How a society under siege reacts and adapts: Similarities between Israel and the United States.Q: What types of things has Israel done, in terms of security measures, to limit terrorism and safeguard the people?
A: In the face of decades of terrorist attacks, and the threat of chemical and biological attacks since 1990, Israel has developed a number of policies to protect the public and limit the dangers. The general public is a full partner in looking for and alerting the police regarding suspicious packages, individuals and actions that could be a danger. Police, ambulance, hospitals and other rescue and treatment facilities are on alert and drill terror responses very frequently. In addition, the government has distributed gas masks and other protective materials, and taught people how to use them properly. These actions have greatly improved Israel’s ability to withstand the terrorist threat, and to limit casualties when attacks do take place.
Q: Can these measures be implemented in the United States effectively, given our society?
A: Yes – there are many similarities between Israeli and American society. Both are open, free and pluralistic societies, and both understand the importance of balancing survival concerns with political and cultural values.
Q: How does Israel handle bio-terror threats?
A: A combination of sophisticated technical early warning and detection systems, protective defensive materials (gas masks and some medication in every home), a national supply of antibiotics for anthrax, etc., sophisticated intelligence to prevent attacks, and also credible deterrence through the threat of massive
retaliation in the event of attack.
Q: What is your assessment of the way in which the United States is dealing with the anthrax scare?
A: Detection was slow, creating needless concern and panic, and deterrence as well as intelligence appear unnecessarily weak.
Q: What is your reaction to the recent assassination of Rechavam Ze’evi, the minister of tourism in the Israeli cabinet?
A: I guess that the first thing that comes to mind is shock. We’ve been in a war, basically, with the Palestinians, the Palestinians have been in a war with us, for over a year. There’s been a lot of violence, suicide bombings. Close to a hundred Israelis were killed; many Palestinians were killed in the process; but this is really a big jump up in the level of violence.
Q: How big of a jump, and what does it mean?
A: It’s a little bit too early to know what it means, but it’s a member of the government and one of the cabinet members who … was assassinated, basically, in a revenge killing by a terrorist group. They’re saying that they’re taking revenge for the Israeli killing of one of their leaders who was responsible for terrorist activities, and what they’re basically saying is that if we’re not allowed to continue with these terrorist actions, and if you try to stop us, we’re going to escalate, we’re going to kill your leaders, we’re going to drag the whole area into war. It’s too early to know how the Israeli government will respond, but I think we’re back to the same keystone cop routine on Yasser Arafat’s part – rounding up the usual suspects, saying that we’re going to find the people who did it. Well, he’s said that about almost every other terrible terrorist activity we’ve had over the last year. He ends up doing nothing.
Q: And how can the U.S. now not support Israel when it holds Arafat responsible for this assassination?
A: I think the question is better than any answer I could give you. I think ultimately the United States and Washington, the Bush administration, even the State Department, are going to understand that you can’t have two different sets of rules for dealing with terrorism. Terrorists have to be fought and defeated wherever they are, and whatever kind of excuses they give, whether they’re Taliban, whether they’re bin Laden, whether they’re Arafat and the Palestinians – wherever it is, terrorism just has no place to exist, and you can’t find excuses for it.
Q: How does a society under siege survive?
A: Israel’s been under siege since before it was Israel. Terrorism against Jews, against Zionists, goes back to the 1920s, and we’ve had tremendous terrorism – in 1947, right after the U.N. brokered the partition. I think it tells us a lot about the political aims, which met with a huge round of car bombs and terrorism that led to the 1948 war. And the response that many Israelis will to tell you, including my 9-year-old son, is you’ve got to continue to live your life. You cannot let terrorists dictate to you what the limits are; that way you lose. If you hide, if you refuse to live your life in some way, it’s not saying that the Congress shouldn’t close under the kind of scare that we had from anthrax, but as soon as it’s possible to reopen, you reopen, you go back to business. The president goes to China and tries to continue, because you don’t want to give the terrorist that kind of victory, and that’s been the Israeli secret.
Q: In America, there is a fear. Does a society under siege continue to produce ideas and thoughts and try to do positive things in the world, or do you become so self-absorbed that you can’t do anything else but fight terror?
