Containing terrorism with security measures only goes so far
An article with the same title as this was published in the Jerusalem Post, Israel’s main English-language newspaper a day after the terrorist attacks in Brussels. The author, Yossi Melman, describes the attacks as “the result of years of negligence” and “a colossal security and intelligence failure.” According to Melman, Europe has missed out on the opportunity to profit from Israel’s security-related know-how.
Before I became a European, I was an Israeli citizen. In this article I would like to explain why I think Melman is both right and wrong.
The price of security measures
Multiple security measures have been introduced at Ben-Gurion International Airport in Israel, as well as in several airports around the world where El-Al, Israel’s flag carrier, is operating. These moves can indeed prevent attacks on Israeli planes similar to several of the dramatic hijackings, which were carried out by Palestinian terrorists in the 1970s. Yet securing air traffic comes at a price. Passengers are now expected to be at the terminal some three hours before departure and many foreigners report humiliating searches and interrogations.
The so-called “Separation Fence” on the West Bank is reported to have reduced the number of suicide bombings that targeted Israeli buses and shops during the Second Intifada (2000-2005). But the 8-meter-high wall has become a symbol of occupation and together with the accompanying system of checkpoints, it has aggravated further human rights violations against the Palestinian population.
The Gaza Strip has effectively become the largest ghetto in the world. After being pounded with bombs from the air, land and sea during the summer of 2014, the barrage of home-built rockets have stopped; at least for now. And while Hamas extremists continue to improve their missiles’ range, my parents and other Israelis continue to tidy up their panic rooms, keeping them ready for the next round of confrontations.
Moreover, Melman’s article fails to mention the new wave of “terror” that has been plaguing Israel since September 2015. A series of stabbing assaults, which occur almost on a daily basis, have been labelled “the Intifada of Individuals.”
Israel’s leadership has so far failed to address the roots of Palestinian terrorism. Instead of working towards a lasting political solution, it sticks to old habits, treating the symptoms (security challenges) and not the disease (the occupation). As a result, terrorist threats, time and again, mutate and reappear in ever more frightening forms.
The lack of political prospects has dramatically increased the number of the Palestinians willing to engage in violent resistance. Solidarity rooted in blinding rage is replacing terrorist networks. Scissor-wielding teenage girls and old men armed with screwdrivers – no matter how absurd this sounds – are the new forms of politically motivated violence directed against both Israeli settlers and random bystanders.
In most cases, Israel’s security personnel have responded with unrestrained fatal force, which can be often described as an extrajudicial execution. The systemic violence of occupation deprives both Palestinian and Israelis of an imaginable future and transforms itself into spontaneous outbursts of reckless brutality.
Treatment vs. cure
In recent months, Europe has experienced a drastic increase in the number of casualties at the hands of Islamists. So far the response of the European governments has been impulsive and short-sighted. They turn a blind eye to the suffering of refugees on Europe’s borders, continue to discriminate against the already underprivileged sections of Europe’s own population, and increasingly limit the freedoms for the rest in terms of cross-border movement and their right of privacy etc.
Instead of addressing the roots of radicalisation, these “security measures” can only be seen to exacerbate it. By all means, they do not deserve the term, “security.” Neither can they qualify as a cure. Rather, they seem to be part and parcel of the very syndrome that has been afflicting Israel and which is now increasingly spreading into Europe; namely, of securitarian myopia.
Of course, Europe must take care of the acute symptoms. Evidently, the authorities (especially the Belgian ones) will have to admit serious failures. Also, each European country, as well as Europe as a whole, should crack down on existing networks of radicalised youth at home. Abroad, we should join with moderate forces on the ground in their fight against the cut-throats of the self-declared Islamic State.
However, despite its shortcomings, or rather because of them, Israel’s “holistic security doctrine” provides strong evidence that security measures and military operations alone, however sophisticated they might be, ultimately fail to ensure long-lasting security. The Israeli case can offer Europe the following lesson: a symptom-centred treatment only lets the disease progress.
Hopelessness as weapon
Secure the airport – and the terrorists will switch over to buses and cafés. Erect ever tighter barriers around entire populations, terrorise them with frequent night-raids and arrests, populate the sky with surveillance drones, turn daily commuting into an enfilade of checkpoints – and you will see more ordinary people turning into terrorists.
In other words, try to prevent the hopeless from accessing weapons – and they will find a way to turn their very hopelessness against you. One should fight hopelessness and not the hopeless. Coercive measures and military solutions are as useful in discouraging violent manoeuvres as they are counterproductive in fighting despair.
In 2011, Anders Breivik’s lone-wolf attacks resulted in 76 deaths. The then Norwegian prime minister, Jens Stoltenberg, reacted with the following statement: “The Norwegian response to violence is more democracy, more openness and greater political participation.” Europe should learn from that too.
A previous version of this article was published on Katoikos.eu