The Answer

The answer is, and nobody is going to like it, that there is no such thing as a “terrorist.” There are “good guys,” and there are “bad guys.” In the fight against evil, all weapons and methods of battle are valid; be they nuclear missiles, carpet bombing, wiping out Amalek, suicide attacks, or a rifle shot. All these weapons are “terrorism,” when wielded by an enemy, fighting for an immoral goal. We tend to give the bad guys a break, and give them certain allowances. We allow them to fight on the fields of battle, in a declared war. They can use all types of conventional weapons. But once they break the rules (or, “Geneva Conventions”) we brand them for what they are, terrorists.

This definition doesn’t work at all from a post-modern relativist standpoint, in fact it screams out against it. Dubya would probably like it.

The reason there has been so much terrorism in the world lately, is because the “good guys” have become so strong that the enemy has to resort to asymmetrical warfare. I think that, in this light, the prevalence of terrorism in the world today can be seen as a good thing, or at least something with a silver lining. Terrorism is a symptom of the weakness of evil in the world today. (As opposed to Nazi Germany, which didn’t resort to terrorism (by today’s standards) precisely because it was so strong.)

T for Terrorist

Remember, remember, the fifth of November…

While you don’t need to be familiar with British history to enjoy V for Vendetta, it certainly helps. The movie starts off with a short scene from 1605, as Guy Fawkes is caught trying to blow up the parliament building in London, and executed shortly thereafter. What was then known as the “gunpowder plot,” is commemorated every year in England on Guy Fawkes day, November 5th.

The antagonist of V for Vendetta shares little with Guy Fawkes, who may have been the world’s first religious fundamentalist terrorist. Or was he? A lot of the debate surrounding this film is because it supposedly glorifies terrorism. V, the ‘terrorist,’ fights the ‘freedom fighter’s’ fight against an oppressive government. At least, that’s what people are saying.

So what exactly is terrorism? I think it has something to do with indiscriminate killing of non-combatants, for starters. That would include suicide bombings in civilian centers. What it would not include would be suicide bombings on military bases, or soldiers. Some might say that any suicide attack is terrorism. Would that include kamikaze pilots in World War Two? What about shooting attacks on soldiers on guard duty? What about off-duty soldiers? Any definition that the media comes up with (and they really need to come up with one soon, an industry standard.) is going to have to be consistant. I’ve made up a “terrorism labeling test,” here (for lack of a better name). Let’s plug in a definition and see what happens.

Let’s start with this simple definition: “Terrorism is the indiscriminate targeting and killing of non-combatants.”

Now, let’s run that through some test examples:

1) The Sbarro bombing. Definitely fits. Civilians were targeted, indiscriminately.

2) September 11th WTC attack. Also works. They just wanted the highest number of kills possible. They also attacked a symbol, the World Trade Center, which isn’t really relevant to this definition, but we might want to keep it in mind if we want to refine it.

3) September 11th Pentagon attack. This one’s tricky. The Pentagon is a military target, and the civilians on the plane itself could be construed as collateral damage. We either need to change this definition of terrorism, or accept this attack as a legitimate military action.

4) The Allied bombing of Dresden in World War Two. Hmm… now we’re getting controversial. Dresden had no military targets. According to this definition, the USAF and the RAF were terrorists, clear and simple. We may need to go back and change something if we want to avoid condemning the Allied air forces.

5) An Israeli rocket attack that kills a wanted terrorist and two bystanders. Obviously, the targeted killing itself isn’t terrorism according to our current definition, but what about the bystanders? Again, collateral damage, but how far does this go? What if we launched a rocket that killed the terrorist and ten civilians? How about the terrorist and a hundred civilians? When does collateral damage become unacceptable and turn into terrorism?

6) The EZL and Haganah blowing up the King David Hotel. This probably escaped the terrorism label here. Even though many civilians were killed, the target was the headquarters of the British Army in Palestine, and if anyone should be at fault for the civilian deaths is was the British. Also, they telephoned in with a warning long before the explosion.

7) A Palestinian sniper attack on a soldier at a checkpost. This is actually the closest thing here to a legitimate act of war; a soldier attacking and killing another soldier.

