Join our email list

Breaking the Chain of Terrorism

The army and Shin Bet cannot put an end to terrorism; the true battlefield of terror is the human mind, and it is only there that it can be defeated.
Factory in Sderot/ Wikimedia Commons
Factory in Sderot/ Wikimedia Commons
Dr. Micah Goodman is a Research Fellow of the Kogod Research Center at Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem. Micah was named by the Jerusalem Post as one of the 50 most influential Jews in 2017 and by Liberal Magazine as one of the 100 most influential Israelis in 2019. He is the author of seven best-selling books. His first three books – Moses’s Final Speech, The Dream of the Kuzari, and The Secrets of the

Very few people are actually hurt in Sderot. The severity of this month’s attacks notwithstanding, there are more people killed in Sderot by car crashes and smoking than by Qassam rockets. And yet, Sderot remains firmly at the center of public attention, monopolizing newspaper headlines, government agenda and international concern. The marginality of the actual harm wrought by the Qassam rockets seems completely out of proportion with the centrality of that harm in our national consciousness. To understand this disproportionate attention, one must take a closer look at the larger phenomenon of terrorism.

The object of terrorism is to translate physical harm into political achievement. It is precisely this kind of exchangeability that the United States seeks to prevent when it refuses to negotiate with terrorists. However, for violence to become power, the trajectory of terrorism must pass through a vital intermediary stage. Terror, quite literally, is a psychological – rather than physical – experience. It takes place, not on busy street corners and aboard crowded buses, but in the human mind. This is the secret of its power; the physical harm inflicted on few becomes the psychological harm inflicted on many. A single attack in Tel Aviv may hurt fewer than seven people, but effectively terrorize more than 7 million.

Such is the chain of terrorism: from a local physical attack to a great psychological drama to a historical political achievement. The physical becomes psychological which, in turn, becomes political. An ideal poor-man’s weapon, terrorism allows those who can target no more than a few individuals to instill fear in the hearts of an entire nation.

Combating the threefold chain of terrorism requires a similar threefold strategy: the army and Shin Bet are charged with fighting the first link of terrorism – the physical attack; the government is responsible for thwarting the third link – the political achievement; yet the pivotal link of terrorism – the psychological harm – cannot be fought by any official entity. The army and Shin Bet, for all of their diligent work in preventing attacks, cannot put an end to terrorism. The true battlefield of terror is the human mind, and it is only there that it can be defeated. The war on terrorism, essentially, is psychological and must be waged in schools, youth movements, community initiatives and batei midrash – any place that serves to strengthen Israelis’ personal resilience and national spirit.

The bloody media coverage of terror attacks, in this sense, plays directly into the hands of the perpetrators, hastening the transition from physical terror to psychological terrorization. The blame, however, does not lie with the journalists, who simply want to sell more papers – but with us, who eagerly consume the harrowing headlines and lurid photos, readily succumbing to their terrifying effect. If we are to break the chain of terrorism, we must replace this passive stance of a victim with the proactive position of a survivor.

The recent attacks on Sderot may be the ideal opportunity to do so. Qassam rockets are perhaps the most effective form of terrorism. While suicide bombers may be evaded (by steering clear of public places and suspicious-looking individuals), thus allowing for a certain sense of control, Qassam rockets leave one feeling utterly defenseless. Coming out of the blue, at any given moment and in any given place, they cause minimal physical damage – but tremendous psychological harm. In this case, though, the people of Israel have refused to remain passively at home, dreading the next attack; rather, they travel to Sderot by the thousands, helping to regenerate the town’s injured infrastructure, economy and morale. This turn to proactive resistance may prove to be the first victory in the war on terror. The military operations in Gaza can go a long way in minimizing the Qassam attacks, but it is only civilian fortitude that can put an end to terrorism.

Translated by Gila Fine

Join our email list


The End of Policy Substance in Israel Politics