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September 2, 2014 | 7th Elul 5774

Terror

July 14, 2002
Marc Rosenstein

I have tried in these entries to avoid playing the role of the “pundit,” of trying to compete with the wise columnists who understand the complex issues of the Middle East and who thus know what Israel should do in present circumstances. Thus, I have tended to focus on the small scale, on personal and local experiences that may shed some light on larger issues. I have no intention of changing that approach. However, since the topic of terror is so central in the consciousness of anyone who thinks about Israel today, I guess I shouldn’t keep ignoring it here. Here are some reflections on the current situation, with no pretension of either comprehensiveness or consistency:

Like a natural disaster, terror is unpredictable, striking any place and any time. On the other hand, living in the rural Galilee certainly gives one a certain sense of distance, of relative security; terror happens “there,” not “here.” This feeling engenders a certain false smugness -- and with that, perhaps, a little guilt: is this really fair?

During the days after a terror attack, when you ask someone “how are you?” there is usually an awkward pause, while the person tries to think of something to say other than “Oh, fine.”

I do think about the danger, but only occasionally. There are many Israelis who try to avoid riding buses, or going to Jerusalem or any public place. For me, not a particularly brave person in general, I find that in this case reason overrules fear, and I do not restrict my travel or activities; I still find the open highway scarier than the alleys of the Jerusalem market.

What is a terrorist? Was Samson the first suicide bomber? Was Begin a terrorist? Is a Palestinian who fires at Israeli soldiers a terrorist? For the past hundred years, wars have been “total wars,” not just soldiers shooting at soldiers, but attacks aimed at the infrastructure and even the civilian population of the enemy state. Thus, the Palestinians are engaged in total war against us -- that would seem to justify our responding in kind, without the constant hand-wringing about civilian casualties. But then, if the other side are engaged in a war, they are not terrorists and we are not terrorists -- we are both soldiers fighting for our cause, using every means we can come up with to weaken the enemy.

A terrorist attack makes me feel depressed, not angry. I think this is because of the feeling of helplessness it engenders: as though we are caught in some kind of vortex from which we cannot escape. I cannot reason with a terrorist, or negotiate with him, or even fully understand what he thinks he is doing and why. It is not clear if there is anything I can do to convince him to desist: giving in seems as immoral a solution as applying overwhelming violence to him and his surroundings; “tightening the vise” of economic pressure, targeted assassinations, curfews, etc. seems only to increase the motivation for terror. So I am caught with no answer that is convincing and no reason to think that the spiral will stop.

Some say that the proper analogy is between the Palestinians and the Nazis. Thus, just as the only moral answer to the Nazis was total war until they were totally defeated, so the same equation applies to the Palestinians. However, I cannot help believing that that equation is incorrect. The history of the relationship between Jews and Arabs in Israel is not parallel to that of the Jews and the Germans in Europe. The fact that the West Bank and Gaza have been under Israeli military rule since 1967 has to be taken into account, as does the fact that with or without terror, a significant portion of the population of Israel believes that that situation is acceptable and even desirable for the long term. But no matter how terrible the occupation is, the September 11 question arises: can there be any end that justifies this means?

 

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