Tidbits From Israel

By Ron Jager

The abrupt disappearance of the latest cycle of “price tag” incidents and its timing, just prior to the visit of Pope Francis, created fertile ground for emergency regulations to “clear the board” and arrest, detain, and ban Israeli citizens, in violation of their fundamental legal rights. It also created a breeding ground for conspiracy theories as to who is behind this latest cycle.

The sudden proliferation of wanton acts of vandalism and violation of property–known as “price tag” for the intention of making the Palestinians “pay a price” for attacking Jewish settlements–suspiciously coincided with Justice Minister Tzipi Livni’s call that price-tag incidents be classified as acts of terrorism and should therefore be included in the Terror Prevention Ordinance, despite there being no legal precedent anywhere in the Western world for treating simple acts of vandalism as terrorism.

According to the ordinance, a terrorist organization is a group of people who act, or threaten to act, violently in a manner that may cause the injury or death of another person. While the price-tag incidents are unacceptable, they are not on the same level as terrorist acts.

There can be no comparing the Jews who commit these “price tag” acts to the Muslim terrorists who blow themselves up for the sole purpose of killing Jews. Terrorism here in the Middle East always means murder–in most cases, the murder of Jews. That being said, there can be neither sanction nor sympathy for price-tag incidents. There can be no “buts.” You cannot say, “I disagree with what they are doing–but I sympathize with their cause.” That, too, is unacceptable and should be condemned unconditionally.

Yet amid the general condemnation of the behavior of those committing price-tag attacks, it is worth noting an important element generally missing from most accounts in the Western press of these attacks as well as allegations of settler violence against local Arabs. However wrong these price-tag perpetuators are–and they are dead wrong–their need to respond in the manner that they do has not occurred in a vacuum. To focus only on alleged settler acts of vandalism ignores the problem of the terror attacks on Jews in Judea and Samaria that occur daily or even multiple times a day.

Whereas violent acts by Palestinian Arabs against Jews are simply taken for granted, this bigotry of low expectations of Palestinian Arabs and the accompanying hypocrisy and double-standard held for Jews is at the heart of the problem and is chiefly responsible for fostering the environment in which the “price tag” vandalism occurs.

But let’s not forget the idea that “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, and the whole world would soon be blind and toothless.” Revenge is a destructive and violent response to injury or humiliation, and in today’s world is often a misguided attempt to transform shame into pride. Yet most acts of revenge fail because they attempt to change the past and, as we all know, the clock cannot be turned back. So why do some continue to conduct acts of revenge even knowing full well that vengeance and retaliation can only spiral toward tragedy and escalation? If the goal of revenge is to erase shame and humiliation and restore pride, if they feel they have to “defend the honor” of themselves, their family, ancestors, or some other group they identify with, then what is the underlying psychological need to seek revenge? What do they hope to accomplish, and should “price tag” incidents be defined as acts of revenge?

This idea that the goal of revenge is to erase shame and humiliation and restore pride sounds very familiar here in the Middle East. The need to “defend one’s honor” is accepted behavior within Muslim society and is commonly articulated by terrorists that are captured when asked to explain why they murder Jews. This need for revenge is also a constant theme in the Palestinian Arab narrative that is broadcast to the local Arab population on Palestinian TV and radio, creating the atmosphere of incitement against Israelis that has become a mainstay of the Palestinian Arab narrative. All too often this need for revenge is directed against those who cannot defend themselves, such as innocent civilians going about their daily routine here in Israel, or Muslim women who are murdered by their own families so as to defend the “honor” of the family.

However, when describing the underlying psychological need for revenge, it doesn’t seem to fit the Jewish population. In isolated incidents over the years in which Israelis carried out acts of revenge against Arabs, the full weight of the law was applied in response–apprehending and sending them to long terms in prison, ensuring that acts of revenge by Jews remain just that, isolated incidents. Jews generally do not act out of revenge against Arabs. It’s not in our DNA. What can describe the general reaction of Jews to Arab terror, incitement, and vandalism is the need to not be perceived as weak, docile, and without the means of self-defense. Jews need to act as a deterrent to predatory behavior, transforming themselves from hunted to hunter, from powerless to powerful.

“Price tag” incidents, whether or not they are interpreted as a grass-roots response to the inability of the security services to contain and eliminate wanton acts of terror and vandalism against Jews and their property, are a marginal occurrence here in Israel. Any attempt to project on Jewish society by equating these incidents with acts of terror against Jews should be seen for what it is: perpetuating the myth of treating “both sides”–one a democracy striving for peace, and the other a corrupt, lawless entity dreaming of jihad–as equals. v

Ron Jager is a 25-year veteran of the Israel Defense Forces, where he served as a field mental-health officer and as commander of the central psychiatric military clinic for reserve soldiers at Tel-Hashomer. Since retiring from active duty in 2005, he has been providing consultancy services to NGOs, implementing psychological trauma treatment programs in Israel. Ron currently serves as a strategic adviser to the chief foreign envoy of Judea and Samaria. To contact him, e-mail medconf@netvision.net.il or visit www.ronjager.com.

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