Light Work of Dark Truths

The Irish Times has a leader comment on the tenth anniversary of the bomb in Omagh that killed 29 people. It says:

The grief felt by the families of all the 29 people murdered by the Real IRA in Omagh 10 years ago is not just for what was, but for what might have been, for the future that was so cruelly, stupidly and pointlessly stolen from the victims.

Note the use of the verb ‘murder’. I am not a lawyer, but I know that murder in law is often described as the unlawful killing of a human being with malice aforethought. In terms of what happened in Omagh, to describe what happened as ‘murder’ is totally correct, because malice aforethought it said to exist where the person possesses ‘an extremely reckless disregard for human life‘. So, although the people who planted the bomb did not in fact consciously intend to kill all those people, and in fact made some sort of attempt to warn that they had planted a bomb, this does not change in any way the fact that they are murderers, because if you are prepared to plant a bomb on a busy street, you possess an extremely reckless disregard for human life.

The leader continues:

There was also a darker, more disturbing sense of recognition. At the funerals of Avril Monaghan, her daughter and her unborn twins, Bishop Joseph Duffy said that “we must all of us again honestly face the perverse insanity and deep-seated and deep-rooted nature of the evil that has caused all this suffering”. He was right to identify the deep roots of the atrocity. It was not a one-off act of madness, but a repetition, albeit on a larger scale, of McGurk’s bar, of Claudy, of Dublin and Monaghan, of Enniskillen, of Shankill Road.

In fact, although the category of the crime (murder) is the same, there are distinctions to be drawn here, in terms of what constituted malice afterthought. In the case of McGurk’s bar, of Claudy, and of Dublin and Monaghan, what was clearly foremost in the minds of the perpetrators was the intention to kill and to inflict grievous bodily injury. With regard to Enniskillen and the Shankill road, matters are less clear. The intention was certainly to kill and inflict grievous bodily injury, but, in the case of the Shankill road at least, there was a primary preoccupation with the elimination of military targets.

Taking the Shankill road case alone: some might be inclined to argue that the targets (senior loyalist paramiltaries, known serial murderers, including Johnny Adair) were legitimate. Since the likes of Adair were involved in the murder of civilians, killing them would have saved lives. It might also be argued, furthermore, that any innocents killed as a result of the explosion would be regrettable, but an acceptable price to pay in terms of future deaths averted.

It is hard to see how the Irish Times leader writer could stomach such an argument. Because of the fact that the IRA knew the likelihood that innocents would be killed would be high, they displayed extremely reckless disregard for human life, and therefore the bombing can be easily classified as mass murder. So it’s right to recognise, as the Irish Times does, that the Omagh bomb and the Shankill bomb are different manifestations of the same

sectarianism and tribalism, of self-righteous zealotry and the soft ambivalence of otherwise respectable people who condemned murder in one cause and made excuses for it in another’.

Fine words.

However, in the same section, the Irish Times publishes an opinion piece by a person writing in defence of Israel’s policies toward Gaza, denouncing the use of the term ‘collective punishment’ in this context, providing the Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign’s use of the term as an example. The use of the term, according to the author, is:

little more than a cynical exploitation of the language of international law, part of a well-established strategy which seeks to de-legitimise Israeli security detail by defining it in terms of policies properly opposed by all right-thinking people: “apartheid” (the security fence); “war crimes” (the targeted killing of terrorist leaders); even “ethnic cleansing” and “genocide” (almost every IDF operation).

For example, the Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign claims that Israel’s rather erratic restrictions on electricity and motor fuel exports to Gaza constitute “collective punishment” and a violation of international law.

Why the example of the Ireland-Palestine Solidarity Campaign was chosen, when there are higher profile instances of the use of the term to be questioned- for instance those of the Special Coordinator of the United Nations for the Middle East Peace Process and Personal Representative of the Secretary-General, the EU External Relations Commissioner, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and B’Tselem, who use the term with regard to razing buildings for alleged military purposes, sonic booms, forcible transfer of relatives– is unclear (for a local example, Mary Robinson could also have been chosen). But the implication of the article is that all the above parties, as well as the IPSC, are participants in a ‘well-established strategy’ to put Israelis at risk from terrorist attack. Israel, by contrast, has done nothing wrong (or if it has, the author does not care to mention it), merely responding in a measured fashion to terrorist attacks from Hamas.

