The Israeli experience How to deal with the threat of terror
There's something to be learned from the Israeli experience with terror attacks. For example, it doesn't make sense not to go to that restaurant. And it's not wise to listen to politicians who promote "harsh measures".
It's true, in Israel we have a lot of experience of living with terror. The first terrorist attack I remember was when I was 9 years old: an older kid from my school was among the 35 killed in a PLO bus attack on the coastal road north of Tel Aviv. Since then it has been a constant part of life, reaching its peak during the second Intifada of 2000-2004, and especially the first months of 2002, when suicide bombs were a daily feature in Israeli cities. I even wrote a novel about a guy who escapes three terrorist attacks (published in Germany as "Ein schönes Attentat", Luchterhand 2008).
But this is not going to be a piece about how to avoid terrorist attacks – me giving instructions what to do or what not to do, where to go or where not to go, precautions you need to take. I don't believe there is a recipe for avoiding terror attacks. The probability of arriving upon a scene of an attack is so ridiculously low (even in small Israel with its few millions, and more so in huge Europe with its hundreds of millions), much lower than the probability of being involved in a car accident, say. So it doesn't make sense to change anything you were planning to do. You never canceled plans to go to a restaurant because of the danger that someone will run you over when you cross the street on the way there, right? So don't change your plans because of fear of terror.
It is also not going to be a piece with suggestions about how to stop terror from a military point of view. There are experts for that, and I'm sure there are plenty in the Israeli security forces who are already pouring their expertise into eager European ears, and hopefully helping to improve awareness, intelligence methods, ways of dealing with "live" terror events, and so on.
Instead I am going to write about what a period like this could do to a society and where it could lead it, years down the line. What are the dangers in the social and political sense, how these dangers could harm our communities, and how we may attempt to avoid them. Being now a decade and a half or so after that harsh period of daily terror, I think we can see the results of it around us in Israel, and perhaps we could learn, and teach, about them.
There is no denying that despite the statistics I presented above, terror creates fear, on a large scale. That is the idea behind it. That is the meaning of the word. The terrorists are trying to terrorize a society. The fear then quickly translates into hatred, that is directed against the whole segment of society from which the terrorists come. This hatred is then manipulated by extreme politicians who become popular on the basis of promising "harsh measures" against the terrorists and their supporters. These politicians are elected, but somehow the harsh measures do not solve the problem of terrorism, on the contrary, they create more hatred, more attempts at revenge, and so the cycle of violence is maintained. That is the reality in Israel after the second Intifada – fear turned to hatred towards Arabs that turned to voting for successive right-wing governments that enhanced the pressure and hardened the retaliation against Palestinians, who themselves experienced more pain and fear, that turned into more hatred, that turned into more violence. And so the cycle continues.
What could Europeans do, besides not canceling plans to go to that restaurant?
I think the most important thing is to be able to single out and isolate the terrorists as extreme radicals. Definitely when they are outsiders like in Munich or in American high-school shootings. But even more so if they are part of a larger group – ethnic ("Arabs"), religious ("Muslims"), national ("Moroccans") or of a certain emigrate status ("refugees") – this does not mean that all Arabs, all Muslims, all Moroccans or all refugees (and you can replace each category or example with many others, of course) are terrorists, or enemies. There is absolutely no doubt that the huge majority among those communities just want to live their lives peacefully – work, love, raise families, play sports, enjoy entertainment, etc. If they have immigrated to Europe, most chances are that they came exactly to escape that kind of tension they felt in their home countries. The moment they would be generally categorized as terrorists or enemies, and treated that way, weather by the authorities, the security forces or the citizens on the streets, the chances would increase that they will respond in sympathizing and joining those radical extremists among them, and thus the cycle of violence will go on.
So the conclusion is actually quite simple: denounce the very few who terrorize and let the security forces get on with their job of getting on their backs; hug the large majority of their communities, who just want to live in peace and be a part of society; don't believe and don't vote for those extreme politicians who promise easy solutions and "harsh measures" and promote division and hatred; and go to that restaurant, whichever way you'd like to. 99% you will get there, and back home, safely. Bon appetit!