The article deals with the question whether the recent terror events in Jerusalem were isolated and random acts, or could they have been a series of individual acts resulting from an intense atmosphere of religious and political incitement.
25 July 2008
Lone Wolf Terrorism in Israel; Connecting the Dots
On Tuesday afternoon, July 22, Jerusalem experienced another act of terror, when a citizen of East Jerusalem commandeered a bulldozer and in order to use it as a weapon against innocent civilians. The media initially reacted by calling the attack a "copy-cat" crime, modeled after the attack on Jaffa Road in downtown Jerusalem on July 2, when another East Jerusalem driver deliberately plowed a bulldozer into vehicles, including a passenger bus, murdering three and injuring dozens of people. The police labeled this and the previous bulldozer attack as acts of a terrorists acting on their own. In a brief article entitled "The Myth of the Lone Terrorist," Makor Rishon, July 4, I argued that it is impossible to know whether the terrorist acted on his own and that one cannot separate acts of terrorism from their perpetrators' environment, namely the long- term influence of incitement to hatred and violence. If we take into account the murder of eight students at Jerusalem's Merkaz Ha-Rav Yeshiva on March 6, which, according to the police, was also perpetrated by a lone terrorist, and the shooting of two policemen on patrol near the Lions' Gate on July 11, it is clear that we are confronted by a series of individual acts of terror, and not random events.
Does this mean that we are now facing a new kind of terrorism which apparently takes place without a leader or an organization?
Perhaps we are. Recent reports published in the United States have examined the problem of "lone wolf terrorism," "lone wolf extremism," or "leaderless resistance." According to Wikipedia, "the 'lone-wolf' terrorist usually shares an ideological or philosophical identification with an extremist group, but does not communicate with the group he or she identifies with. While the 'lone-wolf's' actions are motivated to advance the group's goal, the tactics and methods are completely conceived and directed by the 'lone-wolf' without any outside command or direction. In many cases … the 'lone-wolf' never even has any personal contact with a larger group. Because of this, lone-wolf terrorism poses a particular problem for counter-terrorism officials, as it is considerably more difficult to gather intelligence on compared to conventional terrorism."
According to the Anti-Defamation League, Alex Curtis, a white supremacist living in San Diego articulated this method, which may have existed beforehand without a proper label. Curtis advocated disengagement from underground racist organizations in order to evade the criminal justice system. An article on the ADL website, which appeared in July 2002, states that Curtis "envisioned a two-tiered hate movement in which 'divisive and subversive' propaganda would be widely distributed and would guide a revolutionary underground. This underground would consist of 'lone wolves,'--racist warriors acting alone or in small groups who attacked the government or other targets in 'daily' anonymous acts.' Curtis saw himself as a propagandist sowing the seeds of a racist revolution…."
Furthermore, writing in the Washington Post (June 2005), retired FBI informer Mike German held that Timothy McVeigh, who carried out the Oklahoma City bombing (19 April 1995), is the classic example of the "lone wolf." His act of terror killed 168 people and injured hundreds. According to German, "'lone extremism' is not a phenomenon; it's a technique, a ruse designed to subvert the criminal justice system. McVeigh acted as a lone extremist and was trained to do it this way … But his act of lone extremism was part of the ongoing conspiracy that continues to inspire violent attacks to this day... It is a matter of connecting the dots…"
Similarly, Eyad Kishawi, a Palestinian activist living in San Francisco, published a manual in January 2006 which called for a boycott of Israel and proposed a new strategy of political warfare. Kishawi recommended that the efforts of anti-Israel activists be de-centralized in order to avoid the reach of the American law enforcement agencies and "Israeli extra-judicial and illegal activities." Notably, he emphasized the need for individual initiatives. It is not such a big step to take this principle – as applied to political activism – and transform it into a tactic of terrorist warfare. In fact, Kishawi's approach is essentially the same as the "lone-wolf" terrorism of the white supremacist, Alex Curtis.
If we examine the recent examples of terror in Jerusalem in light of the principle of "lone-wolf" terrorism, it is possible to appreciate how apparently isolated events could be linked, even in the absence of an organization or a leader. Indeed, there is a cultural connection between ongoing incitement and specific acts of terror. Therefore, it is necessary to deconstruct the cultural environment which incites individuals to perform crimes of hatred. Some positive measures would include sustained police action, rebuilding the education system, rewriting of school textbooks, and censorship of the sermons in the mosques. Further, there must be heavy penalties both for those who incite to violence and those who perpetrate terrorist acts.
Those in charge of safeguarding the security of Israeli civilians must find new means – and resourcefully apply the old ones -- to break the links of the chain which connect religious and political incitement with those who act according to the principles of "lone-wolf terrorism." In addition, the State of Israel must insist on exercising its sovereignty in the capital and throughout the country. Otherwise, it will face a situation similar to that which prevails in France and other European countries where there are "lost territories of the Republic," districts and neighborhoods which the local residents have rendered inaccessible to the law enforcement authorities. Ultimately, Israel must vigorously enforce the law of the land everywhere within its borders if it intends to protect its citizens and assure its continuity.
The author wishes to thank Mr. Bennett Ruda of Elizabeth, NJ, who provided valuable information for this essay.
Dr. Joel Fishman is a Fellow of a research center in Jerusalem.