Terrorism Rules

Article excerpt

It would appear to be a contradiction in terms - a regional nuclear power defeated by terrorism. But it is at least one way of interpreting the parlous state of affairs in the Middle East. It is all the more compelling and controversial when it comes from an Israeli, an expert on Palestinian affairs who was once an adviser to former Prime Minister Ehud Barak.

TERRORISM HAS TRIUMPHED against Israel. Not on its own - Israel, unfortunately, gave it a hand. More specifically, Israel under a right wing government headed by a prime minister identified with the use of force to achieve political ends. True, past Israeli prime ministers frequently resorted to military force as an instrument of policy, but never before has an Israeli leader been so closely identified with that doctrine as Ariel Sharon. Yet he, together with the establishment that serves him, is abetting terrorism against Israel.

Israel has suffered three major blows at the hands of Palestinian terrorism. The first is the sheer physical blow: the killing, the blood, the loss. The lives that are erased suddenly, without warning. The second blow is psychological. Terrorism not only brings death, it also strikes at the living. It injects fear, generates frustration and rage, and sows hatred. No less than the physical harm it causes, terrorism assaults the mind and the consciousness; its circle of victims is far larger than is at first apparent.

Terrorism is a blind weapon. It draws no distinction between combatant and civilian, between an infant in its cradle and a soldier in uniform. Everyone is a potential victim. The fact that every member of society is under threat creates a brotherhood of those who feel they are living on borrowed time. That acute sense of the abyss makes the potential victim blind to the society in which terrorism originates. The victims hatred for the terrorist's origins is diffuse and all-encompassing, and that drives him to react.

The reaction is the third blow. Terrorism strikes again when the victim adopts it as a method of response. What is terrorism if not a deliberate attack on a noncombatant population in order to achieve a political goal? And what, by the same token, is a ragedriven reaction - blind or calculated, but in either case systematic and repeated, against a civilian population - if not terrorism?

ISRAEL'S RESPONSE

For the past year and a half Israel has systematically assaulted a civilian population that is hostile but noncombatant. That is the sad conclusion one must draw from the numerous reports about the methods adopted by Israel at checkpoints in the occupied territories and its closure of Palestinian localities. Since January the international media has reported on the vandalism perpetrated by Israeli soldiers, the use of Palestinian civilians as human shields and the breaching of walls as a method of entering houses in the search of heavily populated Palestinian areas.

Moreover, the Israeli high command authorised the firing of missiles or the planting of explosives in residential dwellings or in vehicles carrying civilians. Generally such operations follow aerial reconnaissance of the target, from which the presence of civilians is obvious. However, the value of those lives is as dust under the wheels of Israeli methods of combat and the fury aimed at Palestinian terrorism. The existence of civilians and their right to life have been deleted from the screen of Israeli consciousness.

Every decent person must condemn Palestinian terrorism. Every decent person must also acknowledge that even though Israel is a victim of terrorist attacks, this does not give it the right to react in the same way. For the melancholy result of Israel's response is that its war machine also frequently operates as an agent of terror. Not in the Palestinian form of uncontrollable gangs or of individuals driven by religious fanaticism; not by means of suicide operations or by the terrorism of the weak. …