Time and time again, we hear about how ineffectual Israel’s targeted killings of terrorists and demolitions of terrorists’ homes are as a method of deterrence and punishment.
According to this moralistic approach, the proper response to Palestinian murderousness would be for us to imprison terrorists in comfortable conditions, give them an education and medical care, and then free them in deals amounting to blackmail or after they serve part of their sentences, since they are “the future leaders with whom we will make peace.”
Those who espouse this approach think that murderers should be treated to improved finances and guilt-ridden negotiations with Israel (over the “crimes of the Nakba,” or “catastrophe”) and unilateral messages of peace. They prefer this over killing the killers and razing their homes, since they will just build new homes and new terrorists will spring up.
The moralists couldn’t be more wrong.
The Palestinians are contemptuous of the stupidity and naiveté of the left, and see these as an asymmetry that holds their salvation—not to mention a weakness and an Achilles’ heel via which they can strike at our people. They have grown up in a society in which the tribal code leaves no room for the weak and thinks nothing of the individual other than as a part of a stampeding herd of a collective. Indeed, in Arab society, the individual is valued only when he or she is attacked by someone from the outside, which means that the tribe’s collective deterrence has been attacked, and it is under threat. In response, tribe members will take vengeance on individuals from the attacker’s side.
Our volatile region—in which rape, murder, destruction and bloodshed are always the bread and butter of the Arabs who invaded the Land of Israel—has produced defense mechanisms that have led to a violent code of behavior that shaped and shapes the lives of the villages and nomadic tribes here.
The code, which depends on a kind of balance of deterrence, is outlined in an article by historian Araf al-Araf about “tribal justice.” It is still valid in Arab society and provides the formula for sulhot (“reconciliations”) between warring families or tribes.
In our geopolitical surroundings, where the weak have no chance of survival, the power of the collective lies in tribal responsibility for its individual members as a way of ensuring an advantage of numbers and demonstrating determination. Therefore, the Arab tribes treat their members as responsible for carrying out vengeance or legitimate targets of acts of vengeance.
Because the circle of vengeance encompasses individuals as distant as five familial links from the father of the killer, the people responsible for sulhot have adopted their own ways of navigating crises, which have resulted in agreed tribal solutions such as a hudna (“ceasefire”) and atwah (a ceasefire in which a situation remains as is), which allow for investigation, admissions of culpability, compensation, revenge, the taking of a life, apology or exile. Sometimes, a family will expel a serial killer out of fear that he will expose them to acts of vengeance, allowing him to be killed. That’s how deterrence works.
Those who live by the murderous Palestinian tribal code are enacting tribal justice against us, and support the killers as heroes. This is why the Palestinian tribal killers murder Jews freely and are compensated for doing so by Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas. For them, Israelis are helpless individuals who are unprotected by a tribe, who belong to a moralistic society with a “universalist” legal system that, blind to the local laws of survival, does not protect them.
The moralists among us must realize that even according to the tribal code of the enemy, a killer who is being sheltered by his family is a dead man. His family, if they have not fled, faces exile. According to tribal law, the home of a murderer is given to his victim’s family as compensation, or must be demolished (even if it is rebuilt) as per the Arab curse, “May Allah destroy your home.”
As for exile, there is no more fitting place than the Hamas-run Gaza Strip to take in the families of the killers.
Dr. Reuven Berko was the adviser on Arab affairs to the Jerusalem district police and a writer for Israel Hayom.