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After Yeshiva Mercaz HaRav Kook: Understanding The Horribly Human Face Of Arab Terror


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Pain can sometimes be sanitized by language, but it can never be truly anesthetized. For the Arab terrorists, violence against the innocent is always a jubilant abstraction; a “purifying” ritual, even after their crimson tide has been loosed. For the victims, suffering is inevitably a deeply personal violation; stark, undimmed and always inexpressible.

History is abundantly clear on this point. Most recently, we mourn victims of the March 6, 2008 Palestinian terror attack on the Mercaz HaRav Kook Yeshiva. Significantly, for the Palestinians, both for the active murderers and for the literally tens or even hundreds of thousands of cheering sympathizers, there is really nothing new under the sun. For this savagely twisted Arab community, deliberate and barbarous assaults upon the innocent have always been its raison d’etre, its very reason for being.

“I murder, therefore I am.” This cadaverous phrase might just as well be the proud credo of Palestinian terror violence, from its defiled early beginnings all the way up to Mercaz HaRav. Consider that on January 17, 2002, a Palestinian terrorist entered a banquet hall in Hadera, Israel, opening fire (as in Mercaz HaRav) in every direction with an assault rifle. There to celebrate a Bat Mitzvah, six guests were killed, and 30 were injured. The Al Aqsa Martyr’s Brigades, an operational element of “moderate” Fatah, claimed responsibility. In Tulkarem, hundreds marched gleefully through the streets soon after the attack. Shooting wildly into the air, these “freedom fighters” sought to collectively confirm their just-completed “victory” against old women and young children.

In Hadera, six persons were killed and 30 injured in what the terrorists had termed a “military action” (the Mercaz HaRav attack was also termed a “military action” by all Palestinian communities). But what does terrorism really mean in such circumstances? What is the distinctly human face of terror in these assaults?

Here is the way in which the Hadera attack was described to me directly by Dr. Moshe Rosenblatt, a personal friend and a skilled Israeli surgeon who worked tirelessly on that earlier terror-filled day to save innocent lives:

“Dear Lou. The terrorist attack took place at the other end of my street, some 800 meters from my building. I’ve been many times in this wedding hall, so I could easily have been one of the people there. I would be dead now, and/or my wife and children. Fortunately, this time at least, it didn’t happen.

“Despite the fact that I’m the director of a surgical outpatient clinic, on these events I always go to Hadera’s hospital to help my colleagues. That’s what I did today. I ran to the operating room where I entered into an almost heroic operation to save the life of a middle-aged woman. One of the terrorist bullets had ruptured her liver, stomach, bowels and major vessels. We couldn’t stop the bleeding. So we opened her chest to cross-clamp the aorta, while undertaking direct heart massage. All in vain. She died of massive hemorrhage, blood and feces strewn everywhere.

“I then changed my surgical clothes and entered another operating room to begin, with my colleagues, another operation. This time the patient was a young guy with an abdomen full of shrapnel. We had to resect the lower part of his ruptured large bowel, but − at the end of the operation − he was still bleeding profusely through his wounded hip. I left the room while the orthopedic surgeons began to operate on his right hip. I believe he will also die. He is bleeding too much, likely because of a disastrous medical problem called DIC (Disseminated Intravascular Coagulation), which depletes all of the coagulation factors − leaving the patient bleeding everywhere. The anesthetists and intensive care teams will try to overcome the problem; I’m praying for this young man.

“Many other patients were treated by other surgeons. My surgical dress was full of blood. I took a shower and here I am, at 4:00 in the morning, writing to you, my friend. I just can’t sleep now. Although very tired, I’m too excited because after all these years of seeing blood and death on my hands, I never quite get used to it.”

“…I never quite get used to it.”

Yet, this is what Israelis are asked to endure (sometimes daily) yesterday for the ill-fated Oslo “Peace Process,” today for the so-called “Road Map.” It is still an altogether lurid and inexcusable cartography. For Israel, it is still land for nothing. For Israel, the territorial concessions will always be unrequited. For the West in general, and for the United States in particular, Israel remains the miner’s canary, a presumably instrumental sacrifice to satisfy resolute and (literally) bloodthirsty enemies. Naturally, this is not “normally” the sort of allegation that one cares to make out loud.

Dr. Moshe Rosenblatt’s unvarnished account of a single physician’s day in the aftermath of Palestinian terror wears a distinctly human face. In our shadowy world of otherwise comforting euphemisms and endurable abstractions, it is a frightful but palpable description. Only in such a boldly straightforward account may we actually understand the true meaning of “terror victim”, whether at a Bat Mitzvah in Hadera or in a Jerusalem Yeshiva.

The terrorist, too, has a discernibly human face. Much as we may wish to deny it, he or she is also human, all-too-human in fact. More often than we acknowledge, this other human face reveals the sheer voluptuousness of terrorist violence, a longed-for ecstasy that often bears no relation to any strategic or tactical advantage. This last point warrants especially careful attention, as it is plain that repeated Palestinian murders of defenseless Israelis actually undermine the stated Palestinian goal of self-determination and statehood.

Terrorism is a codified crime under international law. From the jurisprudential standpoint, anyone who deliberately targets noncombatants, and who does so with clear intent of maximizing pain and suffering, is a terrorist. Period. There is NO legal validity to the popular cliché, “One man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.” This uninformed remark, usually uttered in the contrived accents of a pretended sophistication, is always an empty witticism.

The distinctly human face of terror can be detected in both the victim and the perpetrator. The Jerusalem and Hadera attacks in Israel uncovered a very basic but still unrecognized truth about both faces: 1. Terror victims have no nationality. We are all potential victims of lawless insurgencies, and the anguished human face of terror is common to us all. 2. Terror perpetrators often terrorize for the sheer human exhilaration of bringing pain to others. Terrorists always claim to act on behalf of very precise and tangible social, political or religious objectives, but their deeper human motives would suggest very different goals.

Perhaps, once it is better understood, the human face of terror can become the starting point for more genuinely effective strategies of counter-terrorism. Heaven knows they are desperately needed before Palestinian murderers start to turn to chemical, biological or even nuclear weapons.

Copyright © The Jewish Press, April 4, 2008. All rights reserved.

LOUIS RENÉ BERES was educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971) and is the author of many books and articles on terrorism and counterterrorism. He is Strategic and Military Affairs columnist for The Jewish Press.

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About the Author: Louis René Beres, strategic and military affairs columnist for The Jewish Press, is professor of Political Science at Purdue University. Educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971), he lectures and publishes widely on international relations and international law and is the author of ten major books in the field. In Israel, Professor Beres was chair of Project Daniel.


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