I remember walking through an Arab neighborhood in Jerusalem one Friday night years ago. Though the Arabs were almost completely still, we felt their eyes on us and frankly we were terrified. I remember thinking how different this felt from walking through a bad neighborhood where fear of mugging would be very real; where I might be mugged, but it wouldn’t be personal. It would not be about me. But at that moment, with all of those eyes on me, I felt their hatred.
Did all of those Arabs loitering about on a Friday night indeed hate me? If I suddenly found myself separated from all of my friends, alone in the dark shadows, would I have been attacked? Or was I merely projecting my own paranoid thoughts, borne out of so much media consumption of terror attacks and attitudes?
Possibly one of the former; but certainly the latter. Terrorism is defined as ‘those violent acts that are intended to cause fear.’ As I huddled closer to my friends, glancing around for approaching shadows, imagining suspicious noises, I understood, possibly for the first time, what that fear is.
It is entirely possible that every one of the Arabs we passed would not have given me and my Jewishness a second thought. That they were all law-abiding citizens, just out enjoying the fresh, warm air on an early September night. That they would have invited me into their home for a coffee, or asked me out on a date. But generations of Arab terror against my people instilled fear in me on that night.
Had it been mere criminal actions over the generations, I might not have given it a second thought. Surely not all citizens are criminals. You may say that not all citizens are terrorists, and you would be absolutely correct. But a culture that is brought up on a diet of hatred for whom and what you are should naturally make you suspicious of a member of that culture, when encountered in a dark, semi-deserted place.
This is what terror does. It terrorizes you. It doesn’t make you wary. It doesn’t make you lock your car doors. It doesn’t make you think ‘safety first’. It makes you, simply, afraid.
One of the buzz-phrases in today’s over-obsessed, politically-correct world when dealing with the Arab-Israeli conflict is ‘moral equivalency.’ After all, the common understanding goes, it’s important to show balance and even-handedness, and how everyone involved is in the wrong and equally contributing to the problem; regardless of whether or not it is so. We have been fighting this in the world press for decades. Now, it seems, this battle must be fought in a domestic arena as well.
For the past several years the term ‘price tag’ has come to have meaning in Israel that’s much more nefarious than the cost of an item. Dozens of incidents have taken place across the country, random acts of violence, that are perpetrated by or attributed to fundamentalist Israeli youths, typically from some of the more extreme, right-wing neighborhoods in Judaea and Samaria.
The attacks, such as spray-painting hate slogans on buildings or houses of worship, uprooting trees, tire slashing and even car torching are disgusting, damaging, hateful, criminal acts. The perpetrators of these hate crimes are the lowest of low-lifes and should be apprehended and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.
So-called Price Tag attacks are hate crimes. They are racist attacks. They are vandalism.They are a blot on our society and must be removed. They are all of those things; but one thing they are not is terrorism.
In an effort to stem these attacks, there is a significant push among some in the government to label these attacks ‘acts of terror.’ Perhaps by calling it thus, they feel it will make perpetrators think twice. But there are technical considerations that are being examined, that if these attacks are labeled ‘terrorism’ then alleged perpetrators can be held even in advance of such crimes to prevent them. Calling these cowardly acts ‘terrorism’, however, is an enormous mistake.
There is no arguing the fact that these misguided youths are committing acts of vandalism, damaging both property and good will, and must – absolutely must – be stopped; but at what cost? Are those ‘violent acts intended to cause fear’? DO they cause fear? They cause damage. They are intended to cause damage. They are probably intended to damage goodwill as well. But to call it terror?
Unfortunately the State of Israel is quite familiar with terror. It lurks around every page in our history books and newspaper archives, graphically depicted with stories of the gruesome slaughter of our mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, children and babies over the decades. Israel has had more practice dealing with terror than our hearts can bear, and then some. And still we must always be on the alert, watching for suspicious objects, checking bags when we enter public places, living, as we do, alongside a people that celebrates terrorists as heroes, and glorifies the slaughter of our people. Yes, we know what terror is. And yes, it seems that we so easily forget.
It is wrong on so many levels to call ‘Price Tag’ attacks terrorism; at the most basic level, it diminishes real terrorism. How can you compare the fear of coming home to find our tires have been deflated vs the fear of coming home to find your family has been murdered? How can one equate grafitti on the wall of your store to having your store blown up by a suicide bomber along with dozens of your customers?
We are headed down a dangerous path of social capitulation. Balance can not be invented, nor will it exist just because we say it is so. We must continue to protect all of our citizens equally from the ills of a society gone amuk. But we do no one a service by stretching the definition of a word so loaded with angst and devastation onto acts of something much different just for ease of handling. We owe it to ourselves to be honest and treat the ills of our society justly, appropriately and with integrity.