Terrorism changes almost everything

Posted: Jun 14, 2002 12:00 AM
JERUSALEM--Life is brisk and life goes on, but life has changed here. The public places are sparsely populated. The usually bustling hotels are nearly empty. Jerusalem has seen 2,000 businesses go bankrupt in the last year as life has turned inward. Nights out have been replaced, said one friend, with ``popcorn and a DVD.'' Jerusalem is particularly vulnerable to terrorism because here Jew and Arab live cheek by jowl and Israel refuses to erect yet more walls in this, its capital. The threat is not just suicide bombings. Random stabbings are frequent. And a stabbing betrays a deeper malice. There is no anonymity. There is no loss of consciousness that keeps the suicide bomber from seeing his victim suffer. It is barbarism in the coldest blood: a near-daily Daniel Pearl--a knife to the throat of the Jew. Terrorism changes people's lives. But the real test of terrorism's success is whether it changes their politics. In that sense, Palestinian terrorism has been counterproductive. Not everyone likes Ariel Sharon, but most everyone agrees with the tough military measures he has taken against the Palestinians. Those who do differ complain that he has been too soft. The psychological effect of Operation Defensive Shield has been remarkable. No one imagined it would end the terrorism. But Israel's April offensive and the subsequent lightning raids to pick up suspects and intelligence have reduced the terror attacks significantly. It also combated the psychology of helplessness which is the chief objective of all terrorism. As Americans learned in Afghanistan, an operation that makes the terrorists pay (even if not all them) and that cuts down on the terrorism (even if it cannot stop it) is a sine qua non in this kind of war and particularly in fighting the despair that comes with passivity. What despair there is, I found, tends to be generational. It is the parents who are depressed. The kids--the young people in the army--are defiant. The parent generation is depressed because it is disillusioned. They are the ones who made the great leap of faith into the Oslo peace process--a Trojan horse that brought terrorism into the heart of Israel. They did so in the hope that their children would not have to do what they did--carry a rifle. Now that Palestinian terrorism has reminded them that to exist Israel must remain a garrison state, they feel they have failed their mission. The kids are not responsible for the Oslo catastrophe. Moreover, they know that every Israeli generation has had to fight and sacrifice to survive. Now it is their turn. One such young man got a few hours off from army duty to come to a talk I gave (Bar-Ilan University's annual Rennert lecture). He checked his gun in at the hotel desk, and after the speech changed into his fatigues. As he left, I told him, ``Be careful.'' ``Don't worry,'' he replied. His smile was not smug and only a bit cocky. I understood what he was saying: that when carrying his gun--when not being attacked by a bomb in a pizzeria--he does all right. He knows in the door-to-door fighting that took place in the Palestinian cities after the Passover massacre, the Palestinian gunmen either retreated or surrendered in every battle. Jerusalem is full of battle sites, most of them ancient. One relatively recent excavation is at the City of David, just yards outside the ancient city walls. I went out with friends to have a look. The site of the first dig is a couple of deep wells, one of which reveals a subterranean anteroom. The archeologists then pointed down the hill to the newest site, where they found steps and tunnels that might have played a part in some of the epic sieges that occurred in the time of the Israelite monarchy (between 2,500 and 3,000 years ago). It is a small site, largely below ground. The surrounding village is mostly Arab. We headed back to the van for the trip down. The van was not the same one we had come in. ``Why a new one?'' I asked. ``This one is bulletproof,'' replied the driver. After touring the second site, we drove back up the hill. Very slowly. ``It's the armor plating,'' volunteered the driver. ``Against shrapnel.'' His tone was cockpit-voice matter-of-fact. His mood was defiant. He was young.