Terrorism is like advertising — it short-circuits the rational mind

Update below

If there’s just one lesson we can draw from the last decade it is this: utter the word “terrorism” and thought grinds to a halt, perceptions become blinkered and the power of human intelligence is suddenly put on hold.

Consider the attack near Hebron in the West Bank yesterday in which four Israelis were gunned down by Palestinian gunmen.

A report in the Jerusalem Post conveys a particularly harrowing moment in the attack’s aftermath as volunteers from Zaka, the Israeli community emergency response network, arrived at the scene of the shooting.

Zaka volunteer Momy Even-Haim was dispatched to the scene of the attack with his colleagues, when to his horror he discovered that his wife was among the dead.

“We saw a crying volunteer, and at first we did not understand what was happening — he has seen many disasters before,” Zaka volunteer Isaac Bernstein told The Jerusalem Post.

“Then he started shouting, ‘That’s my wife! That’s my wife!’ We took him away from the scene immediately,” Bernstein added. Even-Haim was taken to his home in Beit Hagai by his colleagues.

Tragedy takes infinite forms. Those in closest proximity can never be expected to respond rationally but from a distance, rationality is not only possible — it is essential.

Instead though, this attack — like so many before — has produced a series of highly predictable knee-jerk responses.

The White House issued a statement saying:

The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms the terrorist attack today perpetrated by Hamas in which four Israelis were killed in the southern West Bank. We express our condolences to the victims’ families and call for the terrorists behind this horrific act to be brought to justice. We note that the Palestinian Authority has condemned this attack. On the eve of the re-launch of direct negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians, this brutal attack underscores how far the enemies of peace will go to try to block progress. It is crucial that the parties persevere, keep moving forward even through difficult times, and continue working to achieve a just and lasting peace in the region that provides security for all peoples.

Is Washington already ahead of Israel in identifying the culprits?

That seems unlikely. Much more likely is that the White House is content to parrot press reports in which representatives of Hamas are quoted claiming responsibility for the attack. If Hamas claims responsibility, its claim will be accepted at face value; if it were to deny responsibility, it’s denial would be treated with skepticism. That’s the way the “analytical” process works.

Israeli press reports are less clear on the matter.

In Haaretz, Avi Issacharoff and Amos Harel report:

Even though no official claim of responsibility was made, the investigation by the security services of Israel and the Palestinian Authority suggest that the culprits were a cell which identifies itself, more or less, with Hamas. Fauzi Barhum, one of the spokesmen for the group in the Gaza Strip, did not openly claim responsibility for the attack, but hinted that his group was behind the shooting.

“The resistance continues everywhere,” he said.

In recent months the Hamas leadership in the Gaza Strip and Damascus has pressed West Bank-based teams of gunmen to resume the attacks in an effort to make it more difficult on the Palestinian Authority and stir up tension with Israel.

Two months ago a large Hamas network was uncovered in the southern Hebron Hills, a “sleeper cell” that was revived, whose members are suspected of murdering an Israeli policeman in a similar shooting incident, along the same route, several kilometers from the spot of last night’s terror attack.

A cell which identifies itself “more or less” with Hamas — that’s pretty vague. Moreover, a previously unknown group calling itself the Al-Haq (“Rights”) Brigades has claimed responsibility for Tuesday’s shooting, according to the Ma’an news agency.

As for Issacharoff and Harel’s claim that a Hamas cell was responsible for the June Hebron Hills shooting, that also is far from clear. When suspects were arrested by Israel’s internal security services, Shin Bet, Haaretz reported:

It is unclear… who is responsible for the establishment of this group, which is reportedly affiliated to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah movement. Israeli security sources have been examining the possibility that the gunmen behind the June 14 attack were from various Palestinian militant groups.

Whether or not Hamas had a role in yesterday’s attack it is too soon to tell. And even if some or all of the gunmen turn out to belong to the movement does not necessarily reveal a great deal about the level of command and control or political motives for the attack.

Whatever the motives, the outcome itself has opened political opportunities to each constituency that now portrays itself as a victim.

Given that the attack took place in an area controlled by the IDF, President Abbas could have taken the opportunity to point out that the attack underlines the fact that there can ultimately be no security solution to the political conflict. Instead, Palestinian security services have been quick to launch what is being described as one of the largest arrest waves of all time in the West Bank.

Hamas lawmaker Omar Abdel-Raziq said more than 150 members had been detained, and others had been summoned to police stations for questioning.

He accused Abbas of trying to please the Israelis.

“These are political arrests,” he said. “They are trying to tell the Israelis that they are capable of doing the job after the attack.”

At the funerals of the four Israelis killed, settler leaders took the opportunity to push for settlement expansion, call for vengeance (a call which has already been acted upon), deny the existence of the Palestinian people and make a thinly-veiled appeal for ethnic cleansing:

Rabbi Dov Lior of Kiryat Arba eulogized the victims saying that “this is a grave tragedy for the families, for the people of Israel and for the state. God, avenge the spilled blood of your servants.”

“There is an army, which must be used,” Rabbi Lior continued. “The mistake is to think that an agreement can be reached with these terrorists. Every Jew wants peace, but these evildoers want to destroy us. We need to give them the right of return and return them to the countries from which they came.”