I think the average Israeli, or even the average Westerner, would want 1,2, 3 and maybe 7 to be labeled terrorism, while 4, 5, and 6 should remain legitimate acts of war. But how can you label something to fit only those first three, and none of the last? I think we made need to introduce additional elements to our definition. For example, something about the terrorists themselves using civilian garb as cover, and not fighting in uniform might be in order. Also, a distinction needs to be made (if there is a distinction to be made) between targeting civilians, and executing military strikes where you know with certainty that there will be collateral civilian deaths. But I’ll leave it up to you.

Here’s my challenge. Define terrorism in one or two sentences. Then run it through these seven test cases, be completely honest with yourself, and publish the result, either on your blog, or in my comment space (but if you do it in your blog, let us know, and provide a link here). I’ll alter my definition here, and put up a new one soon, too. I’m going to “tag” to do this (but it’s open to anyone) David, Regreg, Umar, OC and OY, and mousetrap84, as her triumphant return to the blogging world.

Update: I want to add an eighth test case to run the definitions through. In 1943, Warsaw Ghetto fighters resisted the Nazis, and controlled the Ghetto for about 4 months. During that time, the non-uniformed resisters carried out attacks on German troops, and executed reprisal attacks on Jews that had been collaborating with the Nazis.

Key points here: They had no uniforms, fought for no country, and executed civilians in addition to fighting the Germans.

Obviously, I don’t think that the Warsaw Ghetto fighters were terrorists, and I don’t think anyone will debate that. However, there’s no doubt that the German High Command at the time considered them as such. Prove them wrong.

Yom HaShoa II

Well, I’m not really in the mood to write anything about Yom Hashoa, but this was a pretty good post. The comment thread is unusually insightful, as well.

I’m not going to go back and copy-edit something I wrote a year ago, but know that when I wrote the ’27th of pesach,’ I probably meant the ’27th of Nissan.’

Here’s a “cause and effect” question for you, though: Did the Ghetto uprising allow Jews to see their own strength, and cause (or contribute to) the War of Independence? Or did half a century of Zionism give strength to the fighters, and allow them to resist the Nazis?

Talking in the Bathroom

I went to a movie last week with David (V for Vendetta. I will be blogging about it). So, we got there a little early, and we both had to go to the bathroom. Now, usually, the rule is the opposite for guys than what it is for girls. Guys go to the bathroom one at a time, and if they see someone there they know, no conversation. Two notable exceptions to this rule are yeshiva and movie theaters.

In yeshiva, the bathroom is a place to hang out. You go, you talk, you schmooze, and you don’t need to worry about Rabbis, because usually they have their own little bathrooms that they go to, or they’re like Pharaoh, and go at dawn so no-one can see them.

Movie theatres have evolved to be exceptions to the rule due to force of circumstance. You always need to go to the bathroom after a movie, and you always want to discuss the movie. So you discuss it in the bathroom. The men’s bathroom also allows us to discuss the parts of the movie that we want to discuss without the women present.

Back to our story: We were standing there, peeing (The urinal rule is well known, though often ignored by Israelis. One must always have a “buffer” urinal between yourself and any other pee-ee. Still, conversation is prohibited during actual pee-time, unless there is a partition, or three or more buffer-urinals) and talking. The conversation went something like this:

Me: I wonder how they decided on porcelain as the best material for urinals. Does it really have the best “low bounce-back,” quality?

David: I guess they just made a bunch of different urinals out of all available materials, and porcelain performed the best.

We continued on in this vein until, at some point, one of the stall doors behind us swung open, and a girl stood there in the doorway. She said, in English, “Oh my God, I am so sorry, I didn’t know this was the boy’s bathroom,” and ran out, without washing her hands.

Now, two obvious questions. One, why didn’t she just wait until we finished? Two, if she was so eager to leave, why wait until that point in the conversation?

No Really – Questionable Halachik Practices

First, a shout out to all my one-day peeps out there in chutz-la’aretz, reading this while locked away in their rooms, waiting for the chag to end for everyone else. Word.

Next, for those of you still waiting on the burning vodka burning issue (yes… that made sense), well, it burned. Not as well as I would have liked, though. The vodka didn’t catch on and burn, but it did make the cup slightly more flammable, and the whole thing went down.

