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August 12, 2016  RSS feed
Rabbinically Speaking

Text: T T T

Israel can teach us about terrorism

By RABBI CARLA FREEDMAN Congregation Beth Israel of Sun City Center

It is conventional wisdom that Israel has a lot to teach the world about many things, ranging from medical technology to hydroponic farming, from weapons development to desalinization projects.

It strikes me that there is another subject that Israel knows a lot about, and that the world needs to learn as well: the matter of terrorism.

During the first and second intifadas, and for decades before and years after as well, Israel was subjected to terrorist incidents both large and small. And because Israel occupies a tiny piece of real estate, a terrorist event in one part of the country reverberated loudly all over. In America, when an incident takes place in San Bernardino, CA, people in New England do not immediately feel vulnerable. When incidents take place in Belgium, France, or Germany, Americans generally feel protected by the distance between us and Europe.

In Israel, the terrorist attacks were the work of anti-Israel Arab factions living just outside the country’s borders. They permeated those legal boundaries until Israel erected the infamous barrier (mostly wall, at least partly a fence) which has succeeded in keeping the terrorists out of the country. What it can’t do, and what proposed limitations on immigration to the U.S. can’t do, is keep out, or even detect the home-grown terrorists who are behind all the recent incidents, both here and in Europe.

And while Israel has experienced some of that phenomenon as well, it is interesting to note two things. The first is that when people speak today of “the Middle East situation,” they are not referring to the decades-old tensions between Israel and her Arab neighbours. And the other is that the forces which are generating the “home-grown” attacks in this country and in Europe do not seem at all focused on Israel, neither in their rhetoric nor in their preferred targets (yes, there have been attacks on Jewish institutions but not Israeli ones).

But what they are doing is very much like what was happening in Israel during the height of the terrorist attacks there. ISIS and other supporters of the Arab caliphate seem to have bypassed the large dramatic attacks that Al Qaeda favored and are encouraging their supporters abroad to attack on their own home turf, picking their own targets and amassing their own arsenals of weapons. In Israel’s case, even the so-called “lone wolf” terrorists were part of, or at least supported by, Hamas or Hezbollah or some other organized faction committed to the destruction of Israel. Still, anticipating the lone terrorist who will create mayhem with an automatic weapon at a night club or by plowing a truck through a crowded street of revelers is probably no easier than identifying a locally resident Arab who has become radicalized.

At least so far, it seems that the families of the terrorists committed to ISIS do not enjoy significant financial support once the attack has occurred, as do the Palestinians and others whose sons or daughters have been killed in terrorist attacks in Israel. That immeasurably increases the attraction of terrorism and even suicide bombings to potential perpetrators.

All the world now walks the same tightrope that Israel has been on for years, finding the right balance between vigilance and normalcy. And that’s just another thing that Israel could teach the world.

Rabbinically Speaking is published as a public service by the Jewish Press in cooperation with the Tampa Rabbinical Association which assigns the column on a rotating basis.

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