Friday, October 05, 2007

5-Oct-07: On dialoguing with terrorists


It's a word that appears often in the ongoing dialogue on the subject of terror and how to keep civilized societies safe from its practitioners.

Most commonly, asymmetry is the way observers describe the relative positions of the terrorists and the counter-terrorists. The terrorists are characterized as lacking aircraft, lacking infrastructure, lacking resources and ultimately lacking power. The counter-terrorists - generally meaning governments - have all of the above. So there's an imbalance, and it's therefore to be expected that the "desperate" oppressed should turn to "militantism" to protect and assert their rights.

The shallowness of this justification for barbaric acts of terror may be chokingly, frustratingly, unbearably obvious - but it's out there nevertheless. And it's routinely promoted by brand-name media channels and front-line politicians, most of whom not only ought to know better but almost certainly do.

Here in Israel, we're seeing another manifestation of asymmetry lately - of a different sort. Our politicians are charged with protecting the civilian population from the demonic attacks of dozens of jihadist terror groups arrayed against Israeli societies on our northern and southern borders and within our cities and towns. The police, the Border Police, the army and various intelligence agencies are fully engaged in the national effort. They work tirelessly and with almost no fanfare. It's a tough, thankless job. Mostly they're effective, though not always. The terrorists are very far from defeated, and anyone who asserts otherwise is doing it out of hubris and not on the basis of facts. Israeli society is overwhelmingly in favour of energetic and focused efforts on neutralizing the terrorists, and see the battle as being beyond politics, separate from politics, an absolute imperative.

It would be satisfying to be able to say that the political leadership on the other side of the barricades have the same goal. This is what's sometimes implied or said in fringe elements of the media, but it's nonsense.

Just how nonsensical, and how asymmetric the two positions, is out there for all to see today.

Ashraf al-Ajrami who reports to the "moderate" Mahmoud Abbas as the Palestinian Authority's minister for prisoners affairs (as well as for youth and sport, which in their world are all tragically inter-related) is in today's media staking out his government's position in the war on terror. Speaking to Israel's Army Radio, the man leaves little doubt on the subject:
  • "...All Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails [must] be freed in the coming months".
  • He told Israel's Public Security Minister Avi Dichter this when they met this week.
  • "We want the release of all the prisoners within a few months", he quotes himself saying to Dichter.
  • And the PA demand explicitly includes the convicted murderer Marwan Barghouti, an appalling individual and an enormously popular political figure in Pal-Arab society. Barghouti was convicted in a highly-publicized wide-open trial and is now serving five life sentences for the murder of four Israeli Jews and the murder of Father Georgios Tsibouktzakis, 34, a Greek Orthodox monk from St. George's Monastery in Wadi Kelt near Jericho. The unfortunate bearded cleric was shot dead (some say because he was mistaken for a Jew) in a drive-by shooting by Barghouti's gunmen in 2001.
Haaretz quotes Dichter, who it says met with al-Ajrami this week, denying that they discussed the subject of freedom for the Palestinian terrorists in Israeli prisons. But this morning, says the paper, he softened his denial and now says only that he was unwilling to discuss the contents of the meeting. The Jerusalem Post however says Dichter denies even meeting with al-Ajrami. Whatever.

As we've said before in many places, protecting society -- any society, every society -- from the terrorists is existential in the rare, literal sense of the word. It demands determination, clarity of purpose and real political resolve. This is not politics in the conventional sense because this is not about ideology but rather about hatred and barbarism and the battle to protect our lives from them.

We don't claim to know what's really going on in the dialogue between Israeli politicians and Palestinian Arab politicians. Nor do we presume to enter into the diplomatic and peace-making dimensions of those talks, if they exist (and like almost all Israelis, we sincerely hope they do). But we do claim that when one side calls for a wall-to-wall amnesty for terrorists, there can only be one response. It need not be shouted or even whispered; on this subject we cannot afford to even conduct a dialogue with the other side. They have their position; we have ours. Compromise is immoral and impossible.

Asymmetrical it may be, but that's the price of maintaining a democratic, life-affirming presence in the midst of a sea of primitivism.

1 comment:

gharqad tree said...

When it comes to the Middle East, symmetry is the fetish of the moron. Europeans seem obsessed with it: it's seen as morally unacceptable that Palestinian deaths outnumber Israeli deaths (which - aside from its fundamental illogicality - ignores the number of deaths the Palestinians TRY to inflict on Israel); it's seen as morally unacceptable for Israel to try to DEFEAT Hezbollah - the casualties were once again asymmetrical; and the disparity of current death-tolls (blithely ignoring the huge number of Israeli deaths earlier in the intifada) can only be redressed by releasing several hundred Palestinian murderers for every soldier freed by the thugs.

This fetish for proportion and symmetry is perhaps a symptom of the idea that the status-quo must be maintained - that the natural price for 'allowing' Israel to exist is that it must suffer fear, violence, injury, and deaths.

We did not fight Hitler proportionately ; we fought until he was defeated, civilian casualties notwithstanding. We did not respond proportionately in the Balkans, we damaged the infrastructure of the region far more than Israel did in the war against Hezbollah, and we probably killed just as many civilians. And as you have pointed out, we have no moral problem with disproportionate Palestinian casualties when it's Lebanese troops inflicting them.

There will come a day when even Europeans realise that they have to make a choice between comfortable symmetry and actual survival. I can only hope that when that day comes we finally recognise Israel's right to make that same choice.