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Column: Jews Should Not Take Joy in Terrorists Being Killed

When the Almighty punishes murderers, we can rejoice but not by jumping for joy or saying mazal tov to the IDF. As despicable as terrorists were, don’t celebrate their deaths. God doesn’t want that.


Since the Israel-Hamas war broke out, we have witnessed Israel’s long arm of counter-terrorism operations (at least those we read about), such as the assassination of a Hamas leader with a well-placed rocket through a window, and a raid into a Palestinian hospital. Unlike the aerial assassination, the hospital raid required boots in the hallways.

The bravery of the IDF, Shin Bet, and police YAMAM counter-terrorism squads is unmatched. Yet both of these events reminded me in some respects of the death of another terrorist in October 1995 – Fathi Shikaki, the leader of Palestine Islamic Jihad (PIJ).

In April of that year, my 20-year-old daughter, Alisa, was riding on a bus near the Jewish community of Kfar Darom in Gaza. Alisa was on what she thought would be a three-day vacation before Passover. In a phone call to me while waiting for her bus in Jerusalem, which would be the first leg of her journey, she told me she “wanted to get a few days in the sun” before the holiday. It would be the last time we spoke.

She never completed that bus journey because a van parked alongside the road outside the gates to Kfar Darom suddenly sped from the shoulder of the road and struck the bus on its right side. The driver then ignited a massive bomb packed inside the van.

PIJ took credit for the attack in a series of messages relayed to the media and to a college professor in the United States. (I would learn later that PIJ did not act alone; the bomb was made by Hamas’s master bomber, Yayha Ayyash, “the engineer,” who himself would be assassinated in early 1996.)

 It was a Friday afternoon in October that same year when Shikaki stepped out of a hotel on the Mediterranean island of Malta. Two men on a motorcycle stopped opposite him and shot him at point-blank range. While no one took credit for the attack, it was conveyed to me by a caller that I might take some sense of justice delivered from the death of this man. My understanding was that Shikaki’s death was carried out by Israel’s long arm of retribution – think post-Munich massacre. And the murder of Alisa and seven others at Kfar Darom was worthy of an effort to track down and eliminate the head of PIJ.

Word of the assassination and its link to Alisa’s murder resulted in my being interviewed by a New York City news station. I must have looked like a deer in the headlights when asked for my feelings about Shikaki’s death; all I could think of saying was “I am not going to sit shiva for him.”

Other terrorists have died at the hands of the IDF, and I am sure Israeli agents. Blame for the drone attack that killed one of Hamas’s senior leaders, Saleh al-Arouri, was quickly placed by Hamas supporters at Israel’s feet.

The social media response was interesting. A general strike was called in the Palestinian Authority territory in the West Bank, his mother was grateful he died as a martyr, his “hope,” she said. A video was posted, allegedly showing an IDF soldier handing out candy, as is frequently done in Palestinian areas when Israelis are murdered in terror attacks.

It’s the comments from the pro-Israel side that got me thinking about the issue I raise. From a limited reading of coverage in Israeli media, I came across these comments: “Whoever did the bombing, may they be more successful bombing the rest of the leadership of Iran,” “It’s a good day when terrorists die,” “What good news. More please.” “Wonderful news, just delightful – and long overdue.” And “Mazal tov.”

SO, WHAT are we supposed to feel when someone responsible for the deaths of Israeli civilians meets his own end?

Many years ago, I was puzzled by the different Hallel we say on the first day of Passover (two days in the Diaspora) and on Hol Hamoed – the intermediate days of the holiday. Hallel, praises to God, is 18 paragraphs, but on Hol Hamoed Passover it’s shortened to 10 paragraphs. However, on Sukkot, the full Hallel is recited each day of the holiday. I am not the only person who has asked why there is a difference; the question has been discussed for centuries.

Taking a legalistic approach to the differences, on Sukkot the number of sacrifices offered in the Temple are set forth separately in the Torah. Think of each day as a separate holiday deserving its own obligation to recite Hallel. On Passover, however, the Torah says about the sacrifices, “Similarly shall you do each day for seven days.” In the words of Rabbi Basil Herring, “It is as if each day of Passover is merely an extension of the first” and therefore do not require the recital of the full Hallel.

There is also a spiritual approach.

The Talmud relates the Children of Israel crossing through the Sea of Reeds and assembling on the other side. Moses composed a song; Miriam did, too; and the Children of Israel were joyful about the drowning of the Egyptians in the sea.

In addition, the Talmud relates that the heavenly angels also began to sing praises, when a heavenly voice thunders and says, “Stop your celebration, the Egyptians are my children, too.” While a full Hallel is appropriate on the first day(s) of Passover, in commemoration of that voice, we diminish our joy of the holiday by saying a shorter version during Hol Hamoed.

When the Almighty punishes murderers, we can rejoice but not by jumping for joy or extending a mazal tov to the IDF. Instead, we find our thanks in the day(s) at the end of the holiday. As despicable and vile that terrorists such as Fathi Shikaki, Yahya Ayash, and Saleh al-Arouri were, we should not celebrate their deaths. Heaven doesn’t want us to.

The writer is the president of the Religious Zionists of America (RZA). He is the father of Alisa Flatow, who was murdered in an Iranian-sponsored Palestinian terrorist attack in 1995, and author of A Father’s Story: My Fight for Justice Against Iranian Terror. (The RZA is not affiliated with any American or Israeli political party.)

About Staff

They call me "NewsHound IV," because I'm a clever Finnegan, sniffing out stories all over the Boulder area. I love Jewish holidays because the food is GREAT, especially the brisket. Well all the food. I was a rescue pup and glad to be on the scent!

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