JERUSALEM — While I was spending Friday evening pleasantly with a few guests, something not so pleasant happened just down the street from me. George Khoury, a 22-year-old student of economics and international relations at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem who was out jogging, was shot dead by terrorists from a passing car. The terrorists were from the Al-Aksa Martyrs Brigades, part of Yasser Arafat’s Fatah movement. They sped away to one of the nearby villages, and haven’t been apprehended so far.
The “impersonal” nature of most terrorism, its aim of causing as many random deaths as possible, is its most chilling aspect. In this act there is a different element that is no less chilling, almost a “personal” element. Seeing someone jogging quietly by the road in the evening, getting a good look at him, and killing him because (supposedly) he’s a Jew — is that personal or impersonal? And if it turns out he was an Arab, how does that affect the equation?
Indeed, the Martyrs Brigade was quick to apologize once it found out its error. Its commander called George Khoury’s father, the well-known East Jerusalem lawyer Elias Khoury, to offer condolences and say that the group considers George a “Palestinian martyr.” According to one report, Arafat himself called the family to offer his condolences.
Note: if George Khoury had been a Jew, no one from the Palestinian Authority would have contacted his family to apologize. His identity as an Israeli Jew would be considered sufficient grounds for execution. That’s the Palestinian Authority — an observer at the United Nations, recipient of generous aid from the United States and the European Union, currently a litigant against Israel in the International Court of Justice at The Hague.
BUT THERE IS A FURTHER twist to this story. Elias Khoury, father of George Khoury, is no stranger to the cruelty of terrorism. On a summer day in 1975, a booby-trapped refrigerator placed by Fatah exploded in downtown Jerusalem, and among the fourteen dead was Daoud Khoury — father of Elias, grandfather of George. Elias Khoury, in other words, has lost his father and now his son because they could have been Jews, or — to look at it slightly differently — were in places frequented by Jews.
George Khoury was jogging, specifically, in the north-Jerusalem neighborhood of French Hill. He lived in the adjacent Arab neighborhood of Shuafat and habitually came here to jog, apparently because of French Hill’s relatively open stretches of road. My own apartment is less than a five-minute walk from where the murder occurred. Since the outbreak of the Oslo terror war in September 2000, French Hill, which borders the West Bank and is a few kilometers south of Yasser Arafat’s compound in Ramallah, has been plagued by terror including several bus bombings.
In a statement it released, the Al-Aksa Martyrs Brigade explained: “Our fighters thought they were dealing with a settler who went for a jog in his neighborhood.” Indeed, French Hill was controlled by Jordan from 1948 to 1967, and was captured by Israel in the Six Day War and annexed to Jerusalem. Technically then, as the term is used, Israelis like me who live in French Hill are settlers. Actually, like all the PA terror groups, the Martyrs Brigade kills Israeli Jews in places like Tel Aviv, Haifa, left-wing kibbutzim, or anywhere else they can find them. But they know that in much of the world, the word settler connotes a subhuman being with no right to life.
The United States and Spain are two democracies that have now known horrific, onetime acts of mass terror. In Israel, terror is our ambiance, our daily fare. To the long list of things we have to think twice about doing — riding a bus, going to a cafe, going to a crowded place for a holiday celebration — we in French Hill now have to add walking in our neighborhood at night, and perhaps even by day. Our army has the power to crush the terror but, for geopolitical reasons that remain conjectural, is allowed to fight it only tactically and partially. Unlike Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahari, and others, Yasser Arafat remains a tolerable terrorist, waging his war from the safety of his compound a little up the road.
ONE WOULD LIKE TO take heart from the words of the bereaved father, Elias Khoury: “The Al-Aksa Martyrs Brigades are individuals who are trying to impose their way on everyone. This is a barbaric act that will not change my worldview, which includes deep faith in Palestinian rights. This act was carried out by a group that undermines the cause of Palestinian justice, and harms the Palestinian interest and takes it back years.”
But he also said: “I am against all violent attacks against innocent civilians, whether it be against Israeli civilians or Palestinian civilians. This must stop. I wish the victims of recent days could be the last ones, and bring the leaders on both sides to reason.”
Well, not quite. There are no violent attacks on Palestinian civilians by Israeli forces; only accidental victims in the course of legitimate warfare against terrorism. Israeli civilians who attack Palestinians –as in the current case centered in Haifa — are arrested and jailed. Would that similar things could be said about the Palestinian Authority; would that a single Palestinian could unequivocally condemn Palestinian terror — even one so devastated by it.
As for George Khoury, he was a graduate of the Anglican International School in Jerusalem and said to be an outstanding student at the Hebrew University, a participant in interconfessional dialogue. He is being buried today in the Christian cemetery on Mount Zion.