This question has come to the fore yet again, after being up and down on our agenda who knows how many times in recent years.
9-11 is an icon in American history. Israelis'' memories are clogged with many instances, none of which have been quite as dramatic, but taken together have cost the country several times the carnage of 9-11 taking account of populations. One accounting records 3,728 Israeli deaths from terror (not counting soldiers killed in battle) since 1920. Given the changes in population of the two countries over time, it is not possible to specify a precise American equivalent. However, using something close to the average populations of the countries over that span, the American equivalent of Israeli deaths would be somewhere between two and four hundred thousand.
Israel''s efforts to control terror infused with Islamic and nationalist fervor have left a mixed record.
Surrender is not in the cards, despite repeated use of considerable force, with extensive destruction of Palestinian property and disproportionate casualties compared to those of Israeli soldiers and civilians. Whether the core of terror is religious doctrine or political ideology, the incentives to continue the struggle and overlook losses (or to view the casualties as a religious blessing) are strong barriers against the terrorists admitting defeat.
A prominent feature of Islam and Palestinian nationalism is a segment of the population that supports doctrines of violence with enthusiasm. They accept the narrative of Israeli/Jewish colonialism, land taking, and continued oppression, support continued struggle, and are willing--even enthusiastic--to dedicate their lives and those of their children to the cause.
Others stay in line and support violence verbally or passively, some of them out of fear of violence directed internally against those who express opposition.
If defeating terror to the point of formal surrender is not in the cards, there are benefits to be gained from assiduous defense, a willingness to respond aggressively to incidents of violence, along with a concern to balance such actions by seeking to control non-violent nationalist protests with non-lethal means, and allowing peaceful expressions of religious and nationalist sentiment that are in keeping with democratic norms.
Sizable numbers, perhaps a majority of Palestinians are indifferent to the slogans of the extremists. They aspire to live, learn, work, (perhaps in Israel or for Israeli firms in the territories) enjoy the opportunities presented by modern technology, welcome professional and personal associations with Israelis, and aspire to keep their children from the influence of extremist relatives and neighbors.
Israel has not been able to reach agreement with Palestinian leaders of the West Bank on the sensitive issues of refugees, Jerusalem, Jewish settlements, and borders, or formal acceptance of a Palestinian state. However, both Israelis (including Arab citizens of Israel and Arab residents of Jerusalem) and West Bank Palestinians have had something like nine years of relative quiet since the last major confrontations of the Intifada that began in 2000 and petered out a few years later.
An aggressive Israeli response to a terror attack from Lebanon seems to have produced eight years of relative quiet on the northern border.
Calculations are controversial. Neither the West Bank nor the northern border are as quiet as we would like. Moreover, the quiet of Hezbollah may have as much to do with its heavy and costly involvement in Syria as with anything that Israel did in 2006. Palestinians of the West Bank have demonstrated, sometimes violently, in support of their cousins in Gaza.
As I was drafting this note, there was news of a Jerusalem Arab who drove a construction machine into a pedestrian, killing him, then injuring several other people until being shot dead by a policeman.
An hour later a motorcycle rider shot a soldier waiting at a bus stop about a kilometer from here.
My afternoon walk occurred with the sound of police helicopters and sirens.
It reminded me of an Intifada event a decade ago along the same route. The explosion was close enough so we could smell the materials used. When we reached home and turned on the TV, we saw city personnel with hoses cleaning the bus stop where people had died.
Today I met a neighbor who was proud to talk about grandsons serving in the tank corps in Gaza. We agreed that the world would have to get used to Jews fighting to defend themselves. He finished our conversation with עם ישראל חי,
Analysts quarrel as to whether we are on the cusp of another Intifada, or if the destruction produced by the IDF in Gaza will serve to moderate whatever incentives toward violence are felt in the West Bank.
Judging the incidence and costs of terror, and the costs of combating it, like many other things, requires a weighing of benefits and costs, and perceiving probabilities amidst uncertainty
More Israelis die and are injured in traffic accidents or as a result of crime than from terrorists.
Like traffic safety and crime, dealing with terror requires considerable expenditure, and is only partly successful.
We may have to consider all of them as the costs of civilization.
Currently the appropriate focus (of Israelis as well as many Americans and Europeans) is on Muslims, but most of them are not terrorists.
Yet some who are not have children who become terrorists
There are also non-Muslims who are good citizens but have children who are bad drivers, or go off the rails into drugs, alcohol, crime, or fringe religious or political movements.
None of which minimizes the need for concern about Muslims, insofar as they provide a major nucleus of trouble.
Tragic is the suffering of Muslims who are not dangerous, or even active in opposing extremism, and find themselves constantly under suspicion, discriminated against in employment, social relations, and seeking housing in good neighborhoods.
There are numerous video clips circulating of Muslims, or Christian Arabs speaking out against violence and in behalf of Israel. One of the most recent is here. It comes from Israeli television and refers to current charges against Israel for killing children in Gaza.
Jews know the costs of stereotypes, and most likely know Jews who discriminate against Arabs.
A more upbeat postscript tells the story (in Hebrew with Russian sub-titles) of a farmer in southern Israel who put together a portable shower, which he drove daily to a camp outside of Gaza to let several hundred soldiers wash themselves. He also provided a clean towel and fresh underwear.