Responding to Palestinian terrorism


As any reader of the entire article [below] will quickly see, my proposal is designed to save both Israeli and Palestinian lives. It suggests that Israel start by declaring a moratorium on reprisals, even in the face of continuing terrorism, which is now supported by 87 percent of the Palestinian population. Instead of Israel responding by moving tanks into populated areas, thereby risking accidental killing of civilians, my proposal limits Israeli responses to the destruction of houses. Its main point is to break the cycle of violence. No house will be destroyed if Palestinian terrorism then stops. But under my proposal any Palestinian terrorist who blows himself up in a bus and deliberately kills Israeli citizens, will know that he is also taking the responsibility for blowing up houses in a village that harbored terrorists. This is fair, equitable and potentially effective. I challenge the students who have protested my article to debate the merits of it in a public forum.

Before the protestors try to deny me my right to free speech by falsely arguing that my personal views carry the “imprimatur of the entire law school,” as one protestor told The Boston Globe, let them understand the implications of that position for Professor Edward Said of Columbia, an apologist for Palestinian terrorism who committed the crime of throwing rocks at Israelis. Does his criminal activity carry the imprimatur of Columbia University?

–Prof. Alan Dershowitz

Secretary of State Colin Powell is correct that Israel’s current policy has failed to curb terrorism. But Powell has suggested no alternative. Israel cannot simply absorb terrorist attacks without any response. In light of the willingness of suicide bombers to die in the process of killing Israelis, the traditional methods of deterrence seem insufficient. Israeli must turn the Palestinian people against the use of terrorism. One way to do this is to make terrorists directly bear the responsibility for losses inflicted on the Palestinian cause, as a result of their terrorism.

So here’s my proposal. The Israelis should announce unilateral cessation in their retaliation against terrorist attacks. This moratorium would be in effect for four or five days, in order to give the Palestinian leadership an opportunity to respond to the new policy. It would also make it clear to the world that Israel is taking an important step in ending this cycle of violence. Following the moratorium, Israel would institute the following policy. It will announce with precision exactly what it will do in response to the next act of terrorism — for example, the destruction of a small village which has been used as a base for terrorist operations. The residents would be given 24 hours to leave and then Israeli troops will come in and bulldoze the buildings. The order will already have been given in advance of the terrorist attacks and there will be no discretion. The point is to make the automatic destruction of the village the fault of the Palestinian terrorists who had advance warnings of the specific consequences of their action. The Israeli soldiers would be acting as automatons for carrying out a previously announced policy of retaliation against a designated target. Further acts of terrorism would trigger further destruction of specifically named locations. The “waiting list” targets would be made public and circulated throughout the Palestinian controlled areas.

If this automatic policy of destroying targets announced in advance is carried out with the support of the entire Israeli government, including those who are committed to a resumption of the peace process, a clear message will be sent to the Palestinian people: Every time terrorists blow themselves up and kill Israeli civilians, they are also blowing up one of their own villages. Over time, the Palestinian residents of these villages will place the blame where it should be placed: directly on the Palestinian terrorists who engaged in terrorism against Israel with full knowledge that the consequence would be the destruction of their homes. Those villagers whose homes were coming up on the list would have an incentive to pressure the terrorists to desist.

There is something troubling about destroying an entire village — even after evacuating its residents. Not every person whose home is to be destroyed is equally culpable. But the reality is that Palestinian terrorism has widespread support within the Palestinian authority, and those who applaud and lionize suicide bombers share in the culpability for the murder of civilians. If, by destroying the empty homes of many supporters of terrorism, the lives of many innocent civilians will be saved, it will be a morally acceptable tradeoff, even if the property of some innocent civilians must be sacrificed in the process. Armies engaged in retaliatory acts also destroy the homes of innocent people. Terrorists target people, while Israel would be targeting empty buildings, after advanced warning and an opportunity to prevent the terrorism.

An alternative would be to announce in advance that Israel is prepared to give back most of the occupied territory in the event of a peace — which it has already essentially done — but that every act of terrorism will result in an automatic and permanent decrease of a specific portion of the land that eventually will constitute the Palestinian state. The land that would be surrendered by the future Palestinian state in response to every terrorist act would be annexed to Israel and be deemed a permanent part of the Jewish state, ceded to it by the acts of the terrorists. This would send a message that every act of terrorism will hurt the Palestinian cause, making a reality out of President Bush’s statement following the murder of Daniel Pearl: “[Terrorists] need to know that these crimes only hurt their cause.”

In order for this policy to work, it must have the advance approval of the United States government. If Israel carries out this policy after a moratorium on retaliation and full notice, it should not be criticized for doing so. If the world knows that this policy will be enforced automatically, and that the decision whether to trigger it rests with those who engage in terrorism, then pressure will be placed on terrorists to forbear. Also, for this to work it must be accompanied by a genuine effort to reopen peace talks with the Palestinian authority. Such a policy would contribute to two noble causes: helping to reduce terrorism and promoting peace.

[Eds. Note: This article was first run in the Jerusalem Post during the week of March 11, 2002. It was the subject of the opinion piece “Harvard’s professor of terror” (March 14, 2002), submitted by the student group Justice for Palestine.]

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