The launching of rockets from Gaza into Israel are, of course, murderous acts, showing extremely reckless disregard for human life. But two wrongs don’t make a right. As the Irish Times leader column rightly points out: ‘humanity must never be an abstraction to be sacrificed for any cause’.

One wonders, then, why the newspaper deems it acceptable -on the same day it remembers the victims of the Omagh bomb- to publish an opinion piece that defends collective punishment and other terrorist atrocities.

The author makes a reference to the ‘targetted killing of terrorist leaders’, and implies that the practice is legitimate. One such instance, perhaps the most well-known, though not necessarily among Irish Times readers, is the killing of Salah Shehadeh, a Hamas commander, in July 2002. Amnesty International reported:

On 24 June 2003 Israeli Air Force Commander Major General Dan Halutz said on Israeli army radio that in the assassination of Salah Shehadeh “we fired knowing his wife would be near him”. On the night of 22 July 2002 the Israeli army dropped a one-ton bomb from an F16 fighter jet on a densely populated neighbourhood of Gaza City, killing Hamas activist Salah Shehadeh, the target of the attack, and 16 civilians, nine of them children. His wife and daughter were among the victims. Some 70 others were injured in the attack and six nearby houses were also destroyed. Amnesty International delegates visited the site of the attack and interviewed neighbours shortly after the attack. The following day Prime Minister Ariel Sharon publicly referred to the attack as “one of the most successful operations”.

In terms of the acts denounced by the Irish Times in its editorial, the one most closely comparable is not the Omagh bomb, but the one exploded by the IRA on the Shankill Road.

In the Omagh bomb, one sees extreme recklessness, but the perpetrators did not act knowing for certain that innocent people would be killed. In fact, there was no conscious intention to kill anyone. On the other hand, those planning the Shankill Road bombing would have been fairly certain that innocent people would be killed, but they took the decision to explode the bomb nonetheless. The fate of innocent people was of no real importance. The same was true of the one-ton bomb dropped on the apartment block in Gaza City.

Of course, those innocents killed in the Salah Shehadeh bombing are only a small proportion of the entire number of innocents killed by the state whose actions in this area are being defended in today’s Irish Times. It is difficult to identify the exact number of innocent people killed, but there are figures that can point us in the right direction. Since 2000, 948 children have been killed by the Israeli security forces. In total, some 2219 Palestinians who were not taking part in hostilities were killed. (Source). In terms of targeted killings alone (i.e. extrajudicial executions), some 154 people were killed who were not the object of these killings.

Regarding the Salah Shehadeh bombing, one could always offer, in its defence, the same justification that might have been offered by the Shankill bombing as imagined above. In fact, the author of the comment piece published in today’s Irish Times did just that. In an article titled ‘Targeted Killings Work‘, written for an Israeli website, he delivered an evaluation of these killings that made no consideration whatsoever of their deadly effect on innocents, but treated the method solely in terms of how productive they were in protecting Israelis. In fairness, it was written in response to a piece that argued that the assassination policy was counterproductive because it resulted in retaliations against Israelis (no reference was made to the matter of killing innocent Palestinians). The response: au contraire, and, as one of the clinching examples in his argument, the following was produced:

How many were saved by the death of Salah Shehadeh, eliminated as he plotted what Binyamin Ben-Eliezer called a “mega-terror attack, perhaps the biggest ever against Israel?”

To repeat: no mention of the consequences to innocent Palestinians.

An interesting thought experiment would be to imagine the Irish Times publishing an article by a writer who had argued previously that the Shankill bomb was justified because by killing loyalists it had saved Catholic lives, without any regard for the innocent civilians killed, and then, in the course of the published IT article, continued to defend the same methods, and the same organization who carried out the bombing. It is doubtful if the editorial staff would feel such an article could sit comfortably, on the anniversary of the Omagh bombing, alongside a leader item that denounced the

‘sectarianism and tribalism, of self-righteous zealotry and the soft ambivalence of otherwise respectable people who condemned murder in one cause and made excuses for it in another.’

Indeed, one might be inclined to wonder, a propos the final comment:

Twenty nine people should not have had to lose their lives to show us the meaning of barbarism. But since they did, we should never forget them nor the dark truths their deaths exposed.

if the Irish Times had been really exposed to any such ‘dark truth’ at all.

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