(January 2007) This four-part series by Professor Louis Rene Beres (Ph.D., Princeton 1971) is adapted from ACPR Policy Paper No, 166; The Ariel Center for Policy Research, Shaarei, Tikva, Israel; January 2007; with a special Foreword by Ambassador Zalman Shoval. Ambassador Shoval’s Foreword concludes as follows: “One can only hope that this analysis by Professor Beres will be diligently studied by Israel’s strategic planners.”
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Louis René Beres
Jewish Pain, Suffering, and Life
We Jews have experienced so much pain in our long and arduous history that the pain of Arab/Islamic terrorism seems to be just another episode of indescribable suffering. To an extent, this is certainly true. For the moment, we must endure, and – in the end – we shall prevail. So it has been before; so it will be again.
It is also true that, whatever its particular source, our pain is incommunicable. This fact is deeply rooted in the confining space of each individual human body. Very simply, no human language can ever really describe pain, an observation that has distinctly special and important implications for control of violence in the world. But with specific respect to Arab/Islamic terror-violence, this observation has the decidedly regrettable effect of reducing current Israeli suffering to an altogether anesthetized inventory of “casualties”.
Israel’s excruciating pain at the bloodied hands of Arab/Islamic terrorists remains subject to the very stark limitations of grammar and syntax. Of course, everyone who is human has suffered physical pain, and everyone who has suffered knows that bodily anguish not only defies language, but that it is also language-destroying. In the case of relentless Arab/Islamic terror against Israelis, this inexpressibility of pain now stands in the way of acknowledging such terror as pure barbarism. Shielded by the inherent limitations of language, suicide-bombers are now able to present themselves before the tribunal of world public opinion as honorable armed combatants. In fact, however, these murderers are anything but soldiers or “freedom fighters”. Rather, they are fearful and gratuitously destructive criminals, killers who combine a rare species of cowardice with a perverse commitment to inflict great harm solely for harm’s sake.
Significantly, there is, from the Arab/Islamic terrorist point of view, no reasonable hope of transforming Israeli pain into purposeful Arab/Islamic power. On the contrary, the Hamas/Islamic Jihad/Fatah/Hizbullah (it makes no difference) resort to carnage and mayhem may inevitably stiffen even the most “liberation” minded hearts. So why do these terrorists continue to enthusiastically inflict pain upon innocents, tearing up unprotected Jewish bodies with exploding razor blades and ball bearings and without foreseeable pragmatic benefit? Have these terrorists now abandoned the usual political playbook of policy advantage?
One partial answer to this question is that Arab/Islamic terrorists, in exactly the same fashion as their intended audiences, are imprisoned by the remorseless shortfalls of human language. The pain experienced by one human body can never genuinely be shared with another, even if these bodies are closely related by blood and even if the physical distance between them is short. Although widely unacknowledged, the split between one’s own body and the body of another is always absolute. For reasons that likely have more to do with Darwinian logic than the vagaries of compassion, the “membranes” between bodies are always stubbornly impermeable. This split, therefore, allows even the most heinous harms to “others” to be viewed “objectively”. Sometimes these harms can even be accepted as a distinctly pardonable form of “national liberation”.
For Arab/Islamic terrorists and their supporters, the violent death meted out to Israelis is always only an abstraction. As “infidels”, we hear again and again, their Jewish victims lack “sacredness”. For the terrorists, murdering these Jewish victims is not just a minor matter. It is always “the will of Allah”. It is, for them, always a matter for loud family celebration.
Physical pain within the human body not only destroys ordinary language, it can actually bring about a visceral reversion to pre-language human sounds – that is, to those primal moans and cries and whispers that are anterior to learned speech. While the many Jewish victims of enemy terror writhe agonizingly from the burns and the nails and the screws dipped ever so lovingly into rat poison, neither the world publics who bear silent witness, nor the screaming murderers themselves can ever begin to experience the meaning of what is being suffered. This incapacity is, to be sure, not an excuse for the bystanders or for the perpetrators, but it does help to explain why even callous killing and mutilation by terrorists can sometimes be construed as rebellion. Moreover, the incommunicability of physical pain further amplifies Israeli injuries from terrorism by insistently reminding the victims that their suffering is not only intense, but that it is also understated. For the Jewish victims there is never an anesthesia strong enough for the pain, but for the observers and for the perpetrators the victims’ pain is always anesthetized.
