November 12, 2001

Dealing with terror involves both a military response and a political response.Q: One of the things that our effort is trying to focus Western attention on is the Israel beyond the conflict – other stories about Israeli society and culture.

What is your observation of what does not change, has not changed, that Americans might be surprised to learn about with regard to Israel?

A: You know the most amazing thing, for most Americans, is to see in the midst of difficulty how normal life is. And I think it’s relevant, especially for Americans today, who probably feel it was never going to touch them. So I think the Israelis, in effect, go about their life, even in circumstances where there is a different kind of threat for them too. It’s a modern society.

It’s a high-tech society. There were more start-ups on the NASDAQ from Israeli companies second to us [the United States]. People here … have an image that the Israelis are living under siege, but they don’t live that way. Maybe that creates some of the resentment on the Palestinian side because here is a country with a per capita income that is the equivalent of most Western European countries. It is a highly affluent society. Even in a time of difficulty, when you travel around Israel today, if you didn’t watch the news, if you didn’t see the snapshots, if you didn’t read the stories and you went there. Say you went to Tel Aviv or even went to Jerusalem,

you’d drive around the country and you wouldn’t notice anything. I describe it as being deceptively normal.

Q: What are the lessons that Israel can teach the United States now that we have this common bond with this international war on terrorism?

A: I think the main one would be how to try to function as a normal society in circumstances where there’s threat, because they’ve had to live with it forever. There probably are some things where they go beyond us because their approach to civil liberties has been more shaped by daily threats than ours has been.

I think one of the things the Israelis have understood [is] when you deal with terror, there is a military response and a political response. Neither one is sufficient in and of itself. You will not defeat terror only using military means, just as you can’t respond to terror using only political means. You are going to have to use both. That’s something that I think the Israelis, in fact, understand.

You listen to [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon, and Sharon talks about how he’s ready to be their peace negotiator, because he knows they are going to have to do that. It doesn’t matter what his positions are going in. What matters is that he understands there’s not only a military solution here. I think we could learn that well. We are going to have a long-term strategy toward dealing with this problem. And it’s not going to be only military. Those who say we can only be political or socio-economic, they miss the boat. There’s a real threat. You have to address the threat. Then you have to address the context out of which the threat emerges. Those are two different things.

Q: How does this whole question of bio-terrorism enter and change the formula for how we look at the conflict?

A: Well, it’s a reminder that we face a threat potentially that is much more profound, not isolated, and potentially devastating. As horrible as it is to have a terrorist incident, it’s one thing when it kills 50 or 100 people. If you threaten thousands or more than that, then you are dealing with a different world where the scope of the threat is redefined. The consequences of the threat are far greater than thought about previously. It certainly does create a premium for building international consensus to make it clear there are some things that will never be accepted and anyone who pursues them is not only seen as illegitimate but any cause that they are identified with is also seen as illegitimate. We have to … make it clear that if you use terror, you discredit your cause. That has to happen.

Q: It has taken on some currency in this country to talk about how now Americans understand a little bit of what Israelis go through. How far does that argument go now that we have had terrorist attacks on our shores?

A: I think the circumstances are such that there is a commonality. The basic commonality is Israelis have to live a certain way because there is always a threat. And they have had to live that way from the time that they became a state. Israelis are instinctively suspicious about packages they know are left unattended. Israelis routinely go through certain kinds of screening at airports. There is a security preoccupation they have which is simply a normal part of the way they live. We are more attentive to that. We know that we can be hit in a way that is random, that has no purpose except to kill civilians. There are no military targets; it’s purely kill civilians. That’s something that we now can understand.

Q: What do we need to do that they do as a matter of routine?

A: Some of it, we’re doing it, we’ve upgraded the way we travel, we have upgraded the way we provide security for how we get around. We have many more flights than they do and they only have a couple of airports but their routines are standard. We need to standardize our security routine. The good news – and this is serious good news – the threshold has been raised. Security in every airport I have been in has been raised in a way that is significantly different than it was before. I would be more comfortable if I felt that the standards were the same in every airport.

I will tell you from the standpoint of keeping terrorists off-balance, it’s not so bad if there is inconsistency as long as the threshold is higher, as long as there is a rigor. If the rigor is high in every airport, some of the randomness can actually be beneficial because terrorists have to operate on the basis of predictability.

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Jason Harris

Jason Harris

Executive Director

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