“Suffering thousands of years of hatred doesn’t make you decent. But we’re supposed tobe righteous. That’s a beautiful thing. That’s Jewish…I lose that and that’s everything. That’s my soul (Spielberg, 2005).” Robert, a toymaker turned bomb-maker, highlights the ethical conundrum of a religious state to direct vengeance. In Munich, the audience follows Israel’s response to the assassination of eleven Israeli athletes by Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 Olympic Games (Spielberg, 2005). Israel’s controversial policy of targeted killing challenges both national values and international law. In recent news, Israel’s suspected involvement in the Dubai assassination of Hamas leader, Mahmoud al-Mabhouh has once again brought up Israel’s stance on targeted killing and the ethical question it presents to a Jewish state. Israel, along with other nations in the modern globalized political arena, must decide to what extent they are willing to mimic terrorist tactics and neglect the principles their nation was founded upon as well as international law. Most importantly, Israel’s methods to address terrorism submerge the state in a garbled global dialogue between governments, civilians, terrorists and the media.

            Israel struggles with other nations founded upon religious principles to maintain its values while operating within the political realm. Israel’s historical strife with violent force and how it should be properly executed stems directly from Jewish beliefs. Jewish doctrine frequently conflicts with the realities of governing a sovereign Jewish state. The first Sabbath of Hanukkah states, “Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, says the Lord of hosts” (Schwartz, 2009).  To be “good” in the Jewish faith is an otherworldly undertaking that is more concerned with keeping individual faith than fighting to maintain honor. Critics of Judaism went so far as to claim that, “the foundations of the Jew’s religion had emasculated their minds” (Schwartz, 2009). That is, Instead of relying on military and political strength, followers of Judaism prayed for God’s strength for protection and forfeited their manliness (Schwartz, 2009)

            However, certain aspects of Judaism do support a military state. A well-known interpretation of a biblical story, a midrash, describes God’s sadness in drowning the Egyptians in the Red Sea (Schwartz, 2009). “One might take the midrash to suggest that political survival requires people to do regrettable things from time to time, but that political survival is endangered unless people are willing on occasion to do those unpleasant things” (Schwartz, 2009). The belief that regrettable things are necessary for political survival is clearly the belief of Munich’s characters when they take their assignment. Carl, one of the Israeli assassins in Munich, even refers to this midrash as the group celebrates their first kill, “And God said to the angels, ‘why are you celebrating? I just killed a multitude of my children (Spielberg, 2005).’”  In perhaps a blasphemous allegory, Carl admonishes the other angels for celebrating the regrettable.

            As well as the broad ideological conflicts that come with taking life, Israel’s specific targeted killing policy potentially conflicts with international law, the agreed-upon terms of civilized conduct.  According to international law, there are only two categories of persons, civilians and combatants (Stein, 2003). Combatants mark themselves with clearly distinctive insignias, openly carried weapons, adherence to a hierarchy of responsibility, and adherence to laws of war (Stein, 2003). Unmarked Palestinian terrorists who frequently employ guerilla tactics along with suicide bombing clearly cannot be defined as combatants. As civilians, Palestinian terrorists would lose their rights to protection from international law once they “engage in hostilities” but once they cease fire they would regain civilian immunity; civilians cannot be permanent targets (Stein). Thus, Israeli forces could only target terrorists when they were being engaged by them. However, Israel justifies its policy of targeted killing through its High Court of Justice in a slightly different interpretation of international law, “A civilian who participates directly in hostilities loses this immunity, and can be harmed in order to thwart his intent to perpetrate violent acts in the future…the State of Israel abides by these principles of international law” (Stein).