For all who shall learn about the latest Palestinian or Hizbullah attack upon a nursery school, a kindergarten van, a city bus, an ice-cream parlor, a pizza shop or a falafel stand, the suffering intentionally ignited upon Jewish civilians will never be truly felt. And even then, this suffering will flicker for only a moment before it disappears. Although it will be years before the “merely wounded” are ever again able to move their own violated bodies beyond immeasurable boundaries of torment, newspaper readers and television viewers will pause only for a second before progressing to less disturbing forms of discourse.
By its very nature, physical pain has no decipherable voice, no touchable referent. When, at last, it finds some dimming sound at all, the listener no longer wants to be bothered. This human listener, mortal and fragile, wishes, pathetically but understandably, to deny his or her own flesh and blood vulnerabilities.
All things move in the midst of death, and the denial of death is surely humankind’s basic preoccupation. As a result, the pain of others is necessarily kept at a safe distance and the horror of that pain is purposefully blunted by language. Arab/Islamic terrorists, therefore, are always much, much worse than they might appear (they are certainly not “freedom fighters”), and their crimes are not always recognized as unforgivable and repellent. This problem of justice can never really be “solved”, but the sources of any possible improvement lie nonetheless in suffering, blood, and the inevitably common agony of extinction.
From the standpoint of Israel’s ongoing struggle for survival in an authentically genocidal region, the country’s leaders must soon come to admit that the time for pretend “peace processes” is over, that any political “road map” is an invented cartography of Jewish annihilation, that Israeli pain is infinitely more important than any diplomatic logic, that a deliberately targeted child’s cry of despair is always more important than even the most subtle strategic calculations, and that freely-flowing human tears have far, far deeper meaning than learned smiles.
* * *
To understand and predict global responses to Israeli actions in world affairs, Israeli planners must never forget that their country is always the Jew in macrocosm. For the world, macrocosm and microcosm are indistinguishable and indissoluble. Hence, for Israeli planners to expect global responses to Israeli actions to be detached from millennia of prejudicial hatreds is foolish in the extreme. Israel is not just another state, one among many others. It is unique, sui generis, not in the sense that it is believed to warrant greater justice (a post-Holocaust conclusion one might expect in a world dominated by Reason) but in the sense that it allegedly deserves less, always less, than every other state. An exploded bus of Israeli women and children will elicit little compassion or even concern from the “international community”. A building of Lebanese civilians blown up mistakenly by the IDF in an act of essential self-defense will occasion worldwide grief. Even a mountain of Jewish corpses is always judged to be smaller and more bearable than any other group’s assemblage of dead persons. Israel and justice cannot be uttered in the same breath for the same reason that Jews and justice cannot be uttered in the same breath. Israel, the Jew in macrocosm, will long continue to be despised in the Arab/Islamic world. Israel will long be kept distanced from justice. Israeli decision-makers must therefore plan accordingly.
* * *
We must confront the growing threat of mega-terror. To a large extent, this existential threat to Israel is made worse by the always-deliberate insertion of terrorist personnel and assets in the midst of civilian populations. Known to general publics as “human shields”, this practice is also explicitly identified and criminalized under international law as “perfidy”.
Terrorism is itself a codified crime under international law. It follows that perfidious deception by Arab/Islamic terrorists adds a distinctly second layer of illegality to the first. After all, the Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Fatah and Hizbullah insurgencies are illegal in themselves.
Certain forms of deception are permitted to states under the laws of war, but the use of human shields is always illegal to all combatants. During the recent Lebanon war, Hizbullah – assisted by Syria and Iran – intentionally placed most of its arms and fighters squarely in the areas of Arab civilian populations. In the future, perfidious violations of the laws of war by any of the ongoing regional insurgencies could involve the placement of chemical, biological or even nuclear weapons and infrastructures in various Arab/Islamic towns and cities, giving rise to very dramatic escalations of violence. To be sure, such prohibited placement is already well underway in Iran with respect to all three categories of planned mega-terror.
Sooner or later, certain of Israel’s Arab/Islamic enemies, under cover of perfidy (the United Nations, after all, recently chose to condemn Israeli selfdefense, not Hizbullah war crimes) will begin to magnify their terror operations. Inevitably, these enemies will strive to exploit more fully the methods of WMD terror-violence. Presently, at least, there is little to suggest that they won’t succeed.
