Last night my son asked me to explain terrorism

Last night my son asked me to explain why it is unsafe “out there”. I spoke to our kids briefly about the wave of terrorism spreading across Israel a few days ago in fairly general terms so they would have some appreciation of a change in the status quo (the one that counts). Still, I was dreading this question from him. He is old enough to understand more of it but still far too young to need to know what it means.

As I tried to explain to him that there are Palestinians/Arabs hurting Jews in many cities, I realized that while the victims are usually Jews, these terrorists probably don’t conduct in depth research and can target non-Jews too. That doesn’t really matter a lot to them, I suspect. The goal is uncertainty, the sense of an ever-present threat to our lives. The goal is terror.

I told him that it is scary and it means we have to be more careful until this threat subsides and he asked me how that will happen. I remembered an article I read earlier that day titled “Children and Fear of War & Terrorism” and started telling him that our brave soldiers and police will protect us, because that is exactly what they are working to do. Then I told him that our real defence against this sort of distributed terrorism is each other.

Our security forces can’t be everywhere and the terrorists know it. These terrorists don’t wear outfits that brand them as terrorists, they look like normal people going about their business until they decide to strike. Short of Minority Report-style pre-cognition, our security forces can only act if they are on the scene when an attack begins.

This brand of terrorism is a cancer and there are two ways you fight cancer when it manifests: intensive, focused action (usually radiation therapy) and systematic treatments like chemotherapy. Our security forces are working to deter terrorists with their presence and respond to attacks with intensive, focused action designed to swiftly neutralize the terrorists.

That is only part of the solution. The other “treatment” for this cancer is the very community the terrorists are attacking. Rather than allowing these attacks to fragment our community, we Israelis need to (and as the citizens of Ra’anana and other cities affected have shown) unite and protect each other by, literally, watching each other’s backs.

My kids love the arcade game Whack-a-Mole and I wonder if dealing with terrorism isn’t a lot like that? A terrorist steps out with a weapon, attacks and Israelis, Jews, citizens who are able strike back and neutralize that attack. You’ve probably noticed that I’ve used the word “neutralize” more than once. It is, in a sense, a euphemism, and can mean the attacker is subdued and arrested. It can also mean the attacker has been killed. I believe in our shared human rights and the right of an accused person to a fair criminal process. At the same time, when someone picks up a weapon, intending to kill us and attacks, there isn’t time to negotiate and pacify. These attacks are brutal and need to be met with decisive responses.

So I sat with my son in his bedroom and explained these attacks to him in terms I hoped wouldn’t give him nightmares. I told him they are scary for us too and that he should talk to us if he has anything to say about it, ask us questions he may have and not to hold his fears in. As he thought about that I told him we love him and we will look after him just as we Jews, we Israelis should look after each other and protect each other from this terrorism, this cancer.

You see, the one difference between my cancer treatments and defeating terrorism using my cancer analogy is that, unlike chemical chemo, social “chemo” need not be poisonous. It can unite us even more and strengthen our nation just by watching each other’s backs because we are all targets to these terrorists. Why shouldn’t we respond by becoming the collective treatment for this disease and wipe it out each time it surfaces?

עם ישראל חי


Photo credit: Bil’in Riot, Jan 2011 by the IDF, licensed CC BY NC 2.0





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