It’s the Israel model: living under siege

Beating terrorism is a sentiment, a deep-set decision, is faith in your battle and in your right to life. It is also the determination to fight the battle without violating, indeed by defending, one’s values. It is waking up in the morning knowing that one must also live together with the horrible beast still honoring one’s daily life.

Once, during the Second Intifada, while I was working out in the YWCA gym with the usual group of women, the news arrived that a bus had blown up at the corner. In gym suit and sneakers, we all ran out to the corner of the street where the explosion had occurred. Inside we could glimpse the body of a person still seated, the head bent down. They didn’t let us cross the police line. After a while we returned in a group to the gym and went back to our lesson with as heavy a heart as you can imagine.

“Well done” the trainer said at the end of the lesson, “you made it”. It’s normal in Israel if during a wave of terror you decide to sit at the café with your friends as soon as it is rebuilt after an attack with dozens of victims, or if you go to see a movie anyway and you sit in the seats closest to the exit just in case the need arises to evacuate the cinema in a hurry, if you take your children to school by car in case you can avoid using the bus … the life of the Israeli is all resistance, an exaltation of normal life, of managing to uphold the rights of whoever will visit Jerusalem to do it in peace, no matter what religion or nationality he belongs to.

To fight terrorism is foremost a moral rather than a practical obligation, because terrorism is defeated when one manages to live without fear in a town that has be tormented hundreds of times; to remain in the kibbutz continuously attacked by Hamas on the Gaza border, leaving them only for the holidays with your stressed children because they need it and you love them, but then taking up one’s position again; or to shop at the supermarket during this Intifada of knives and decide, after a day at home, to take the children to school or to dance or swimming lessons.

At the origin of this sentiment is the determination that one’s own civilization, albeit with all of democracy’s defects, must never give up the respect for freedom of movement and of opinion, or of the rights of individuals established by law.

Everyone knows the danger comes from the Palestinian world, but no one even thinks of wiping out their rights. In hospitals, physicians and patients, from one bed to the next, speak Hebrew and Arabic, and the families come visit them. Similarly the Members of Parliament at the Knesset, the children in school, the customers and the shopkeepers in the shops … they are all subjects of the same legal and judicial system, and nothing changes.

The respect for the Mufti in the Mosque remains even when what threatens us is an “Intifada of the Mosques”. But the passion for one’s civilization also derives from the fact that Israel acknowledges its own value and defends it with its life, and pretends respect of the laws and of life. Without compromise.

First of all, the army trains its youth for three years not only to wage conventional war but also to defend people from terrorism. Indeed, in these times, the use of the army is becoming usual in the cities under attack.

Every missile attack by Hamas is answered by F16’s that take wing to bomb the missile launching sites. The entrances to shopping centers and public buildings are checked by security people and modern equipment.

The Knesset continuously reviews and adjusts the laws defining the punishment for terrorism, and lately has even passed a ferociously debated document that states that even those who declare solidarity with terrorism can be condemned, that every citizen aged over 12 can be arrested, that any suspects can be prevented from leaving the country, and in several cases that the first contact with a lawyer can be postponed by 48 hours. The rules preventing the funding of terrorism have been extremely severe, even when in the form of NGO and charities.

In 2002, following the 27th of March attack in Netanya that caused 23 casualties among the elderly participants to the ritual Seder dinner (and this occurred after many dozens of people were assassinated), Ariel Sharon launched a strong military operation to put Arafat, deemed to be this attack’s main instigator, under siege in his Mukata compound in Ramallah. Tulkarm, Qalqilya, Bethlehem and Nablus were searched with a fine comb … The operation significantly helped in putting an end to the grand attack on the people of Israel.

This did not prevent Sharon from promoting the discussed Gaza “itnatchut” later on: his war against the Intifada had a direct aim, and he got it.

There is no contradiction between winning a war and pursuing peace (I’m not discussing now the outcome of his choice for Gaza). This attitude was well summarized by a famous sentence of Yzchak Rabin: “We have to fight terror as if there were no peace talks, and we have to pursue peace as if there were no terror.

“Waging war while pursuing peace don’t present any contradiction according to western value, and this is often forgotten by those who fear even the word war.”

In other words, we a democracy must face the adversary on every ground with the conviction not only of its need to survive but also of the fact that its fight is necessary to all of humankind because its aims are noble and saint.


This article originally appeared in slightly different form in Italian in Il Giornale (November 15, 2015)

About the Author
Fiamma Nirenstein is a journalist, author, former Deputy President of the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, and member of the Italian delegation at the Council of Europe.
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