The murder of a young Israeli couple, Rabbi Eitam and Naama Henken, in a drive-by terrorist attack leaving behind four orphaned children, has been called “senseless.” It is brutal, violent and barbaric—but hardly senseless.
Terrorism always has been about killing innocents at random, seeking to instill fear because anyone can be a random target. If you are a terrorist, killing a couple in front of their children is what you do because the people you seek to terrorize can identify with the victims and see their own children in the faces of the surviving orphans.
It also sends a message to those who feel powerless—that they too have the power to kill. Killing is empowering.
Terrorism, to the Palestinians, is about the restoration of lost honor. It does not matter that the targets are easy. Shedding blood becomes both exhilarating and affirming; and above all, the political and religious structures of the society praise, affirm, and inculcate it in their children.
In the game of terrorism, you can define yourself or you can let your enemy define you. Israel has tacitly chosen to define itself. For a society under siege, despite its flaws, it adheres to the rule of law.
It has chosen to view all of its citizens as soldiers and their deaths as casualties of war. Terrorists are to be pursued and brought into the criminal justice system.
The terrorist, to paraphrase Mao, swims in the sea of the people. He wants his opponents to pursue him through the people, further alienating them as a consequence. At least that is the fundamental theory of terrorism.
As long as the terrorist is willing to die — as long as the cause is willing to send its young people into the slaughter — ostensibly, the terrorist wins. If there is no collective punishment, the cause is emboldened. If there is, there is presumably greater alienation among the people.
Give the people hope through the shedding of the enemy’s blood; alienate them from the enemy by causing the enemy to go through them to get to the terrorist. Either way, the terrorist assumes he wins.
In the mind of the international community, a cause that is “just” yields moral license that excuses the most brutal behavior. When that cause is characterized as one of a people fighting for their self-determination then the most obscene acts can command some convoluted strain of legitimacy.
The Israelis face an additional problem, as its once strongest ally, the United States, has pursued a policy of finding moral equivalency between the terrorists and their victims. Not only has the Obama administration offered tepid condemnation of the recent spate of terrorist attacks on innocent civilians; its Secretary of State, John Kerry, has blamed the settlements not the terrorists for the terrorism. This has further advanced the legitimacy of the terrorists’ cause and its effectiveness.
The killing of the Henkens was praised by Hamas and Fatah, Israel’s alleged partner for peace, and as if to underscore the righteousness of the act, Fatah and Hamas called for more murders of Jews for being Jews. The international community remained deaf to the incitement.
The call was heeded within days when Adele Benita, her husband Aharon, and their child were attacked in the old city by a knife-wielding terrorist. The father died; the mother, carrying her bleeding child, had a knife in her shoulder. She called for help from Arab shopkeepers and Arab passersby who mocked her and spat on her.
The immediate perpetrators of these acts of terrorism are less significant than the political and religious structure that incites, sustains, and justifies them. Partisans for the Palestinian cause, of course, blamed the occupation, a vacuous idea that can justify any act no matter how horrific.
The terrorist assumes that punishing terrorists by going through the people to attack them further sustains the terrorist cause. Actual events often teach us otherwise. Many people become alienated from the terrorists, become tired of the disruption of life because of the cycle of attack and reprisal.
A society that does not respond strongly to violence inadvertently gives that violence legitimacy. Restraint is not a sophisticated and measured response but interpreted as a sign that the violence is justified. A society under siege faces a delicate balance between taking action and over-reacting. Terrorism creates this dilemma.
To suggest that the uses of terrorism are senseless and mindless is to fail to comprehend that terrorism is a tool designed to achieve outcomes, and the taking of life is vital to achieving those outcomes.
To stop terrorism, a society must make the costs of terrorism sharply exceed the benefits and be willing to suffer the condemnation in the international community that such a policy will engender.
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