Terrorizing an entire area. Qassams (Illustration)
Photo: Amor Cohen
Fighting the fear
Qassams cause little physical damage but grave psychological damage

The mission of terror is to convert violent actions into diplomatic achievements, and “terror” is all about sowing fear among the target population. We are not talking about a physical occurrence but rather, a psychological one, which does not take place in the public arena, but rather, within the perception of individuals.


Terrorism’s success secret is that by physically hurting a few people it can sow fear among many. One attack on a Tel Aviv bus may kill seven people, but it terrorizes seven million citizens. This is the terrorism chain: Converting a small physical incident into a great psychological drama, which is then converted into a historic diplomatic achievement. This is how we see a shift from the physical to the psychological, and from the psychological to the political.


Terrorism is the poor man’s weapon of choice because in order to cause psychological damage to the whole of society there is no need to hurt all of it. Rather, it is enough to hurt some individuals. People who have the ability to hurt individuals are in fact implementing the possibility of hurting the masses.


The army’s and Shin Bet’s job is to prevent the existence of the first physical link of terrorism – the terror attacks. The diplomatic leadership’s job is to prevent the shift to the third stage – the political achievement. Yet who is tasked with preventing the shift from a physical attack to psychological horror? Who fights “terror” itself?


The security forces, who are preventing terror attacks professionally and faithfully, cannot fight terror because it takes place in the human perception – space that even the Shin Bet cannot access. As we are dealing with a mental phenomenon, this is also where the arena of the struggle can be found. Therefore, terrorism should be fought within the education system, at schools, at youth movements, and at places of Torah study. Those are the places where the national will and personal strength of Israel’s citizens are enhanced.


The shift from a physical attack that affects a few people to a move that sows fear among many takes place thanks to the media. The newspapers that report about terror attacks with screaming headlines accompanied by graphic photographs turn the attack into an event that is be interpreted in terms of terror and fear. However, newspaper owners should not be blamed for terror. Their goal is not to sow fear, but rather, to sell newspapers.


The knowledge that the more a terror attack is portrayed in a graphic and scary manner, the higher the sales would be, turns the competition for the news consumer’s attention into something that boosts terror. That is, the problem is not found among the media, but rather, among news consumers.


Volunteers fight terror  

Qassam attacks are an interesting test case for this analysis. They are a weapon that sows terror in a highly effective manner. As opposed to suicide bombers, who sow limited terror, because citizens feel they are in control to some extent (they can decide not to board buses, not to enter shopping malls, and stay away from suspicious people,) this sense evaporates vis-à-vis the rockets.


The Qassam arrives from the sky, it can arrive at any given moment, and it can hurt us both at the mall and at home.Therefore, the Qassam creates the smallest physical damage yet the greatest psychological damage.


The hundreds of volunteers who arrive at Sderot in order to assist residents and help them fight their loneliness a little play a significant role in the way Israeli society copes with the Qassams.


The State can greatly minimize the physical damage through operations in Gaza, yet the volunteers are the response to terror itself. Their presence in the line of fire can do what the army cannot do – because the army only minimizes attacks, but the volunteers minimize the terror.


Dr. Micha Goodman is a lecturer at Jerualem’s Hebrew University and leads the Israeli Academy for Leadership


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