15 August 2007

15 August 2007 - Why can't we reckon with terror?

Yesterday I visited some friends who live near the border with Gaza. They live in constant danger of being hit by Qassam rockets fired by Palestinian terrorists in Gaza, and one recently hit their property. Last week, while I was visiting relatives in the north, an Arab man stole a security guard’s gun in Jerusalem’s Old City, near where I had been standing the day before, and wounded several civilians.

There is an article by Gideon Rachman in today’s Business Day that is fairly OK in its analysis of the current status of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, except for two questionable claims: first, that the Israeli government is not prepared to offer the Palestinians even a minimal state at the moment; and second, that Israelis are enjoying a “sense of security” due to the success in stopping suicide bombings.

I think Israelis are certainly more secure than they were before, certainly in Jerusalem. But the danger of terror is still there, and it is quite acute in several parts of Israel. People walk around freely, but the sense of vigilance has not changed. Even the left wing, as represented by new Labor Party leader Ehud Barak, says further territorial withdrawals will be impossible without missile defense.

Some of Israel’s critics are apparently trying to spin the shootings in the Old City, and the eventual death of the shooter, as somehow the result of police aggression and discrimination against. I have heard at least one Israeli human rights activist endorse this view, complaining about police roadblocks in East Jerusalem, which she claimed did not stop Jews, though she could not prove this point when pressed.

I have to say that in general, the response of human rights groups to terror, in Israel and elsewhere, has disappointed me. I have tried to ask myself whether and how one could represent a human rights perspective that placed the right to life first and foremost and did not try to seek false justifications for terror or minimize the threat of attack by exaggerating Israel’s sense of strength and security.

It’s not easy to see such a perspective emerging from within the human rights world as it currently stands—occasional denunciations of Palestinian terror notwithstanding. Elsewhere, the UK government is apparently withholding some exports of arms to Israel due to human rights concerns, but continues to supply weapons to countries that are likely to use them against their own citizens.

I think the profound confusion about human rights among those who are meant to be their defenders and exemplars may be the greatest threat to human rights. The Sharansky doctrine is perhaps the only way left to salvage the human rights tradition, because it is the only approach that reckons fully with the threat of terror. I’m still wrestling with these ideas; hopefully I’ll get somewhere, soon.

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