A: This is the first time the U.S. has had to deal with any of these issues. The United States hasn’t been under military threat, except at Pearl Harbor, for … a century or more, so this is totally new for the U.S. This is the place where the world has the greatest level of freedom. To suddenly come up smack against this wall where every step, everything that’s done has got to be checked out, where every corner you turn there’s a threat, a bomb, a hijacking, anthrax – you don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow. Of course for a while the United States seems to be frozen in its tracks. But eventually you learn you have no choice. You’ve got to live with it. You learn how to work around it. You learn how to go ahead and do as much creativity and productivity as possible. And Israel being under siege … the country continues to function. It’s hard, it’s traumatic, and there’s a high level of stress. It’s very hard to say this, but you learn to live with that high level of stress.
Q: And yet Israel maintains a democratic society, as does the United States.
A: Yes. That’s the last thing that you ever let go, because that means your society is no longer playing by the rules that you set, but by the terrorists’ rules.
Q: How you maintain that thriving democracy in spite of a terrorist threat?
A: First of all, when I look at the United States, I have no doubt the U.S. will maintain a functioning democracy and be able to find the right balance of civil rights and human rights, but also national security. The problem is that it takes some adjustment. You do have to balance these things. People who would say, “Well, you’re violating my rights by questioning me about what I want to do, what I’m carrying in my bag, or searching me” – those people are not going to be able to determine the agenda anymore. There’s got to be a balance. Security does count, and the first step, I think, is to understand that preservation of human life and security is a very vital part of the whole process. You maintain democracy, but at the same time you have to give up a little bit of your personal freedom in order to maintain that security, and that means sometimes you’re going to put yourself out to be searched. You’re going to have to carry identity cards to know who you are – things like that. And then you’re going to have to build much better checks and balances to make sure that those are not abused. It’s a constant adjustment process. You’re always weighing the two back and forth.
Q: Can you really win in a war against terrorism?
A: In the short term, if you’re alive and your values are still being implemented and you can say, “I’m getting what I need to do in my society,” then that’s a victory. You’re not letting the terrorists have a victory. And that’s really the goal at this stage. Over the long term, I think you can defeat terrorism, but it’s going to take a global effort.
Q: How do you answer the argument that is sometimes made that one person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter?
A: I think that’s what we call relative values. You can always find excuses for terrorism, but when somebody goes out to kill women and children – suicide bombers – kids are taught to give up their lives to kill women and children, whatever the cause – that’s terrorism. There’s no question about it. In a Pizza Hut or in a disco or in airplanes and skyscrapers, you know terrorism when you see it. It’s like the definition of pornography at the Supreme Court; there’s no debate about that. There are other ways with which one can make one’s point, and get support if you have a legitimate point, for developing, changing political systems, overthrowing oppressive regimes – particularly now, with the international system being supportive of those types of activities. Terrorism just has no place in that process.
Q: Is there a way to have conflict resolution with an Osama bin Laden, with Muslim and Islamic extremists, to separate that from Islam as a great world faith? Is there a way to find a middle ground?
A: I’ll give you the bottom line, what I said in the last lecture to my students, and that is that there are people, situations, organizations where there is no conflict to resolve. You can’t live under those circumstances. You can either separate and say, “You go your way, I go mine,” but then there’s no terrorism, there’s no interaction, or you’ve got to defeat them. There are clearly categories – Hitler was one of those, and the Nazis was one of those categories. Osama bin Laden, people who use anthrax – there is no negotiation with terrorists. You cannot in any way compromise, or you end up losing in that kind of a situation.
Q: On the subject of coalition building, how broad should the coalition be, and who do we include and who don’t we include?
A: I would approach the whole issue in a very different direction. I would say first you’ve got to lead the coalition. The coalition – something called a coalition of the willing, and in fact, in some ways the U.S. did that when it went into Bosnia and Kosovo. You’ve got to lead. The United States, as the only super power, as the representative of all the democracies, has to set a clear direction and then say, “These are the rules. You want to join us, you want to be on the side of the good guys, then these are the terms. And if you don’t want to join us … you’re on the other side.” What’s happening instead is the United States Secretary of State Powell is going from capital to capital, from Riyadh to Cairo to Pakistan to other places and saying, “Well, what do we have to do to get you to join the coalition?” And I think that’s a backwards way of doing it.
The Egyptians and the Saudis – their lives, their regimes, those leaderships, those countries are on the line. Bin Laden and Al Qaeda – for them, those are the first targets – the corrupt Saudi government, the princes of the royal family, and in Egypt, the military regime. So if these guys are not working with the United States they’re the ones who are going to pay the biggest price. Instead of that, what we’re doing is we’re going to them and paying them off to join what’s in their own interest. I think the issue of national interest is key here.