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Can You Finish Terrorists by Killing Them–and Their Kids?

[Originally published in Hurriyet Daily News] Sometimes an article by one man summarizes the mindset of millions. The piece titled "Bam Stirs Fear in Israel," written by Ralph Peters and published in the New York Post on January 1, was like that. Fearing that "Bam" (i.e, Obama) could "stab Israel in the back" (i.e., tell her to stop the bloodbath in Gaza), Mr. Peters was trying to persuade his readers why it was crucial that the Israeli military kept on bombing the Gaza Strip - a deadly operation which has killed more than 150 women and children up to this point. "Fighting terrorists effectively means going in on the ground, and sooner is better than later," argued Mr. Peters. "You can't impress fanatics into surrendering. You have to kill them. Nothing else works." "Let me repeat that," he continuingly wrote to make sure that we all get the message right: "You have to kill fanatics. Nothing else works." Why they become terrorists You can replace the word "fanatics" here by other ones such as "extremists" or "terrorists." These are the terms we hear all the time since September 11, 2001. Strangely they are used as if they refer to some bizarre creatures, some sort of sadist beasts, whose very nature compels them to inflict pain on innocent people. Yet, in fact, there are no natural born terrorists. People become fanatics, extremists or terrorists for some reason. What is that reason, then, in the case of the fanatics that Mr. Peters is referring to, the militants of Hamas? He and his likeminded would probably tell us that it is their political theology, i.e., Islamism, which makes them fight against Israel. If we accepted this, we would have to assume that these people just happened to be seduced by a radical version of the Muslim faith for some accidental reason. They might have, for example, just picked up a twisted Koranic tasfeer (commentary) or started to attend a radical mosque. But wait a minute, for God's sake. In the past forty years, Palestine has generated all sorts of extremists, not just Islamists ones. In fact, for long, the tip of the Palestinian sphere had been sharpened by ideas other than Islam, such as nationalism or Marxism. (That's why Israel supported Hamas in the late 80's, as an alternative to the then more militant Fatah.) One of the most radical terrorists which fought Israel was actually George Habash, a Palestinian Christian. The truth is actually all-obvious: It is neither their nature nor their ideology which is creating all these "fanatics" in Palestine. The root of the problem is the occupation, oppression and humiliation that they have suffered for generations. That's why the calls for "killing all the fanatics" are simply insane. The more they are killed, the more they will hate Israel and hit back. The more they are destroyed, the more they will wow to destroy Israel, and use all means necessary. This cycle of violence has no end. Recalling Turkish Militarism I am very accustomed to this single-minded militarism, because I have seen it in my own country. In Turkey, since the early 80's, we have had a terrorist organization called the PKK (Kurdistan Workers Party). For long, our generals, who handled this problem, told us that these are bloodthirsty outlaws deserving to be crushed by our mighty military. "We will kill all those treacherous terrorists one by one," once said one of our four-star generals, "until all of them are finished." However, although our army has killed at least 20,000 of them, they never were finished. Every killed PKK militant was soon replaced by his brother or nephew who had sworn to take his revenge. The problem, which our generals did not want to see for long, was this: The PKK was not just a group of isolated militants; they were rooted in a people. Moreover, it was us who alienated that people by our systemic injustice. For decades, our authoritarian state had banned the Kurds' language, humiliated their culture, and crushed their political efforts. The zenith of oppression was the junta years of 1980-83, when thousands of Kurdish activists were brutally tortured in the infamous Diyarbakır Military Prison. Almost every one of those victims, or their family members, soon rushed to join the PKK, which started its terrorist war in 1984. In the 90's, Turkish politicians began to realize that this was a political problem that could only be solved by political means: by granting the Kurds their natural rights. "No," the generals said. "We have to crush the terrorists first; otherwise it will be conceding to them." Then they carried on burning villages in the southeast in order to "dry the swamp." Little they realized that the swamp was also in the policies, and the mind, of Ankara. Tanks versus thoughts The hawks in Israel and their supporters in America are in the same arrogant self-delusion. Their call for total war is not just inhumane, but also mindless. "In Israel you have many tanks," reminds Israeli thinker Avrum Burg, in his prophetic criticisms of his own society, "but not many think tanks." What is worse in America is that there are indeed many think tanks, but quite a few of them are captured in the fantasy that they can tame the world with tanks, bombs, and water-boarding. Nihilistic terror groups such as Al Qaeda are indeed impossible to negotiate with. But the ones which are rooted in a people, such as Hamas and Hezbollah, can be talked to and agreed with. In his recent piece in The Guardian, Hamas leader Khalid Mish'al indeed hints that. "We are meant to be content with shrinking scraps of territory, a handful of cantons at Israel's mercy, enclosed by it from all sides," he protests, while explaining their rejectionist attitudes. Perhaps it is not just their rhetorical maximalisms, then, which are the problem. It is also Israel's unwillingness to accept a just peace. That's why I fully agree with the new dovish Jewish initiative, "J Street", which declares: "There is no military solution to what is fundamentally a political conflict between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples." But, alas, the fanatics in Israel and America are just too blind to see that
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