There are none so blind as those who will not see

Non-lethal price-tag attacks fit the definition of terrorism no less than bus bombings. Both are violent acts aimed at civilian targets to further political ends.

January 3, 2016 20:49
4 minute read.
Duma‏ attack

Amiram Ben-Oliel, charged with racially-motivated murder for the arson attack on the Dawabsha family home in Duma‏. (photo credit: Courtesy)

The unfortunate reaction of some Israelis to the suspected involvement of Jewish youth in the despicable Duma fire-bombing is reflected in Martin Sherman’s recent article, “Duma, ‘dirty dancing,’ & deeply disturbing detention” (January 1). At the risk of oversimplification, this reaction includes three elements: price-tag attacks are not terrorism; the Israeli authorities have used improper investigative methods; even if guilty, the “hilltop youth” present no tangible threat to Israel.

Here is a basic definition of terrorism accepted by many experts: “The deliberate threat or use of violence against civilian targets in order to promote/achieve political ends.” Note two critical points: (1) There is no required minimum threshold level of violence. Attacks on property are terrorism if the purpose of those attacks is to instill fear in a group of people; (2) it does not matter whether a terrorist acts alone or as part of a larger organization.

Non-lethal price-tag attacks fit the definition of terrorism no less than bus bombings. Both are violent acts aimed at civilian targets to further political ends. The severity of punishment is a separate issue to be resolved only after the alleged terrorist is found guilty of the act.

Killers deserve much harsher sentences than those who slash tires, though both are terrorists.

It has been argued mistakenly that Arab and Jewish terrorists are entirely different because the former are supported and equipped by outside organizations, while the latter are private individuals. However, many of the recent attacks on Israeli civilians seem to have been committed by Palestinian “lone wolves.” If outside support is determinative, we would have to conclude that these murderers are not terrorists.

There is no proof that the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) used improper methods to obtain information and confessions. Most recently, Deputy Attorney-General Raz Nizri said that claims that the Duma suspects were tortured during interrogation were “ridiculous and baseless.” Curiously, Sherman and others assume that the detained youth are innocent of all crimes because they have remained silent, even as they assume that Israeli authorities have acted improperly despite consistent denials of any wrongdoing.

Some are upset that the youth were held for a month without being charged (indictments were filed two days after Sherman’s article appeared.) Thousands of Palestinians have spent much longer periods in administrative detention, often justified on the grounds that certain evidence cannot be used for security reasons, or because it would not meet the standard for evidence legally admissible in a court of law. That is an even greater impediment when it comes to prosecuting Jews who are protected by the rules of Israeli criminal courts, rather than the lower bar of military tribunals to which Palestinians routinely are brought. Treating Jewish terrorist suspects more favorably than Palestinians simply because they are Jewish would validate allegations of bias and racism that we have rejected for so long.

Perhaps most troubling, Sherman suggests that what he terms “a marginalized group of a few dozen renegades” poses little threat to Israel.

He minimizes the importance of “the distasteful video showing an unkempt, raucous crowd, aggressively brandishing firearms and defacing photos of the infant Ali Dawabsha.” In reality, the video shows celebrants dancing to a song calling for revenge killings against Palestinians while waving automatic weapons, knives and mock firebombs. Ali’s picture was not “defaced” by drawing a mustache on the baby; a reveler repeatedly stabbed his likeness.

Sherman offers the following challenge: “I would be more than intrigued to hear from [those who have condemned the video] how they realistically envisage [the overthrow of the Zionist state] occurring and the mechanisms by which this will take place.” Actions like the Duma attack and resulting infamous video pose a serious threat to Israel in two ways: First, we will be portrayed throughout the world as a bloodthirsty nation that has ceded whatever moral high ground it claims.

At best, the conclusion by the world community will be, “A pox on both their houses. Let them fight it out among themselves.”

Arab would-be terrorists will see a clear justification to intensify their attacks on innocent Israelis.

More importantly, this is a struggle for our society’s moral soul. In the end, it may not matter who actually committed the Duma atrocity. By failing to put an end to price-tag attacks when they first appeared, we have allowed the reasonable conclusion that Duma was a Jewish enterprise.

We cannot credibly assert our opposition to terrorists if we ignore terrorism from within. Price-tag terrorism and its deadly progeny call into question our own morality.

The world has learned over the past few years that, left unchecked, evil metastasizes, becoming more dangerous than we could ever have imagined. Failure to label acts of terror accurately, and to oppose them with all possible legal and moral force, invites ever more serious attacks in the future. It makes us enablers of the inevitable next murderous acts.

The author, a retired US diplomat, is a Fellow at the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism in Herzliya and co-founder of The Zichron Project, an organization dedicated to developing creative strategies for improving Israel’s public diplomacy.

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