            The strict requirements of International Law require justification for states that play the victim role on an international scale. As a law-making body, a state is in charge of doling out punishment fairly and according to the law (Stein, 2003). Law creates a barrier so a victim’s inevitable feelings of vengeance won’t be taken into consideration in decision-making towards a fair punishment (Stein, 2003). “The state and not the victims, is in charge of punishing individual transgressions, and it must do so according to the law, regardless of feelings of revenge and retribution. The alternative is chaos and an unbreakable cycle of bloodshed” (Stein, 2003). “All this blood comes back to us,” Robert tells Avner as Israeli officials begin to be targeted (Spielberg, 2005). When a state involves itself in revenge, as Israel involved itself in the assassinations of Black September terrorists, it violates this contract. Israel breaks the law because it is a victim determining proper punishment. Many countries break this contract when they declare war; international law is an idealistic attempt to end a worldwide cycle of bloodshed and often is not adhered to.

            Bolstered by the failure of international law to provide a realistic framework, Israel supports its method of targeted killing with its unique position as a Jewish state among Arabic nations and the flimsy international definition given to Israeli attackers. “International law applies best to situations of war and peace between recognized states. Targeted killing, however, takes place in a context that is neither war nor peace, between belligerents, one of which is not a state” (David, 2003). Under Article 51 of the UN charter, Israel also has a right to self-defense as long as it maintains targeted killing as a separate definition from assassination which is banned in the UN charter (David, 2003). As Papa told Avner on behalf of Israel, “The world has been rough to you and your tribe and it’s right to respond roughly to them (Spielberg, 2005).” Another popular argument is that targeted killing minimizes civilian casualties (David, 2003). Within the film, the Israelis did make minimization of civilian casualties a top priority.

            Israel’s targeted killing policy has once again been brought into the harsh global limelight with the recent assination of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh and the “rare level of detail about a political assassination” surrounding the event (Worth, 2010). Authorities have linked the credit cards used to purchase the airline tickets and hotel accommodations for the suspects to Payneer Inc. whose CEO is a former member of the Israeli Special Forces and a strong supporter of Israel (Murphy, 2010).

            In following the money trail, University of California, San Diego, professor Eli Berman, argues the only way to stop terrorism is economically (Leonard, 2010). In Lebanon, Hezbollah operates two hospitals along with a few schools and local dispute courts, collects garbage and maintains an electricity grid for the surrounding community (Leonard, 2010). Rather than spend finances on security forces, Berman argues the US and Israel should offer competing social services to win over locals who then wouldn’t have to pay for these services with loyalty to a terrorist organization (Leonard, 2010).

The confusion in administering a solution for Palestine is difficult when they are often misrepresented, by Israel as well as in the media. A lead story in Newsweek about Osama Bin Laden ran for the cover a picture of a Palestinian gunman attending the funeral of a friend killed by Israeli fire (Barnet & Reynolds, 2009). The man was misrepresented as a terrorist to an American audience. The failure of media outlets to address the political motives of terrorists and create a fact-based discussion on the issues they’re protesting puts the task of creating a dialogue into the hands of terrorists who have another way of communicating their ideas. When Black September responds to the killings of Avner’s group with more violence, Carl says to the group, “They’re talking to us. We’re in dialogue now (Spielberg, 2005).” However it is a garbled dialogue where neither party can properly hear the other in order to understand what is being said.


Works Cited

Barnett, Brooke, and Reynolds, Amy. Terrorism and the Press: An Uneasy Relationship. New      York City: Peter Lang Publishing, 2009. Print.

David, Steven R. “Response to Yael Stein: If not Combatants, Certainly not Civilians.” Ethics &             International Affairs. 17.1 (2003): 138-140.

Leonard, Devlin. “Terrorism and the Pocketbook.”  New York Times. 6 Feb. 2010. Web. 7            March. 2010.

Murphy, Brian. “Hamas Slaying in Dubai Ripples Worldwide.” The Washington Post. 8 March. 2010. Web. 8 March. 2010.

Schwartz, Joel. “Israel’s Defense.” First Things.  191 (2009): 29-32.

Spielberg, Stephen. Munich. Dreamworks SKG, 2005.

Stein, Yael. “By Any Name Illegal and Immoral.” Ethics & International Affairs. 17.1 (2003):      127-137.