There are, says Albert Camus, “crimes of passion and crimes of logic”. But the precise boundary between these crimes is often unclear, vague, porous, not easily defined. Understood in terms of the ever-expanding mega-terrorist threat to Israel, the pertinent crimes display both passion and logic. While the level of passion has certainly increased, there has been no corresponding diminution of logic. On the contrary, the constantly growing terrorist passion – some would call it a heightened and murderous religious fervor – has been congruent with tactical logic. This passion has been enhancing Israeli fears and (until now) hastening Israeli territorial capitulations.
Over time, the terrorist slaughterers will decide that they must do “more” in order to achieve their goals. Here, logic will spawn new passions which, in turn, will reinforce logic. Combining careful cost-benefit calculations with virulent Arab/Islamic religious frenzy, the terrorists will reason that “ordinary” suicide bombings have become old-fashioned and that maintaining “adequate” Israeli fear (the sort of fear that would impel more territorial surrenders) calls for new and substantially higher forms of destructiveness. Unless Israeli authorities have anticipated such escalations of violence (clearly, they have) and are prepared to dominate the resultant escalatory process (this, however, is somewhat less clear), the number of new Israeli victims could become inconceivably large.
Significantly, the danger of unconventional terrorism could become great even in the absence of logic. Indeed, this danger might even be greater if terrorist enemies and their allies become more and more oriented to crimes of passion. Animated only by the call of Jihad and operating far beyond the rules of rationality in weighing decisional alternatives, the terrorists might then opt for chemical, biological or even nuclear destruction – and apart from any considered calculations of geopolitical advantage. Here, violence would be celebrated for its own sake – for the sheer voluptuous joy of murdering and dismembering Jews – and a numbing Arab/Islamic irrationality would immobilize all Israeli hopes for terrorist restraint. As for compelling Israeli deterrence of terrorist attack, it would become fruitless by definition.
The “blood-dimmed tide is loosed”, says the poet Yeats, “and everywhere the ceremony of innocence is drowned.” From the start, all anti-Israel terrorists, especially Fatah, have accepted the idea of violence as purposeful because of its “healing” effect upon the perpetrator. Galvanized by what they have long described as a “battle of vengeance”, these terrorists have seen in their attacks not merely the obvious logic of influencing the victims, but also the Fanonian logic of “purifying” the perpetrators.
“Violence,” says Franz Fanon in The Wretched of the Earth, “is a purifying force. It frees the native from his inferiority complex and from despair and inaction. It makes him fearless and restores his self-respect.” This idea has long been at the heart of Fatah doctrine, and is now very much in fashion among all other Palestinian and Hizbullah insurgents. An early Fatah pamphlet, “The Revolution and Violence, the Road to Victory”, informed the reader that slaughter serves not only to eliminate the opposition but also to transform the “revolutionary”. It is, says the pamphlet, “a healing medicine for all our people’s diseases”. How much more healing, we must ask, and how much better for the terrorist’s self-respect, if rockets and bombs kill thousands or even tens of thousands of Israelis rather than “mere” dozens? Let us recall, if there are any doubts, the huge crowds of Palestinians cheering on rooftops during Saddam’s 1991 Scud attacks on Tel Aviv and Haifa. Their cheers openly urged the Iraqi mass killing of Israeli civilians.
Terror has an appreciable impact beyond incidence. It also has a distinct “quality”, a potentially decisive combination of venue and lethality that cannot be ignored and that must be countered. Linked to a particular species of fear, this quality of terror must represent an absolutely crucial variable in any society’s war against terrorism. Reciprocally, it must elicit an appropriate quality of counter-terrorism.
Let us imagine, in this connection, the qualitative difference, for Israel, between bus or market suicide-bombings and the murder of masses of Tel Avivians or Jerusalemites, either by “small” nuclear explosions or by radiological contamination. The difference would be considerable. Although it is certainly possible that a terrorist resort to such higher-order destruction would prove to be counter-productive, this does not necessarily suggest a corresponding terrorist reluctance to undertake such an escalation. After all, if they are “logical” the terrorists might not foresee such counterproductiveness and if they are “passionate” they might not care.
