When US Marines invaded Osama Bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, on May 2nd 2011, they brushed past his wife and children, moved upstairs to where the 9/11 mastermind was hiding, and shot him in the face. They then took his body with them to the USS Carl Vinson, the closest available aircraft carrier.
There, Bin Laden, after being formally identified, was given a formal funeral with Muslim religious rites, and buried at sea, wrapped in a white shroud.
In many ways, this is a remarkable little factoid. This is the man, afterall, who masterminded the single greatest mass slaughter of American civilians in modern times. Aside from 9/11, he had inspired and directed wars and terrorist attacks in Madrid, and London, and Afghanistan, and Iraq. It is arguable that no individual in history has been responsible for the loss of more American lives in military attacks. And despite that, his enemies gave him a dignified religious burial.
The story comes to mind today as one witnesses the Israeli Government’s entirely shoddy attempts at justifying their treatment of the body of a Palestinian terrorist who was shot by Israeli soldiers while attempting to plant a bomb on the Israeli border:
Israel’s defence minister has defended the use of a military bulldozer to scoop up the body of a Palestinian man as others tried to recover him.
The incident occurred on Sunday morning and precipitated an increase in violence between the two sides.
Footage filmed at the fence separating Gaza from Israel shows a military bulldozer making several attempts with its bucket to scoop up the body of 27-year-old Mohammed al Naim.
He had just been shot dead by Israeli soldiers for attempting to plant explosives at the fence.
In a tweet, defence minister Naftali Bennett said: “Tired of the left’s vicious criticism of the “inhumanity” used by the bulldozer to bring us the body of a terrorist who tried to murder(!) Israelis.”
Israel’s excuse for this behaviour rings very hollow. The Government says that it used a bulldozer because it could not be sure that the dead terrorist was not wearing explosives, and therefore a threat to anybody who might try to recover his body. But this ignores the fact that the people attempting to recover the body were, in fact, other Palestinians. What had Israel to fear from a potential booby trap on the body? If the body was rigged to blow up, then all Israel had to do was stand back and watch.
The decision to behave in this manner has, naturally, fuelled further unrest and violence in the region.
While other Palestinians carried off the injured man, the Israeli machine repeatedly scraped at the earth, trying to catch the dead man’s body in the teeth of its scoop. When it had done so and turned back toward Israel, its retreat covered by a tank, the body could be seen dangling.
The images prompted Palestinian Islamic Jihad to vow revenge, and just after 5:30 p.m., the first of several rocket barrages was fired into Israeli territory. Israel waited till after 10 p.m. before retaliating with airstrikes and quickly said it had hit a rocket-launching team.
The Israeli military said it had targeted Palestinian Islamic Jihad with airstrikes in Syria and the Gaza Strip.
The scene at the border drew harsh criticism even within Israel. Adalah, the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, sent a letter to the Israeli chief military advocate general demanding a criminal investigation. It called the rough handling of the body a war crime and a “blatant” violation of international criminal law, human rights and humanitarian law.
Yariv Oppenheimer, a former director of the Israeli advocacy group Peace Now, called it “shameful and shocking,” adding, “All the atrocities and crimes we do will be in vain, boomerang.”
Israel had absolutely no need of, or justification for, desecrating the body of a fallen enemy in this way. It has every right to defend itself, and even its harshest critics could not condemn it for firing on somebody planting a bomb on its territory – but if the USA can provide dignity in death to its greatest modern enemy, surely Israel can do the same for its own.
Critics of Israel say that the country sometimes behaves with inhumanity towards her enemies. In this instance, even many Israelis would concede that those critics have a point.