Counter-Terrorism: Things That Are Forbidden


January 28, 2014: Palestinians in the West Bank are complaining that Israeli settlers living among them (in separate communities) are fighting back when attacked and this sort of terrorism has to stop. Arabs have been attacking Jews in what is now Israel and the West Bank for over a century and believe it’s not right when the Jews fight back. Because of those decades of hostility many Israelis now believe that Israel should take possession of much of the West Bank. Thus after Israel took the West Bank from Jordan (which had attacked Israel as part of another Arab coalition seeking to destroy Israel) in 1967 enough Israelis got behind the idea of a “Greater Israel” (one that included all of the ancient Israeli territories, especially the West Bank) to at least be allowed to settle in the West Bank. Israelis have been doing that ever since but the “Greater Israel” parties never mustered enough votes to annex all or part of the West Bank. In the meantime Palestinians refused to make a peace deal that did not involve the destruction of Israel. Palestinian media have been pushing that for decades and has shown no support for any compromise that allows Israel to exist.

When the Jews in Palestine declared independence in 1948, the new state of Israel was immediately attacked by virtually the entire Arab world, with Egypt, Syria, and Jordan providing most of the troops, backed up by Palestinian irregular paramilitaries.  For most of the next 20 years, Israel faced down all of the frontline Arab states in addition to fighting off terrorist attacks during what came to be called the War of Attrition. 

At times, it seemed as though total war would continue to consume the region indefinitely.  However, the era of constant conventional warfare actually ended much earlier than many analysts predicted.  Until 1967, the Arab world agreed that it would make no peace with Israel.  All of the major Arab nations, including countries as far away as Algeria and the Sudan, not only remained in a perpetual state of war with Israel but refused to even recognize Israel's existences.  But the Six Day War in 1967 was a total defeat for the Arabs, proving that it would be near impossible to actually threaten the state's existence. 

After Anwar Sadat became the Egyptian president in 1970, he was smart enough to realize that completely overrunning the Jewish state was neither a realistic nor desirable goal.  He was determined to continue on a course of war with Israel but with more realistic war aims. Sadat sought to recover territory lost in 1967, repair the damage done to the reputation of the Egyptian military and then make peace with Israel.  After the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Egypt had recovered its reputation as a competent (or at least less incompetent) military power, but had still been thoroughly defeated once again by the Israel Defense Force (IDF), which had crossed into Africa and completely cut off an entire field army by the end of the war.  Israel quickly seized onto Sadat's peace overtures and eventually signed the Camp David Accords in 1978, gaining recognition of its right to exist from the Egyptians, cessation of the state of war between the two countries, and effectively knocking out one of the two most dangerous Arab combatants (Syria being the second).  Wars in Lebanon against the Syrians and the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization) in the '80s further convinced Arab nations of the futility of making open warfare against Israel.  Peace with Jordan followed in the late '90s, knocking down another domino in the pantheon of potential threats. 

The humiliation suffered by Yasser Arafar and the PLO at the hands of Israelis in Lebanon during Operation "Peace for Galilee" in 1982 effectively ejected Arafat's armed group from the country and went a long way towards paving the way for the Oslo Accords in 1993 that ended the PLO's armed campaign.  The subsequent peace negotiations resulted in a peace deal by 2000 that everyone except Palestinian radicals believed was doable. The radicals threatened violence if the PLO accepted the deal and persuaded the PLO to back a terrorism campaign to get better terms. While the 2000 deal would be acceptable to even more Palestinians today, the radicals will settle for nothing less than the destruction of Israel. The terrorism campaign that began in 2000 ended in defeat by 2005 but the Palestinian radicals refused to accept defeat, despite their inability to make any more terrorist attacks inside Israel. But because the Israeli countermeasures sealed the border between Israel and the Palestinian territories it crippled the Palestinian economy. The Palestinian leadership felt it prudent to continue supporting the radicals. Many West Bank Palestinians tried to accept their defeat but the radicals kept attacking Israelis every chance they got. That meant killing settlers. Since 2006 29 settlers and ten Palestinians have been killed by terrorist violence. Much of the violence was less lethal, like throwing rocks and fire bombs at Israelis. This resulted in 1,700 Palestinians and 361 Israelis injured. The Israelis were very careful about the use of lethal force even though some of those rocks and firebombs killed Israelis.

In 2013 Hamas called for another violent Palestinian uprising against Israel. That is only possible in the West Bank, where half a million Israelis now lived alongside 2.2 million Palestinians. There has been an increase in Palestinian attacks there since then but now the Israeli settlers have been attacking right back. In response to the settler violence the Israeli government announced that Jewish residents of the West Bank making "price tag" (retaliatory) attacks will be treated like terrorists. This gives the police more power to investigate and prosecute these crimes. These price tag attacks are in retaliation for the Israeli government dismantling illegal settler structures in the West Bank or as revenge for Palestinians attacking the settlements or settlers.

Price tag attacks represent a shift in settler attitudes over the last few years. For decades the settlers could be depended on to be passive after a Palestinian attack, letting the Israeli police and military look for the culprit. But now the settlers are increasingly launching "price tag" counterattacks. The price tag refers to what the Palestinians must suffer for every attack on Israelis, or for Israeli police interfering with settler activities. This is vigilante justice, and it does more damage to Palestinians than Israeli police efforts to catch and prosecute Palestinian attackers. The Palestinians are not accustomed to this kind of swift payback, and they do not like it. Israel has been under growing public and international pressure to crack down more vigorously on the settler vigilantes. This became especially urgent because the attacks are much more common and are even extending to feuds between factions of Jewish religious extremists. The Palestinians are still committing most of the terror attacks, but the Jewish terrorists are catching up.



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