In the aftermath of the Shfaram attack, it has emerged that Israel’s law for the compensation of terror victims and their survivors does not cover attacks carried out by Jewish terrorists. Because perpetrators such as Eden Natan Zada are not considered “hostile to the State of Israel’s existence”, the Families of Soldiers Who Fell in Battle Law (reparations and rehabilitation), drafted in 1950, doesn’t apply to their victims. Our government initially decided to provide the victims and bereaved in Shfaram with lump-sum payments “beyond the letter of the law”, which are supposed to be roughly equal in value to the monthly payments the compensation law would have mandated – presumably based on some form of net-present-value calculation. Now there is talk of amending the law itself.
The current law is obviously obsolete, deficient on (at least) three counts: Two of them are rather obvious breaches of “natural justice”, while the third involves the definition of terrorism, and – as the law stands – is very harmful to Israel’s political standing as a nation victimized by terrorists supposedly “resisting occupation”.
The first problem with the Families of Soldiers Law is that its provisions provide an unacceptably uneven and arbitrary level of coverage. If the intent of the law is to compensate victims and their relatives for death and injury due to political violence – a category that includes both conventional warfare and terrorism – then it should cover all political violence, since all political violence here can be reasonably understood to be a consequence of Israel’s situation as a Jewish state attempting to survive in hostile surroundings. It makes no sense to differentiate between terror attacks carried out by forces hostile to Israel’s existence and terror attacks carried out in order to frustrate an Israeli government policy, as the Shfaram and Shilo attacks were; all these attacks are part of the same conflict, the victims are equally innocent, and the dead are equally dead. Further, since victims of “Jewish” terror attacks are more likely to be Arabs than are other Israeli terror victims, the law as currently drafted may give the impression that the life of an Israeli Arab is “cheaper” than the life of an Israeli Jew. Even the appearance of such racism in Israeli law harms our internal cohesion as well as our international standing.
Secondly, to the extent that terror attacks reflect a failure of the Israeli government to provide effective security to its citizens, this failure is just as great in the case of “Jewish” terror attacks as it is in “ordinary” attacks. If we view compensation payments as a sort of fine levied by the Israeli government (or, if you prefer, by Israeli society) on itself, then the penalty should be the same whoever carried out the terror attack. Even if these payments are not technically a penalty, this is inevitably how they are perceived by the public, both here and abroad; and if the law exempts the state from paying compensation to victims of a “Jewish” terror attack, then the message conveyed is that such attacks – and such failures to provide security – are in some way considered “acceptable”.
Subverting the Definition of Terrorism
The third deficiency in the existing law is the impression it gives that Israel defines terrorism in political terms – that attacks by organizations opposed to Israel’s existence are defined as “terrorism”, while politically-motivated attacks carried out by those who (at least nominally) support Israel are treated as some sort of “ordinary” crime. This sort of inconsistency is a seductive trap: in our pursuit of moral comfort (“Jewish terrorists? No such thing! We don’t do things like that!”) we give our adversaries every excuse to exonerate those who carry out terror attacks against us.
If terrorism is to be fought effectively, it must first be objectively defined. (SeeTerrorism: No Prohibition Without Definition, by Dr. Boaz Ganor.) The best definition I’m aware of is as follows:
Terrorism is politically-motivated violence carried out by sub-state groups or individuals, aimed at civilian targets.
Key to this definition is its absence of value judgments regarding the merits of the terrorist’s political cause: someone who attacks civilians for political purposes is a terrorist, even if I agree with his politics. Only by adopting such an objective definition of terrorism and applying it rigorously can we expect terror attacks to be universally condemned – since otherwise, there will always be someone to say, “Your ‘terrorist’ is my freedom fighter.” As a favorite target of terrorists and of apologists for terrorists, Israel should be at the forefront of the effort to promote, adopt, and apply this definition of terrorism. If, instead, our approach to Jewish terrorism is to minimize, find excuses, split hairs, offer psychological diagnoses of the perpetrator, blame the victims, and otherwise tap-dance around the issue, then we’ve seriously damaged our cause.
Israel’s political leaders were quite correct in their initial response to the Shfaram incident: they unequivocally condemned it as a vicious terror attack. Now they must follow up on the issue, and amend the Families of Soldiers Law to encompass all acts of terror against Israeli citizens.