The contentious topic of how to react to armed Palestinians on Israeli territory has taken a new twist, as the country’s chief Sephardic rabbi called to ignore warnings by the Army not to overreact, and instead kill anyone they believe poses a threat.
“If someone comes to kill you, you kill him first. Don’t start being afraid with all kinds of accusations that they’ll make about him later in the High Court of Justice, or that some chief of staff will come and say something different.. . It deters them too,” Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef was cited as saying by Israeli media.
“The moment a terrorist knows that if he comes with a knife he won’t return alive, that will deter them. That’s why it’s a mitzvah to kill him.”
There has been a lot of discussion in Israeli society over what to do with the increasing number of knife attacks. While Israelis are within their right to carry firearms and defend themselves against attackers, Army Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot said last month that the right to kill should not be taken too literally. Asked about the policy by a student at a meeting in Bat Yam, the chief replied: “The Israeli Defense Forces can’t speak in slogans, such as, ‘If someone comes to kill you, you kill him first.’ I don’t want a soldier to empty a magazine on a girl with scissors.”
However, the more right-leaning elements within the country, such as Likud – as well as Chief Rabbi Yosef – have been critical of Eisenkot’s views.
Yosef’s remarks were made in a discussion on whether it is morally acceptable to kill an Amalekite – a Biblical enemy of the Jews – on Shabbat.
“If some terrorist comes to me now, and I know he’s a terrorist, and we caught him. He doesn’t have a knife in his hand, he doesn’t have anything. And I know, Elijah the Prophet will come to me and tell me that he’s from Amalek. Is it permitted to kill him on Shabbat? No,” Yosef said.
“But Elijah the Prophet says that it’s Amalek. Put him in prison, after Shabbat say a blessing and kill him.”
And if one does not know if their prisoner is an Amelek, Yosef proposes to throw that person in a cell for life “until the righteous Messiah comes and tells us if he’s the seed of Amalek – and then we can kill them.”
A series of new measures have begun to be implemented in light of the sporadic knife violence perpetrated by primarily young Palestinians. One new proposal by Israel’s left-wing former MP, Haim Ramon, is to build a fence walling off Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem. He says the measure would “satisfy a majority of Israeli Jews,” and the proposal is getting wide publicity as part of the campaign.
Earlier in February, the Knesset voted to expand police powers. The legislation would allow officers to stop and frisk anyone if they have sufficient reason to believe the person is carrying a weapon. This includes knives and other sharp objects.
In September, Prime Minister Benjami Netanyahu reiterated the administration’s commitment to battling Palestinian rock-throwers and other assailants “by all means necessary,” including live rounds and harsh prison terms.
These developments are being marked by unrelenting clashes between Palestinians and the IDF in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.