Yesterday I went to the kotel. I guess that’s not so amazing in and of itself, but I walked there from giv’at masua, and then I walked back. It took an hour and a half one way, and an hour and three quarters the way back. I have blisters on my toes. All in all, it felt pretty good, though. Like I was back in the army again.

At the kotel, I saw a couple of chareidim smoking. The exception for smoking on chag is something I’ve been aware of for pretty much as long as I’ve been aware of chag itself. I can remember old men smoking outside of my shul in Brooklyn, and I was seven when we moved away from there. It still strikes me as weird, though, and somehow wrong. What is definitely wrong is what these guys were doing. I don’t know if you’ve been to the kotel recently or not, but they’ve tripled all the kotel rabbinate signs that detail what you are and are not allowed to do. You know, they say “Please respect the sanctity of this holy place by refraining from smoking, talking on cell phones, and taking pictures on the Sabbath and Holy days,” or something like that. So here were these two guys, in their full chareidi garb, smoking away, right next to the sign saying you can’t do that. To the Christian tourist from Boise, Idaho, it looks like they have no respect for the rules, so why should he refrain from talking on the phone or taking pictures?

We had the same problem in the army, with beinishim who knew halacha and broke a lot of the strict kashrut rules in the kitchen, because they knew what was real, and what was just an extra preventive rule. But then what about the Russian kitchen worker who goes out of his way to make sure everything’s kosher according to the army (even though he eats pork when he goes home), who then sees the guys he thinks he’s doing this for breaking all the same rules?

Questionable Halachik Practices

B’dkat chametz was a little… different this year. I’m the only one left in the apartment, so I did it myself. When I wanted to get started, however, I realized that I didn’t have any bread to use. So I started rummaging around looking for other types of chametz. I settled on vodka. I filled ten shot glasses with vodka, spread them around the apartment, and started searching for them with a tea lamp. As I got to each one, I spilled it out into a scrubs cup. Tomorrow I guess I’ll set the whole thing on fire. Vodka burns, right? Maybe I’ll have to soak a rag in it or something. Or set the cup itself on fire. I’ll let you (all five of my loyal readers) know. Happy and Kosher Pesach.

Miami-Dade, Galil

Apparently, some of the elderly Galili Arabs were confused by the “butterfly ballot.” Labor loses a seat, and the Arabs go up by one. Votes for one of the Arab parties were mistakenly counted for Pat Buchanan. I’m not sure if this is good for the Jews or bad for the Jews. Good, because this means that the dreaded Kadima – Labor – Meretz – Gil coalition can’t happen. Bad, because really, who wants another Arab in the Knesset? That can’t be a good thing. Like J.D., I’ll wait and see.

Coalition Predictions

Election predictions are stupid. It’s impossible to know who’s going to win because the polls are not to be trusted (obviously) and until voting day, you can’t ask every single voter who they want.

What you can do, after the elections, is make coalition predictions. The Knesset has 120 seats, and they have all been divvied up, based on Tuesday’s outcome. The prime minister (presumably Olmert, but actually anyone who is able to pull it off) is the leader of the party that can put together a 61 seat government.

Possibility number one: Kadima, Labor, Meretz, and Gil for 61 seats.

This is the one we were all scared of before the election. Kadima goes left for support for its disengagement agenda. Labor gets onboard in exchange for the Treasury, Gil gets on board in exchange for a new ministry, “Old People rights,” or whatever. Meretz probably takes Justice.

The problem with this is threefold; Olmert wants a center coalition, without being the rightmost party. He probably doesn’t want Meretz anywhere near him, for fear of driving away the base he stole from the Likud. He really doesn’t want Peretz at the helm of the Treasury. Also, this is the weakest coalition possible. Any one of the three partners could topple it. He’ll only fall back on this option if all else fails.

Possibility number two: Kadima, Shas, Israel Beitenu, UTJ, and Gil for 65 seats.

