The recent wave of Palestinian terror attacks, which took the life of a 19-year-old policewoman in Jerusalem this week, has generated anger among Israelis. They demand that the government do something to stop these assaults. The question is: Do what?
Unlike the First Intifada (1987-93), which was a popular uprising, and the Second Intifada (2000-2001), which was more organized and much bloodier — some 3,000 Palestinians and 1,000 Israelis were killed — the current wave of terror is based on spontaneous acts by individuals.
If the First Intifada was brought to its end by the Oslo Process and the Second Intifada by a major military operation, Defensive Shield, how can this current violence be stopped?
The best way, of course, would be a resumption of talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, which would lead to the creation of a Palestinian state living in peace and cooperation next to Israel.
However, without engaging in the blame game over who is responsible for the deadlock, this option now looks unrealistic.
The alternative option, the use of military force, is also very limited, perhaps nonexistent: How can you possibly intercept a young Palestinian (frequently a woman) who decides on the spur of a moment to stab an Israeli? And once it happens, how do you deter others from doing it? By demolishing the homes of the terrorists’ families? Even Israel’s security forces are not sure whether this measure really works, or whether, instead, it breeds more hate.
Apart from the fact that the enemy — the individual stabber or shooter — is elusive, there is another reason why the use of massive force against the Palestinians is not really an option for Israel: The Palestinian security agencies are working in full cooperation with Israel, and are fiercely fighting Hamas, which has been trying to add fuel to the West Bank flames.
With a lack of options, then, Israelis are left only with their anger.
In 2006, summarizing research on the impact of anger on decision-making, Prof. Jennifer Lerner from Harvard and Prof. Larissa Tiedens from Stanford, among others, concluded that anger makes people indiscriminately punitive, indiscriminately optimistic about their own chances of success, careless in their thinking and eager to take action.
I don’t know if they had in mind the angry President George W. Bush, who, following 9/11, had to do something — so he set out to conquer Iraq, thus demolishing the only Sunni power that could stand against Iran.
As a sworn optimist, I looked at ways in which anger can still help us, and lo and behold, I found out a paper titled Thinking Straight While Seeing Red: The Influence of Anger on Information Processing, by Professors Wesley Moons and Diane Mackie from the University of California at Santa Barbara. This paper, which was published in 2007, suggested that contrary to conventional wisdom, anger helped people to focus on what mattered most in making a rational decision and to ignore what was irrelevant to it.
Armed with this “positive anger,” Israelis — even in this volatile period — should focus on what matters most: Not to bring the precarious relationship with the Palestinians in the West Bank to a total collapse.
While few Palestinians are carrying out the terror attacks (and paying with their lives, by the way), the vast majority are not resorting to violence, and many Palestinians keep supporting their families by working in Israel.
These are the people with whom we will eventually have to broker a deal.
So while waiting for a breakthrough, we have to adopt a very sophisticated way of fighting the few without losing the many.