When President Obama tries to press Benjamin Netanyahu to extend the so-called settlement freeze, the Israeli prime minister will no doubt tell him solemnly that in light of recent events, his hands are well and truly tied.

They shoot and we build has become the settlers’ slogan — one that is almost certainly to Netanyahu’s liking.

Update: In a conversation I just had with Hamas expert, Mark Perry, he made the point that when it comes to identifying armed militants in the West Bank, the Al Qassam Brigade (affiliated with Hamas) and the Al Aqsa Brigade (affiliated with Fatah) are virtually indistinguishable in most of the area, but particularly in Hebron. The clearest differentiation in armed groups is between those who are on the Palestinian Authority’s payroll and those who aren’t.

Mark also pointed out that if the Obama administration was not trapped inside its own terrorism rhetoric, they could point out that the attack underlines the unnecessary vulnerability that Israeli’s expose themselves to by grabbing Palestinian land and building settlements.

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8 thoughts on “Terrorism is like advertising — it short-circuits the rational mind

  1. Vince J.

    “If there’s just one lesson we can draw from the last decade it is this: utter the word “terrorism” and thought grinds to a halt, perceptions become blinkered and the power of human intelligence is suddenly put on hold.”

    This is only true regarding the North American public. No where else outside the US and UK buy that kind of LIE/Propaganda. People who know what the US has been doing since ater the second World War never believed a word from any warmonger from Washington DC. And if I rememeber well, there was a strong oposition to the Iraq invasion worldwide.
    As per 9/11, we are still wating to see the footage of an alledged 757 hiting the Pentagon, an explanation for what an E-4B plane flying over Washington on that day and a scientific explanation for the total collapse of WTC1,2 and 7.
    I think it is the simpleton North american people, who never had any critical thinking before, that can be easly manipulated.

  2. Norman

    Vince J. You make a very valid point in your 2nd paragraph. The U.S. has lost it’s sight on what direction it’s going in. Corruption from the highest levels today are the norm.

    As to what takes place in Israel, how can the settlers feel outrage when they themselves have done the same thing? When they steal the land, destroy the crops, shoot the Palestinians, talk of ethnic cleansing, what do they expect? Perhaps, they should give more thought to when they will have their own 911, instead of continuing to push the majority of the Palestinian People into corners. Where their mind set springs from, seems to parallel the same one that had permeated the Business class on Wall Street. Gen X or X Jr. or what ever name fits. Sad that the old power brokers have come this far, but then, Greed knows no bounds.

  3. Michael Quinones

    I’m new (read: ignorant) to the Israel/Palestinian situation of late (having been focused on Iraq history, Afghanistan now and Yemen). Has the White House truly been framing the settlement violence against the Israelis as ‘terrorism’? Or is this a special case? Either way it’s troubling that we’re going into peace negotiations when Obama has tossed away his prized nuance from the get-go. But we are anti-Hamas, so why not constantly label their affiliates terrorists, there is no more loaded term in the English language. And Obama has finally found a topic about which he could be blunt and overly simplistic (he certainly couldn’t be about the fragility and anxiety surrounding the Iraq drawdown for his speech). I read some news and foreign policy so I feel like the MSM never delve into or OP-ED about the settlers (other than to say Irael is expanding or freezing or negotiating them with the U.S. or violence erupted there). The settlement situation needs to be broken down, as you have done, and understood by Americans. Scuffles between the IDF and the settlers does not often come up in the MSM and it’s an interesting story. Anyway, one could go on about the media. Thanks for writing this blog.

  4. DE Teodoru

    Over 85% of settlers said they would willingly move into Negev if an equivalent house is provided because they were drawn to current settlements because asking price was what they could afford. 75% of settlement units, per DoS, are empty as THERE ARE NO OLIMS AVAILABLE TO MAKE THE GREAT ALIYAH FROM THE DIASPORA moving to Israel permanently. Most deem Israel nice place to visit but not to live. So I would say that all this settlement housing can be a “cut rate deal” for Israel in exchange for security. Netanyahu wouldn’t blink twice if he could pay for peace with these settlements. It’s not settlements but politics and violence on both sides that can kill a peace deal.

  5. adri

    it’s been so long since I heard the word ‘freedom fighter’ . please bring it back because i miss it and ‘terrorist’ just doesn’t mean the same thing.
    when a freedom fighter kills someone he’s a terrorist, when an army kills a dozen they they are collateral damage.

  6. scott

    “Greed knows no bounds.” That’s funny. We villify Clinton for being a horn-dog. Give me a man motivated by pussy over one motivated by greed of money or power. After all, one can only bust what 7-9 orgasms in a day, even drug addicts only want enough to get off, but greed, Greed knows no limits.

    Michael, what must be said in defense of Israel is that their press is far fairer than our own. It only in America that so much is “anti-semitic” and off limits.

  7. DE Teodoru

    I hate to medically disagree, Scott. But impotent neocons have had a sudden surge of mensch-hood that only their “World War IV” against Islam can quench. Sex, Freud said, is a strange thing for when the organ of its expression fails the forever young sexual brain will seek sexual expression through its violence adulation cingulate cortex circuits. Zionism is, after all, a hard-on for many who can’t even see their thing when they pee because the belly’s protrusion obscures it.

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