This one is tempered a bit to the right. Olmert appeals to the right-leaning parties that have shown possibilities for compromise. Gil’s votes are available for hire, as they’ve made clear, and Shas and UTJ are open to bribes in the form of child allowances and yeshiva budgets (I know it doesn’t sound so sinister, but it is). Leiberman at Israel Beitenu is the wild card here. Olmert would have to significantly change his plans for disengagements to appease him, but it would still take place. Leiberman would benefit greatly by being in the government, establishing his party as a force to be reckoned with, and possibly taking the place of the Likud in the next election. Shas gets education, Israel Beitenu gets foreign ministry or finance, UTJ gets justice. Gil gets their social service agenda. I would very much like to see this happen, but I don’t give it much hope.

Possibility number three: Likud, Shas, Israel Beitenu, UTJ, NRP/NU, Gil, and three defectors from Kadima for 61 seats.

Not going to happen. Stop praying.

Possibility number four: Kadima, Labor, Shas, UTJ and Gil for 74 seats.

This is most likely to happen. Olmert gets his way in disengagements, but has to compromise on social and economic issues. He increases taxes to support the unemployed (for Labor), the old (for Gil), the kollels (for UTJ), and the superstitious (for Shas). The great benefit of this is that aside from the major partner (Labor), Olmert can piss off any one of the three minor partners, watch them leave the government, and still keep things stable.

My prediction: new elections in 18 months.

Grey Dawn

Well, it’s official. We’re screwed. We’re screwed so bad, in fact, that it’s pretty funny. I think the only parties not upset about the results are Labor, Shas, and the Old People’s Party (the OPP). And frankly, if there’s ever a situation where Labor, Shas, and old people are happy, you’d better worry.

This election marks the lowest voter turnout ever. Elections have always been in the 90% – 80% range, dipping to 78%-ish in the 90’s. The last election had a 67% turnout, and this one was about 63%. It’s not true that the low turnout hurts the left. A low turnout hurts everybody.

When I was in the fifth grade, we had a mock election in the classroom. That year was Bush (Sr.) vs. Clinton, and our teacher made us all write our votes on a piece of paper, and she had one of us volunteer to pick the slips of paper out of a hat and mark the votes on the blackboard. It was all very meaningless, of course, because none of us knew anything about either candidate, or politics. We were just picking names. I took my pencil, and – I remember this very clearly – wrote “Who cares, they’re all the same jerks,” on my slip of paper. I don’t know where I picked that up from; I wasn’t a very politically astute fifth grader, I was probably just repeating something I had heard at home. I passed my vote up to the kid in the seat ahead of me, and he looked at my vote (so much for a secret election), and turned around with a look of horror on his face.

“You’re going to get in trouble! You can’t turn this in!”

“How will she know it’s me?” I said. And so he passed it forward.

During the short time before she had one of us read the votes, I began getting very scared. What if she recognized the handwriting? What if she figured out it was me? What if I got sent to the principal? What if she called my parents? What if they suspended me? I had an active imagination.

When they started pulling out the votes, everything progressed more or less normally. One for Bush, one for Clinton. I think Clinton had the lead. Suddenly, in the middle, the kid pulled out a vote, frowns, and showed it to the teacher. I slunk down in my seat as far as I could go. The kid in front of me turned around and looked at me with a sort of “Wow, you’re going to hell, you’re really dumb,” look. The teacher looked around at the class, and told the vote-counter to continue, and that she would deal with it. I knew I was screwed.

Finally, after the final tally, the teacher help out my voting slip and said: “Who wrote this?”

No answer.

The she read it out loud. There was a collective gasp from the class. Who would dare write something like that? Then she gave a whole speech about how voter apathy like this is a terrible thing and how if nobody voted, the communists would take over. I never really understood the mechanics of how that would work (some sort of deal with the Soviet Union? “Voting population ever drops below 40%, you boys take over…”), but in 1992, communists were still a very scary thing. Say communist, and you would think Stalin, the KGB, and Siberia (unlike now, where it’s bearded crazy men, with funny green hats speaking Spanish). All I really cared about at the time, however, was that she not find out it was me (she didn’t).

She was wrong, though. Communists would not take over. Socialists would. Here we have the lowest ever turnout, and 40 seats handed over to the socialists (I’m counting the OPP, Labor, and Shas. I’m not even counting the actual communist Arab party. UTJ is also borderline.)

B’kitzur (and I can say that without being yeshivish, cause I’m Israeli) this country is going straight down the toilet.