Reprinted from The Jerusalem Post of April 21, 2000



By Louis Rene Beres

There is always a calm before the storm, and for Israel, this calm is about to end. Sometime soon, sometime even sooner than Israel's giant thinkers may anticipate, Arab terrorism will resume, probably with a vengeance and with a ferocity unseen for the past several years. Although this Palestinian return to indiscriminate violence might appear inconsistent with the ongoing "Peace Process," and even seem irrational in view of the impending declaration of "Palestine," new terrorist assaults upon Israel will actually represent an altogether predictable expression of the sacred.

For Israel's enemies, violence and the sacred are always inseparable. To understand the rationale and operation of coming Palestinian terrorism against Israel, it is first necessary to understand PLO/HAMAS/ISLAMIC JIHAD conceptions of the sacred. From these pertinent conceptions it will become clear that Arab terror against Jews is, at its heart, a manifestation of religious worship long known as sacrifice.

Speaking to Palestinian security forces in Gaza a short time ago, Yasser Arafat remarked: "They will fight for Allah, and they will kill and be killed, and this is a solemn oath... Our blood is cheap compared with the cause which has brought us together... but shortly we will meet again in heaven...." Central to this revealing remark is the duality of sacrificial behavior; the fighters "will kill and be killed..." Victory for the Palestinian people will come when both the Jews and the Arab "martyrs" suffer death. But while death for the Jews will be final and unheroic, a confirmation of Jewish limitations, death for the Palestinians will be only a temporary inconvenience on the way to immortality. What is more, it is only by killing Jews and subsequently being killed by them that true freedom from death can be realized.

This is the true meaning of Islamic terrorism against Israel; it is a form of sacred violence oriented toward the sacrifice of both enemies and martyrs. It is through the purposeful killing of Jews, today through terrorism, tomorrow through war, that the Palestinian embarked upon jihad can buy himself free from the penalty of dying, of being killed himself. It is through such killing, not through diplomacy, that God's will may be done.

Only when Israel has understood that terrorism is an activity related to sacrifice will it be on the way to effective counterterrorism. Until now, this is an understanding - like other aspects of Israeli security planning - that has lent itself to insubstantial theorizing. For the future, Palestinian terrorism should be approached, at least in part, as a violent and sacred act of mediation between Arab sacrificers and their deity.

Recently Arafat said: "The Palestinian people are prepared to sacrifice the last boy and the last girl so that the Palestinian flag will be flown over the walls, the churches, and the mosques of Jerusalem." Here the PLO Chairman was not speaking of a purely political kind of sacrifice. Rather, pointing toward death in the context of "holy war," it is a sacrifice wherein authentic disappearance will befall only the Jews and where "the last boy and the last girl" will find eternal life.

For the Palestinians who now regard terrorism as sacrifice, it is a sacred violence that rewards doubly. Killing the despised Jew while simultaneously killing death for the Muslim, Palestinian sacrificial terror is the altogether optimal fusion of religion and politics. Moreover, such terror also fulfils the timeless function of sacrifice, which is to quell violence within the community and to prevent intracommunal conflicts from erupting.

What lessons can be learned by Prime Minister Barak and his security chiefs for more effective Israeli counterterrorism? One answer emerges from a more generic investigation of sacrifice. Looking over several thousand years of history, all sacrificial victims are invariably distinguishable from nonsacrificeable beings by one essential trait: between these victims and the community a crucial social link is missing, so that they can be sacrificed without fear of reprisal. The practice of sacred violence via sacrifice is always one that can be undertaken without risk of vengeance. In sacrifice, the victim, who lacks a champion, is struck down without fear of reprisal.

Ironically, this feeling of immunity from Israeli and Jewish vengeance now thoroughly permeates the Palestinian terrorist community. By responding to each act of terror with self-criticism and degrading submission, the Jewish nation of terror victims has reinforced the PLO/HAMAS/ISLAMIC JIHAD idea that the Arabs are engaged in genuinely sacrificial behavior. Revolted by a stooped-over people that refuses to fight back, and that even scrapes its own flesh and blood from sidewalk altars without planning for punishment, these Arabs know that what they do must be sacred.

For Israel under Barak, it is time to recognize that terrorism and the sacred are closely linked. Before the Jewish State can protect itself from Palestinian terrorism, its policies will have to convince would-be attackers that Israel will not allow itself to become a sacrifice. To accomplish this all-important goal, these policies will have to express the certainty of vengeance whenever Jews are slaughtered by Arab terrorists. Although such an expression of justice would seem easy enough, it remains inconsistent with the prevailing self-sacrifice of Israel mandated by a huge wooden horse called "Oslo."

There is one last important observation about sacrifice and terrorism. For the Palestinians who act upon linkage between violence and the sacred, the strength of their sacrificial behavior is drawn from concealment. Religion serves to shelter the terrorists from expectations of reciprocal violence just as their own violence against Israel seeks shelter in religion. To the extent that Israel can persuasively demystify the sacrificial harms of its enemies, openly de-linking these murders from consecrating Islamic institutions, it will stand a better chance of bringing its shielded enemies within a required circle of Jewish vengeance and punishment. While such demystification must lead to escalations of Israeli-Palestinian violence in the short run, it can at least reduce the likelihood that the Jewish State as a whole will ultimately be sacrificed upon the bloodstained altar of Arab terror.


LOUIS RENE BERES (Ph.D. Princeton, 1971) Professor , Department of Political Science, Purdue University is the author of many books and articles dealing with terrorism and counterterrorism. His work in these areas is well-known in American and Israeli intelligence communities. Professor Beres very recently participated in TERRORISM AND BEYOND... THE 21ST CENTURY, an international conference in Oklahoma City sponsored by the Institute for the Prevention of Terrorism.21 April 2000


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