On October 22nd, Israel was rocked with yet another attack on its citizens. A Palestinian man rammed his car into a crowded light rail stop, killing two people: a 3-month old American girl and a Ecuadorian woman who had recently moved to Israel to finish her conversion to Judaism. I cannot fathom attacks against innocent civilians happening as often as they do in Israel, where it seems each week brings news of yet another tragic death. But as a UCSB student I do know what baseless terror feels like, and how it can affect an entire population. Last year on May 23rd, a disturbed student drove through my home of Isla Vista killing six people, and eventually committing suicide. Although the Isla Vista Massacre and the Jerusalem Light Rail Attack have no direct connection, I find myself asking the same questions now, after this terror attack in Israel, as I did last May. What leads someone to commit such an atrocity? Is there anything we can do to prevent acts of terror? What was going on in their head? Luckily, I got the answers to some of these questions from an expert who knows best.
On October 23, Gauchos United for Israel (UCSB’s Pro-Israel Group, of which I am the President,) had the pleasure of hosting Anat Berko, a Lt. Col in the IDF while she was on tour with CAMERA (Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America). Lt. Col. Berko has spent the past 25 years researching women and children suicide bombers and their handlers. She has conducted counter-terrorism lectures for NATO, Congress, the FBI, and US Congress. Having interviewed some of Israel’s most high profile prisoners, ranging from Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, a founder of Hamas, to women who decided not to go through with their attacks. Lt. Col Berko provided insight based on research thatmanaged to answer my questions about such irrational acts of hate with rational facts.
Lt. Col. Berko explained that most women suicide bombers in the Middle East had done something to dishonor their family before taking on the role of martyrdom. In many cases “dishonor” can include being victims of rape or having extramarital sex. She explained that these women are more or less roped into committing these terrible acts as a way of regaining their family’s honor. Sometimes these women are tricked into being suicide bombers. Anat told us of one woman she interviewed who was told that the belt around her waist would destroy everything around her, but keep her perfectly safe. In many cases the women and children that are used don’t even know what is going on until the day of the attack, many times it is the father who make the decisions.
As the audience was listening, I could see the surprised looks on their faces at certain aspects of Lt. Col. Berko’s talk. One such instance was when Lt. Col. Berko explained that those who volunteer to be suicide bombers believe that their act brings themselves and 50 members of their family into heaven, and the men receive 72 virgins. These terrorists hate everything about western culture because of how it makes our women “unclean” to the point that they want to destroy it. They spend their entire lives trying to destroy western culture? so that they will eventually earn heaven. She described it as a sort of mania that consumes their lives. Perhaps it is a similar such mania that led the Isla Vista shooter to take the lives of six innocent students in my university town.
Fortunately for Israel there are many researchers like Lt. Col Berko who dedicate their lives to learning about terror rationale. Through understanding the root cause of suicide attacks, the number of successful suicide bombers has drastically dropped in the state of Israel. Other measures, like the security barrier and similar security techniques have been influenced by research and the commitment to civilian safety. New methods have proven very effective, and it is the hope that similar study will minimize other forms of terror attacks against Israeli civilians.
Hearing from Lt. Col. Berko made me more aware of the psyche of terrorists. The mental unrest and twisted conviction that is often present when rationalizing the killing of innocents. Both of these concepts must have been at play in the minds of the murderers who attacked in Jerusalem and Isla Vista. Understanding this has strengthened my resolve to keep fighting for Israel’s right to protect it’s citizens. The right to security in one’s home is the same for the citizens of Israel as it is for my peers here in Isla Vista.
Jeremy Ginsberg is a CAMERA Fellow for UC Santa Barbara and President of CCAP- supported organization Gauchos United for Israel.