The success or failure of any government rests on the trust of its citizens. That trust is most often gained by a people’s confidence in their government’s capacity and determination to keep them safe. It is therefore no surprise that in times of crisis citizens look to their governments with the expectation of solutions. What is, however, somewhat surprising is their willingness to accept failure, so long as the people continue to feel that the government is “doing its best.” It is when a nation begins to lose that confidence that the rapid spread of fear and chaos take hold and wreak havoc.
This is what makes terror attacks so incredibly effective. No assault of bullets, kites, rockets or balloons can make a dent in the IDF. But they can shake the phycological wellbeing of a nation to its core. So, in a time when Israeli mothers no longer feel that they can protect even their unborn infants, they rightfully turn to their government with the expectation that every possible effort is being made to fix the situation. And they are met with crushing disappointment.
Hamas and its extensive family of violent terror organizations have successfully created a factory of lone wolf terrorists. While few question the “best efforts” of the military and security apparatus in combatting the products of this factory, many are left deeply unsettled by the seemingly halfhearted efforts made to take out the assembly line.
In recent years, martyrdom has become more than a fast track to 70 virgins in heaven; it has become a highly effective tool for upward social mobility. As a prospective martyr contemplates his attack, his motives are no longer fueled by religious purity or even blind hatred. Today’s martyr knows that his death (or even incarceration) ensures the financial wellbeing and instant celebrity status of his immediate family. He rightly trusts that he will leave behind no starving orphans or helpless elders. As for his own life, if lost he might think he has a chance at his 70 virgins, but if he lives that is another matter entirely. Should he survive his attack on Israel’s citizens, Israel will provide the best medical care available to him. He will also be offered legal representation, a lengthy trial with multiple appeals, and a comfortable jail cell where he can enjoy a free college education and nutritional diet (courtesy of Israeli taxpayers) until he is eventually released early as a gesture of good will.
While we cannot stop the toxic propaganda which glorifies the death and murder of innocents, surely we can expect our government to take a less active part in confirming it. Let us assume, for a moment, that the reason Hamas provides so many benefits to martyrs is because it works. The motivation for becoming a terrorist is no longer individual or spiritual, it as a simple cost benefit analysis in which both the terrorist and his family stand to gain far more than they stand to lose. It is therefore Israel’s responsibility to increase the cost and marginalize the benefit.
By removing the very clearly identifiable gains of committing a terror attack, we can effectively reduce the number of individuals willing to commit them and better protect our own citizens. This includes both the benefit to the individual terrorist, and the indirect benefits to those who raised and encouraged them to act.
Admittedly, combating the indirect benefits to the family of a terrorist is more complex, but certainly not an impossible task. If the enrichment of a terrorist’s family is a motivator, let the absolute demolition of their home (and not just the symbolic punching of a few holes in a wall or removal of a single room or floor) be a deterrence. If a potential terrorist may take comfort in knowing his family will become local heroes for having successfully raised a martyr, then let the forceable removal and relocation of them raise concerns about their humiliation upon becoming a social burden on an unfamiliar environment. As a country, we must send a strong message to our would-be-attackers and their support systems: we will not only retaliate against terrorists, but also against those who actively mold their loved ones into terrorists.
Unfortunately, while deterring people from becoming terrorists should seem like a clear job for a government, Israel has failed here as well. Terrorists simply do not need to fear going to jail forever, because a life sentence is completely open to negotiation. In fact, the more gruesome the crime, the more likely they will be fought for in return. Jail time has become more of an opportunity to better one’s self with an education, expand one’s criminal network and plan one’s next attack than an exactment of punishment. We cannot expect such a system to seriously deter much of anything. Israel has a death penalty, perhaps if implemented, we could stop sending better educated murders who have expressed no remorse back to their adoring fans. Trials must be become a high priority so that they can be completed quickly and efficiently, and those convicted (or killed during an attack) must be buried at unmarked graves, not returned to their family/village for a hero’s goodbye.
The people of Israel are scared. Scared because their fields are burning, because kites and balloons have gone from symbols of childhood innocence to symbols of destruction. They are scared because they just don’t know if the kindergarten teacher can realistically get the whole class of five-year-old’s into the shelter within the 90 second window before the rocket lands. They are scared because the car headed towards them might actually be aiming for them. Our government needs to adapt their messaging.
The nation needs to find comfort in the country’s conviction to defend its citizens, and our attackers need to fear the consequences of that conviction. If the cost of violence and destruction is made clearer, perhaps the virtues of working toward peace and cooperation may finally have their chance to shine.