Israel to exist within any borders. They view stabbings and suicide bombings as justified “resistance” to the “occupation.” But they also make clear that they consider all of Israel, and not just the West Bank, to be occupied.
That’s bad enough and makes the decision of hospitals to treat terrorists on the lam as honored guests. But what’s really troubling is the quote about the incident in the New York Times from a representative of the International Red Cross.
After a Red Cross team visited the Ahli Hospital on Thursday, a spokeswoman for the organization said it was “pursuing the matter with the Israeli security services at the appropriate level.”
“As we have stated before, medical personnel must be able to operate in a safe environment, while patients and their visitors must also feel that hospitals can provide them with impartial care and be free from threats and intimidation,” she said. “Authorities and individuals must do their utmost to ensure full respect for the medical mission.”
It’s hard to disagree with a statement that asserts medical personnel and those they treat should have a “safe environment.” But the problem here wasn’t that the authorities eventually showed up to take a terrorist into custody. It’s that those personnel didn’t understand that providing sanctuary to terrorists makes everyone in the hospital unsafe.
As regrettable as it may be, we’ve come to accept that Palestinians consider it to be a permanent open season for attacks on Jews, no matter what the circumstances. But when the Red Cross takes the position that those guilty of such attacks ought to be treated with impunity then what they are saying is that the blood of Jews spilled by these terrorists isn’t as red as that of the Palestinians or themselves.
By giving tacit support to the concept of a sanctuary for terror, the Red Cross is giving a green light to terrorist attacks. Indeed, such a sentiment reflects a belief that is increasingly voiced in Europe as well as throughout the Muslim and Arab worlds that Jews have it coming when it comes to terror. It’s not just that a hospital is being treated as a sanctuary but that the crime for which these terrorists are wanted isn’t really seen as a crime. The reason for any sympathy for the concept of hospital sanctuary for terrorists has to do with the identity of their victims and nothing else.
So long as that is the case, Palestinians will continue to try to kill Jews secure in the knowledge that the world is behind them. Given the rising tide of anti-Semitism around the globe, it’s hard to claim that they are entirely wrong about that.