Writing about that species of fear that arises from tragedy, Aristotle emphasized that such fear “demands a person who suffers undeservedly” and that it must be felt by “one of ourselves”. This fear, or terror, has little or nothing to do with our private concern for an impending misfortune to others, but rather from our perceived resemblance to the victim. We feel terror on our own behalf; we fear that we may become the objects of commiseration. Terror, in short, is fear referred back to ourselves. Naturally, therefore, the quality of this terror is at its highest point when this fear is especially acute and where suffering acutely is especially likely. And what could possibly create more acute fear of probable victimization than the threat of chemical, biological or nuclear terrorism?
Israel, of course, must take special heed. Facing certain terrible crimes of logic, it can communicate to its terrorist foes that Jerusalem is prepared to dominate escalation, and that terrorist excursions into higher-order destructiveness would elicit anything but capitulation. Facing certain terrible crimes of passion, it can only confront the enemy in advance. Insofar as an increasingly impassioned enemy armed with unconventional weapons might not be susceptible to deterrent threats, the only reasonable course would lie in some greatly expanded forms of preemption. Although this seems obvious enough, it is, presently, implausible that Israeli officials would authorize such wider efforts at anticipatory self-defense.
With further regard to Israel and considerations of justice (again, a paradoxical conjunction of terms), it must be recalled that histories of victimization have never conferred survival upon a people or a state, least of all upon the Jewish people. Such recollection stands in marked contrast to the oft-stated wish that terrible suffering, as in the matter of the Holocaust, cannot possibly be in vain. Eugene Ionesco, for example, offers the following passage from Andre Gide’s Journal, dated January 29, 1932: “The idea that so much suffering can be in vain is intolerable to me, it kept me awake all night…” As a “good Westerner”, continues Ionesco, “Andre Gide couldn’t help but think that suffering was the price of happiness, that suffering has to be rewarded.” Yet, Israeli planners must not forget that the world hardly ever pities those who suffer; all the more those who suffer greatly. Often, suffering creates scorn. So it is today with Jewish suffering, the Holocaust and the State of Israel.
* * *
Israeli planners are not philosophers. But they should recall Horace’s recipe: “Si vis me flere dolendum est primum ipsi tibi” – if you want me to weep, you must first grieve yourself. Before Israel can expect concern from the world, for its past and for its future, its own population must “first grieve” itself; must care, deeply and profoundly and publicly, for its own history and its own essential continuity; for surviving at all costs. Paradoxically, earlier government policies of sequential concessions and territorial “compromise” displayed the very opposite of such needed “grief”, suggesting an unwarranted degree of “understanding” and inflated national selfconfidence. Further, post-Zionist private sentiments, now still present throughout Israel, also reject essential forms of “grief”.
* * *
The Memorial Wall (the Wall of Holocaust and Heroism) at Yad Vashem has four sections, ranging from the Shoah to Re-Birth. Magnificently designed by Naftali Bezem, it takes us movingly from an inferno in which the Holy is utterly profaned to the divine sanctuary of new Jewish generations. But these generations, symbolized by the countenance of a lion, must still shed endless tears.
For all of the lion’s greatness and strength, he can never be permitted to forget. Always, always…he must weep for the past. Implicit in this seemingly paradoxical imagery is the indelible imprint of Jewish uniqueness.
Indeed, without this incontestable uniqueness there can be no redemption, not for the Jews and – therefore – not for the wider world. In going up to The Land, Bezem’s new Jew acknowledges that Israel can never be regarded as merely one among the nations, but rather as a singularly special nation for all time.
Jewish uniqueness is both an individual and collective obligation. The latter is not possible without the former. Facing the world without a deeply felt sense of uniqueness, the Jewish state – the individual Jew in macrocosm – can never muster the spiritual and reverential strength it will need to survive.
We must never forget that Israel has a very special place in the world, and that denying this special place does unpardonable violence to the sacred. Here, the wisdom of Martin Buber is instructive: “There is no re-establishing of Israel, there is no security for it save one: it must assume the burden of its uniqueness…” Yet, today, Israel is obsessed with a very contrary and dangerous ethos. Today, virtually all of Israel wants only to be like everyone else; above all, it wants to “fit in” the world. If Israel is “successful” in this wrongful ambition, the resultant triumph of secular uniformity, of utterly inappropriate goals and values, will only hasten Israel’s demise.
