The parallels between the dangers now faced by The United States and those long confronted by Israel become more striking every day. On Sept. 11, the United States was victimized by an outrageous act of terrorism directed against innocent civilians. Our entirely appropriate military response has been carefully calculated to minimize civilian casualties. Yet inevitably there have been some. These deaths and injuries of Muslims have been used by our enemies to cast us into the role of powerful aggressors and those who support terrorism into the role of helpless victims.
A similar moral inversion has been directed against Israel for decades. Even before the Six Day War of 1967 and Israel's subsequent occupation of the West Bank, Israel was victimized by terrorism directed against children at play, worshipers at prayer, women at lunch, and most recently the murder of an elected official. When it has taken entirely appropriate military action in response, also designed to minimize civilian casualties, it has been condemned for the collateral consequences that inevitably accompany any military action.
When it has attempted to target only terrorist leaders - as with the recent policy of targeted assassination of terrorists who were planning future murders - even the United States joined the chorus of condemnation. Now our president has directed the CIA to target Osama bin Laden for assassination, and congressional leaders are applauding this order as designed to minimize the collateral killing of innocent Afghans.
The American Bill of Rights, though designed to preserve liberty, is not a suicide pact.
Israel's response to the widespread terrorism it faces has included administrative detention of suspected terrorists who cannot be brought to trial without endangering undercover sources of information. Again, there has been criticism against Israel (including from me). Now the United States has detained more than 700 people without trial and that number is likely to increase. Until recently Israel has occasionally employed what it calls "moderate physical pressure" - a euphemism for non-lethal torture - against suspected terrorists who are believed to know the location of "ticking bombs." Its Supreme Court recently outlawed this practice, but now there are voices within our own FBI seeking authority to use torture to learn of imminent terrorist threats.
Logan Airport in Boston just has hired the former head of security at Israel's Ben Gurion Airport, and it is likely that American air travelers may be faced with the kind of tough security that Israeli air travelers have long had to endure.
The big picture is that daily life in America will come to resemble what daily life has been like in Israel for many years. We will go about our business, but always with one eye on the ever-present potential for terrorism.
Those who have committed terrorism against both the United States and Israel have grievances which they claim justify their resort to terrorism. The terrorists, and those who support them, ask us to understand the "root causes" of their despicable acts and to change our policies in response to them. When we do, we encourage other groups with perceived grievances to resort to terrorism as an effective means for achieving change.
These parallels should make Americans better understand the tragic choices confronted by the only American-type democracy in the Middle East which shares our values. The late Justice Arthur Goldberg, a strong civil libertarian, once observed that the American Bill of Rights, though designed to preserve liberty, is not a suicide pact.
Both nations are at war with evil forces determined to destroy the democratic values we jointly espouse.
Both the United States and Israel feel the need to defend themselves against terrorism, without unduly curtailing the rights of its citizens and even those suspected of terrorist acts. Both countries also recognize that they will make mistakes, but the difference between a democracy, which respects life, and a terrorist regime, which does not, is how it responds to these inevitable mistakes. When a young Palestinian boy was last year caught in the crossfire between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian gunmen, and died in his father's arms, there was near universal mourning among the Israelis for that unfortunate and accidental death, just as there is regret among Americans when an Afghan child is killed by an American bomb. This is to be contrasted with the dancing in the streets and the celebratory firing of guns by many Palestinians whenever an Israeli or Jewish child is deliberately murdered by Palestinian terrorists.
When the Israeli extremist Baruch Goldstein murdered Muslims at prayer several years ago, he was condemned across the political spectrum in Israel, with only a tiny number of zealots approving of his suicidal act. Contrast that response to the rock star status accorded suicide bombers by so many Palestinians.
The United States and Israel have been the primary victims of terrorism. They have employed comparable countermeasures in their laudable efforts to defend and protect their civilian populations against terror. It is wrong for the United States to demand more of Israel then it asks of itself.
Both nations are at war with evil forces determined to destroy the democratic values we jointly espouse. Our destinies are intertwined by common dangers and common values. We must stick together to defeat the evil forces of terror.
This story originally appeared in the Boston Globe on 10/26/2001.