Deterrence that does not Deter

31 Oct

During this third round of Palestinian terror, Israel is bent on protecting its citizens with all possible means.  Bulldozing and detonating a terrorist’s home is not new.  Israel has destroyed many terrorists’ homes in the past.  The rationale is twofold: 1. Punish the terrorist’s family by turning his home into rubble.  2. As a tool of deterrence; other would-be terrorists will think twice about venturing out with guns, knives, or rocks against Jews, knowing the consequences.  The scenes of the bulldozing’s aftermath are familiar: the surviving family members who’d been given ample notice to evacuate are seen sitting atop concrete slabs and twisted iron bars, what was once their home.  Small children climb up and down the rubble.  Older family members of the terrorist, typically the parents, are shown throwing fists into the air and shouting that Allah will seek revenge.  By the times this video makes its rounds in every social media and television outlet around the world, no one cares or recalls that the “good son” had maimed or killed Jews.  Israel has lost the public opinion battle.  It is at this stage where Israel Defense Forces issues a memorandum or a counter-explanation to try to win what was lost.  Too little, too late.

demolished Palestinian terrorist's home

demolished Palestinian terrorist’s home

And yet, Israel continues to bring house demolition cases before its Supreme Court to get the green light to tear down more houses.  In Israel, we’ve had two significant Intifadas (Arab uprising), in 1988, in 2000, and another one on the way, in 2015.  Did we learn nothing from the previous two?  We destroyed Palestinian homes for acts of terrorism and it did not help curb the current uprising.  Why should this time be any different?  Hate toward Israel is spread among the Arab youth day and night by Hamas and other crazies.  Here’s my point: An Arab teenager whose brother or cousin sees his relatives become homeless overnight — would this deter him from committing terrorism?  I doubt it.  I argue that it only hardens him to take action against Israel, turning hundreds of young men into religious or political fanatics.  The demolition of the house is no punishment either.  Days after the house is brought down, Palestinians step in and collect enough money to start the rebuilding.  It’s been known that money from the Gulf States, and from Hamas in Gaza soon makes its way to the West Bank.  A terrorist who may have been a despicable human being is now raised to a status greater than a rock-star.  Now he’s a martyr in Allah’s quest.

I wish to turn now to another Israeli tactic of deterrence that does not work: dead bodies.  The Israeli public is rightly infuriated by all the recent knife stabbing and disruption of life.  Israeli security forces take no chances; they shoot to kill.  Within weeks of the violence, Israel amassed about two dozen Arab bodies in the morgue.  What is one to do with the corpses?  Most times, the bodies are returned to the terrorists’ families for burial.  But lately there’s a new wrinkle in the fight against terrorism.  Israel is contempalting keeping the bodies.  The rationale:  Punishment and deterrence.  Does this sound familiar?  Here, again, I think this is bad policy.  Not because I care about the dead bodies “honor,” but because I think that withholding them from the relatives does nothing for Israel’s security.  When a terrorist is killed and soon returned, we’ve witnessed funeral processions in the streets of the West Banks that included hundreds of Arab men.  Now that the bodies are not returned, demonstrations are tenfold larger, into the thousands.  Much like with the tearing down of terrorists’ home, the flames of hate are many times larger.  Dead women terrorists are even more revered, the protests are louder and more violent.

Did we not learn anything from the Gilad Shalit episode.  Shalit was an Israeli soldier who was captured by Hamas and was released after five years, in 2011.  Israel agreed to exchange him for 1000 (!) Palestinian terrorists.  Are we not digging a similar hole this time around?  One dead Israeli soldier in the hands of the terrorists will trigger the release of all the bodies we accumulated. So why go down this treacherous road again and turn the dead terrorists into martyrs, and the living terrorists into heroes?

Deterrence is not found in demolished houses and dead bodies.  If not this, what then?  I suggest Israel send airplanes into the air and scatter thousands of flyers over the West Bank: “Let’s stop the killing for 24 hours.  On Tuesday, at 12pm, we are coming to the border without guns.  You are to come by the thousands without your knives or explosives.  We’ll talk.  If it does not work, we can always go back to killing on Wednesday.  Come hungry.  Catering provided.  We might even break bread over a plate of hummus.  Inshalah.”

Crazy?  Yes.


Maurice Labi is an Israeli-American who lived in Los Angeles for many years. In 2011 He returned to Northern Israel (Galilee) with his wife and twin teenage daughters. He is of two lands, of two cultures and he blogs about his experiences in Israel, particularly from Galilee where Jews and Arabs dwelled for centuries.

He has also written three novels: “Jupiter’s Stone,” “Into the Night,” and “American Moth” — available at

or at

5 Responses to “Deterrence that does not Deter”

  1. Sandy Galfas October 31, 2015 at 11:02 pm #

    Sure beats the current mess. What Winston Churchill said is still true: better yack, yack, yack than boom, boom, boom!

  2. Laura Rift November 1, 2015 at 3:08 am #

    Interesting idea. I’d say it couldn’t hurt, but it could. What happens if Israelis show up with no guns, but the Palestinians do and there’s a one-sided shootout? I don’t know. I sure as hell have no answers other than what Lincoln said about a house divided. A nation’s people MUST share certain fundamental values, otherwise that nation will not stand.

    • Maurice Labi November 1, 2015 at 4:18 am #

      If there were to be a one day truce, I’m sure both sides will see it that no one’s armed. This was nothing more than a fanciful fantasy on my part, but stranger things have happended and need to happen to break the cycle of violence

  3. Mark November 1, 2015 at 5:51 am #

    I thought the spate of stabbings started over a report by a rabbi of Jews coming to worship on the Temple Mount? It does not sound like the Arabs need much of a pretext to initiate a massacre. We need rational leadership and a fundamental change in Arab society to deter fomenting violence. The Palestinians need to start with scrapping an education system that teaches youth from early in childhood visceral hatred of Jews for their very existence. If and when they do that, maybe Jews can consider a proposal to follow precepts of talking to the party that seeks genocide. Seeing how Shites, Sunnis and Alawites are slaughtering each other by the hundreds of thousands next door in Syria while Arabs in Israel work as doctors, judges, lawyers, etc., I think it’s the Arabs and their corrupt leadership who need to engage in deterrence with their own people before Israel can meet them on the field of engagement.

    • Maurice Labi November 1, 2015 at 7:38 pm #

      That’s a good point point you’re making that Arabs in the neighboring states or what is left of them are fomenting violence. I spoke more to the Israeli reaction to Arab violence. Demolition of terrorists’ houses and not returning dead bodies will not deter the terrorists from acting out. Unfortunately both the Israeli leader and that of the Palestinians are caving in to extremes just so they can stay in power, practicing fear-mongering

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