Israel, of course, faces many threats, some of them authentically existential. These threats, primarily the growing risks of unconventional terrorism and unconventional war, understandably preoccupy the concerns of Israel’s political leaders and military planners. But there are also less obvious and less palpable threats that, in certain respects, are every bit as ominous and are actually interrelated. None is more serious than the accelerating national retreat from Israeli Jewish uniqueness, a retreat animated by steadfast imitation of popular culture in the United States. For far too many Israelis, the currently optimal Jewish state is one looking like Los Angeles.
For many states on this imperiled planet, imitation is not a conscious choice. For a variety of reasons, most of them having to do with unyielding economic and systemic constraints, these states are simply consigned to mimicry by dire circumstances far beyond their control. Here there is little for us to comment upon or to criticize.
Israel, however, is another matter entirely. What distinguishes Israel from these other imitative states is that it has too often chosen mediocrity, all too often actually preferring an incremental pattern of social and political imitation to even a hint of leadership by Jewish example. To be sure, in high-tech industries, in science, in medicine, in education, Israel is (hardly a surprise) always at the top. Yet, in most of its political and diplomatic arrangements, Israel has fallen very short. And of what use will be its vast array of intellectual accomplishments if it should simultaneously lose its Jewish soul as well as its Jewish land?
The consequences of an imitative Jewish state are already plain to see. For Israel, mimicry has led directly to the Oslo and Road Map process of national suicide, including the unforgivable “disengagement” from Gaza. And, reciprocally, the Oslo/Road Map Process has led directly to a loss of
Jewish meaning and loss of Jewish national will. Now accepting a “postZionist” discourse that would have been incomprehensible to earlier generations of Israelis (e.g., on January 14, 1999, Shimon Peres congratulated the PLO on its “long struggle for national liberation”), today’s Israeli citizens are largely unwilling to acknowledge that they inhabit the most endangered state in the Middle East and that they represent the most endangered Jewish community on the face of the Earth.
To a significant extent, the prior Governments’ “New Middle East” is the apt metaphor for Israel’s self-inflicted liabilities. Celebrating an Israel that steadfastly refuses to distance itself from the alluring American sea of materialism and imitativeness, this fashionably au courant image displays sharp discontinuity with millennia of meaningful Jewish history, a history overstocked not only with martyrs, but also with those Jews who were able to recognize Jewish national conformance and assimilation as a slow form of Jewish death. For Israel, the “New Middle East” now offers not only intolerable risks of war and terrorism, but also the even more insidious risks of death by intentional religious underachievement and willful cultural mediocrity.
On a planet where evil often remains “banal”, the effective origins of terrorism, war and genocide lie not in particularly monstrous individuals, but rather in societies that positively despise the individual. In such societies, the mob is everything and a dreary secular sameness is the hallmark of national “progress”. Surrounded by exactly such societies, all of which “fit in” by keeping Israel “out”, the State of Israel – prodded by Washington – has often decided not to reject this terrible and terrifying mob, but to join it, to honor it, even to take an absolute delight in its conscious suppression of individual Jewish promise in favor of a presumed belonging and public acceptance. For Israel, however, it is not only good to be “a light unto the nations”, it is an altogether timeless and sacred duty.
In Naftali Bezem’s art, a ladder is the apt representation of Aliya, of the Jew going up to The Land. Of course it also arouses associations with Jacob’s dream and with Cabbalist degrees of ascension. By these associations, the meaning of Aliya is extended meaningfully to illustrate Jewish fullness and perfection, conditions that can never be separated from an unhindered awareness of Jewish uniqueness.
Louis René Beres was educated at Princeton (Ph.D., 1971), and is Emeritus Professor of International Law at Purdue. His twelfth book, Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy, was published in 2016. His other writings have been published in Harvard National Security Journal; Yale Global Online; World Politics (Princeton); Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists; Israel Defense; Parameters: Journal of the US Army War College; Special Warfare; Oxford University Press; The Jerusalem Post; Infinity Journal; BESA Perspectives; US News & World Report; The Hill; and The Atlantic.
His Terrorism and Global Security: The Nuclear Threat (Westview, first edition, 1979) was one of the first scholarly books to deal specifically with nuclear