Acts of terrorism against civilians are the ugliest of human deeds. Extermination of life is the main objective. Instilling fear and horror, and disrupting social life and routine, are the purpose. And all this serves to undermine the values of civilized society.
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Human beings are unique among living creatures. And there are none as cruel as we are.
Violent terrorism is increasingly infiltrating our lives, flourishing in all directions. It has reached every continent. Terrorist acts are committed against an individual or a group of civilians, who by definition are without defenses. Each of us has planted in our memory or our fears a horrible act of terrorism, whether carried out in New York, in Paris, or in Jerusalem.
Terrorism is intended to undermine the values of freedom, of amity, of a common culture and morals – the values upon which democracy is based. Democracy is based on the sovereignty of the human being. According to Enlightenment values and international law, every person has the right to life, to personal safety, to freedom, to liberty, to freedom of expression, to self-realization, all the requisites of people’s happiness. Democracy is based on equality and the principle of the rule of law without regard to color, race, religion or gender. Democracy is meant to protect these fundamental rights as much as possible.
But in order to defend itself against the acts of violence and terrorism, a society that sanctifies the values of freedom and morality is forced to act precisely in contradiction to its own values. Laws are enacted that gnaw away at fundamental rights and endanger the rights of minorities and those who cannot defend themselves. The reaction to terrorism harms the core of the very freedoms that society is seeking to protect.
And so we have a paradox. In order to protect the values of democracy, we are forced to damage those very same values.
And as the acts of terrorism intensify, lasting for years and exposing society to an indefinite danger that cannot be negotiated with or reconciled away, the steps we take to defend ourselves gnaw away more and more at the foundation of a free and democratic society. As it was in the United States after 9/11. And as will now happen in France.
But in Israel, the situation is more complex and more dangerous.
Since the day of its establishment, Israel has endured acts of terrorism and hatred. Israel indeed forged peace with Egypt and Jordan – a historic accomplishment – but has not managed to make peace with the Palestinian people.
The violent conflict between these peoples and the acts of terrorism against civilians are now a matter of routine for both Israelis and Palestinians.
Palestinians have been subject to a military regime for nearly 50 years; their basic rights are not guaranteed; the settlement “project” rises as it flourishes on their land and makes it clear to them through deeds that their hope for a nation of their own on this land has evaporated and been lost. This state of affairs creates a loss of hope and increases despair that foments hatred and violence.
The core of the democratic system in many Western countries is protected by a constitution that makes it difficult to weaken these fundamental values, despite the fear of terrorism. But in Israel there is no constitution. As a result, the fragile democratic core can be eaten away by transient political decisions.
Acts of terrorism bring about the stiffening of Israel’s positions and accelerate legislation that is intended to intensify pressure on Palestinians and Arabs inside Israel, but simultaneously undermines more and more fundamental rights. It appears that Israel is in an endless loop in which violence and terrorism lead to more violence and terrorism, with no end in sight. The lack of a political horizon and the loss of hope for peace between the peoples contribute to the bloody cycle.
The security of Israel is also dependent on Israel’s foreign relations, especially the special and rare connection between Israel and the United States.
That connection is founded on the history of the Jewish and American peoples, and the shared democratic values of both countries. Preservation of these values is essential for preserving the international stature and safety of Israel.
The State of Israel was established as the national homeland of the Jewish people, of all its citizens irrespective of religion, race and gender, and as a democratic nation. Its experience of the horrors of the occupation and its results, and the violence and terrorism gnawing away at the foundations of democracy through so many years, the lack of a constitution and strong protection of the fundamentals of the rule of law, and the failure in achieving peace with the Palestinian people – all these lead to the subversion of the security of the State of Israel.
The security of the State of Israel mandates protecting its democracy.
The writer is president of the New Israel Fund. Conference Partner