After every terrorist attack in the United States and Europe, people ask me as an Israeli what is Israel’s secret to living daily with Palestinian Arab terrorism and the country’s ability to prosper in spite of it. Israel’s secret weapon is the Israeli civilians who feel responsible for each other and therefore are willing to sacrifice themselves fighting and defeating terror to save others. The Israeli public does not hide, or run away from the terrorists to save themselves but rather confronts the terrorists in an effort to save their fellow citizens. From airline hijackings, suicide bombers stabbings, shootings, and vehicle attacks, Israel has seen them all and has adapted accordingly.
While other countries in the West rely solely or mostly on the police and security services to stop terrorists, in Israel the public is a full, independent partner in the fight. Thirty percent of terrorists have been thwarted by civilians in Israel who have been fighting back by striking the terrorists with everything they had such as a pizza tray, an umbrella, a selfie stick, a guitar, chairs, pepper spray, and guns. While in England the police wants the school kids to be taught the message of “hide, run, tell,” a child growing up in Israel, is encouraged always to think what will he do pro-actively if he or she were facing a terrorist.
The most popular YouTubes posted online are those that show the heroic actions of citizens fighting back or impeding a terrorist. Family, friends, and society applaud, admire, and approve of such actions to respond and defeat terrorism in order to survive, and those people are treated as heroes.
As the most persecuted people in history, Jews have a large amount of experience of living under threats to their very existence as a people and surviving it. The Israelis have taken these experiences to chart a new path and developed a new mental strength and determination that “never again” will Jews timidly be led like a sheep to the slaughter. One of the most popular Hebrew expressions which echoes daily in each Israeli’s mind is: “Ain Brera” which means “there is no another alternative.” In other words, the Jews in Israel will fight for their survival with their backs to the wall or to the sea and with any means available and as long as it takes. After 2,000 years of being the “wandering Jew,” fleeing persecutions to other places is not an alternative. Israelis are in their own state with their own army and they will fight and as live a normal life at the same time. There is the realization among the citizens that after having others decide our future, we at last control our own destiny in our homeland and are willing to sacrifice ourselves to protect this home.
Israel has become the most successful country in the fight against terrorism by first becoming accustomed to living with it and accepting it as a long-term challenge. Second, Israelis have adapted to terror by as quickly as possible returning to normalcy after every attack. Israel developed a protocol that says that all bombing locations, even bus bombings with multiple casualties, must be cleared and declared safe within four hours, so life can return to normal in the quickest time possible. While other countries hold emotional commemorations for days after a terror event and engage in seemingly endless second guessing, discussions about what they might have done to cause it, and media analysis, Israelis try to quickly move on to restore normalcy. We wash the blood and remove the bodies the same day and quickly bury our victims usually with the participation of thousands of our fellow citizens. The press and media cooperate by not paying daily attention to terrorist events. This bouncing back prevents the post-traumatic stress and scars other countries go through.
Third, Israelis make changes in their daily lives as a means of caution and immediately notify the authorities of suspicious behavior or suspicious objects in the street and in enclosed spaces. There are security guards everywhere frisking every person and their bags in entrances to shopping centers, restaurants, sports stadiums, concerts, hotels, and supermarkets.
Finally, Israelis are lucky that we know who our enemy is and that evil does exist despite our best efforts to fight it. Maybe we are lucky that that as citizens we trust and highly respect our security forces, police, and the army who are deployed everywhere, despite our political differences. In Israel, there is a high level of cooperation between citizens and security forces and a policeman under attack can rely on a nearby citizen to come running to save him while citizens know that the policemen will be there for them.
Between September 2000 and 2005, 1,030 people were killed by Palestinian terrorists in Israel which is proportional to 295,000 Americans being killed in the United States, when considering Israel’s small population. Between September 2015 and July 2016, 40 victims of terror were killed. In this period, there were 157 stabbings, 101 shootings, 46 vehicular attacks, and one bus explosion.
Despite the death and destruction, Israelis have been found to be optimistic about the future and happy. According to the UN’s 2017 World happiness report released in March, Israel is the 11 happiest country in the world above US, UK, Germany, and France.