Extreme Solutions

Extreme Solutions


Extreme Solution I: Priests

The old movies used to feature a priest walking alongside the condemned man toward the scaffold, offering last seconds of comfort, plea-bargaining strategies with St. Peter, a bolstering hand under the elbow. Sometime in the next decade the tableau may be reversed, with a lay counselor assisting the condemned priest as he totters toward that final rendezvous with the executioner.

The death penalty is being vigorously touted as the best way to deal with child molesters. And as the world knows, the Roman Catholic Church has sheltered many a child molester. On the cutting edge here are three states noted for the moral refinement of their legislators: to wit, Montana, Louisiana and Alabama. The first two states have already put Death for Molesters into their statute books, and when Alabama lawmakers convene again next year they will press forward into legislation, after an overwhelming vote from the state’s House of Representatives last year in favor of molester executions.

The Montana law allows a person previously convicted of “sexual intercourse without consent” with someone under 16 in any state to be sentenced to death if convicted of the crime in Montana. The law was passed in 1997, but no one has yet been charged under that provision. Since 1995 Louisiana has had a law allowing the death penalty for people convicted of raping a child under 12. Thus far, a few charges, no convictions.

Alabama’s bill would authorize the death penalty for people convicted a second time of having sex with someone under 12. No other states allow capital punishment for a sex crime. ABC News quoted Marcel Black, chairman of the Alabama House Judiciary Committee, as saying, “The very serious meaning of this is to send a message to child molesters that it is a bad thing to do.”

Molesters can take comfort in the fact that these laws will probably not survive challenges from higher courts. The US Supreme Court ruled in 1977 that the death penalty is excessive punishment for rape. But who knows, in the current atmosphere anything is possible. Maybe that’s why Pope John Paul II, a far-seeing man, shifted the Church toward opposition to the death penalty.

Extreme Solution II: Palestinians

Two years ago fewer than 8 percent of those who took part in a Gallup poll among Jewish Israelis said they were in favor of what is politely called “transfer”–that is, the expulsion of perhaps 2 million Palestinians across the Jordan River. This month that figure reached 44 percent.

Professor Martin van Creveld is one of Israel’s best-known military historians. On April 28 Britain’s conservative newspaper the Telegraph published an article outlining what van Creveld believes is Sharon’s near-term goal–expulsion.

According to van Creveld, Sharon’s plan is to drive 2 million Palestinians across the Jordan using the pretext of a US attack on Iraq or a terrorist strike in Israel. This could trigger a vast mobilization to clear the occupied territories of Arabs. Van Creveld notes that in the 1970 showdown between Jordan’s King Hussein and the PLO, Sharon, serving as commanding officer of Israel’s southern front, argued that Israel’s assistance to the King was a mistake; instead it should have tried to topple the Hashemite regime. Sharon has often said since that Jordan, which has a Palestinian majority even now, is the Palestinian state, and thus a suitable destination for Palestinians to be kicked out of his Greater Israel.

A US attack on Iraq would offer appropriate cover. Sharon himself told Secretary of State Colin Powell that nothing happening in Israel should delay a US attack. Other pretexts could include an uprising in Jordan, followed by the collapse of King Abdullah’s regime.

Should such circumstances arise, according to van Creveld, Israel would mobilize within hours. “First, the country’s three ultra-modern submarines would take up firing positions out at sea. Borders would be closed, a news blackout imposed, and all foreign journalists rounded up and confined to a hotel as guests of the Government. A force of 12 divisions, 11 of them armoured, plus various territorial units suitable for occupation duties, would be deployed: five against Egypt, three against Syria, and one opposite Lebanon. This would leave three to face east as well as enough forces to put a tank inside every Arab-Israeli village just in case their populations get any funny ideas.”

In van Creveld’s view (he does say that he is utterly opposed to any form of “transfer”), “the expulsion of the Palestinians would require only a few brigades. They would not drag people out of their houses but use heavy artillery to drive them out; the damage caused to Jenin would look like a pinprick in comparison.” He discounts any effective response from Egypt, Syria, Lebanon or Iraq.

But what about international reaction? Van Creveld thinks it would not be an effective deterrent. “If Mr Sharon decides to go ahead, the only country that can stop him is the United States. The US, however, regards itself as being at war with parts of the Muslim world that have supported Osama bin Laden. America will not necessarily object to that world being taught a lesson–particularly if it could be as swift and brutal as the 1967 campaign; and also particularly if it does not disrupt the flow of oil for too long.

“Israeli military experts estimate that such a war could be over in just eight days,” van Creveld writes. “If the Arab states do not intervene, it will end with the Palestinians expelled and Jordan in ruins. If they do intervene, the result will be the same, with the main Arab armies destroyed. Israel would, of course, take some casualties, especially in the north, where its population would come under fire from Hizbollah. However, their number would be limited and Israel would stand triumphant, as it did in 1948, 1956, 1967 and 1973.”

We’ve been warned.

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Katrina vanden Heuvel
Editorial Director and Publisher, The Nation

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