“An attack on all of humanity and the universal values we share,” was what President Obama called the Paris terror attack. As commentators have pointed out, it’s unfortunately not so; Western values, even including the sanctity of life, are not shared by all of humanity and do not necessarily prevail in some parts of the world.
Here in Israel, where we’ve been under an assault variously dubbed the Knives Intifada or the Children’s Intifada for two months, it’s impossible not to be aware of a lack of universality of values. Many, but not all, of the examples I give below (which, of course, are far from comprehensive) are taken from Palestinian warfare.
Combatants and noncombatants. This is a Western distinction that is often conspicuously lacking in other parts of the world. While Palestinians sometimes attack Israeli security personnel, they more often attack Israeli civilians. Age and gender, of course, are of no consequence; the concept of the “enemy” is tribal and includes any and all Israeli Jews at any and all times. The principle of tribal assault applies, of course, in surrounding countries as well. The only reason Israelis are not massacred on the same scale as Syrians, Iraqis, Sudanese, and others is Israel’s military and security capability. What happened in Paris was a Middle Eastern tribal assault, not just an attack by lone “terrorists.”
Human shields. Whereas Western countries do not use the human-shield strategy, in another part of the world it is increasingly common. Before the 1991 Gulf War, Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein detained Westerners and used them as human shields. Hamas has extensively used the strategy in the three Gaza wars (2008-2009, 2012, 2014) with Israel. Hizballah has turned tens of thousands of southern Lebanese villagers into human shields for the next war with Israel, with rocket launchers installed in private homes. Islamic State is, of course, using the strategy in Iraq and Syria. In other words, at least in the cases of Hamas and Hizballah, the combatant-noncombatant distinction is further violated as civilians on one’s own side are “drafted” for a role in combat. Voices of protest are not heard; Hamas remains popular with Palestinians, and Hizballah with Lebanese Shiites.
Children. Not only are “enemy” children attacked, and children on one’s own side “drafted” as human-shield combatants, but children are often turned, explicitly or by encouragement, into warriors. Examples are legion. Among others, Iran sacrificed tens of thousands of Iranian children as soldiers in the Iran-Iraq war. Boko Haram is training and deploying child soldiers as young as 10. In the current Palestinian intifada, as Israeli columnist and author Nadav Shragai reported on Friday:
According to data provided by the Shin Bet security agency, the average age of 80% of the terrorists in the current surge of violence has been 20. The terrorist who stabbed four Israelis in Kiryat Gat on Saturday was only 17. One of the attackers in Pisgat Ze’ev last month was only 12; an 11-year-old and a 14-year-old stabbed a security guard on the Jerusalem light rail this month; and the girls who stabbed a man with scissors at the Jerusalem Mahane Yehuda market this week were 14 and 16.
Babies. In the same article Shragai goes on to report:
now the Palestinian indoctrination mechanism is even recruiting babies…. Dozens of photos of babies and very young children holding knives that someone stuffed into their tiny hands have been littering social media sites, along with war slogans and other violent texts. The juxtaposition between their innocent, sweet faces and the knives and violent language is immensely disturbing.
Disturbing, and not part of “universal values we all share” (pictures here).
Sanctity of medical care. In the Western world, ambulances are used as ambulances and not for other purposes, and injured people are taken to hospitals. But even these are not “universal values.” During the Second Intifada (2000-2004), as this summary notes,
terrorists frequently used ambulances as a means to transport bombs, guns and other weapons. Many of the terrorists who triggered suicide bombings in Israel gained access to the country by driving or riding in Red Crescent ambulances.
In a Palestinian terror attack near Hebron on November 15 that killed Rabbi Ya’akov Litman (40) and his son Netanel (18),
a Palestinian Red Crescent ambulance [drove] by the scene of the shooting yet did not stop to administer first aid treatment.
Channel 10’s weekly Friday evening newscast aired audio of the call, which confirmed earlier reports on social media that Palestinian paramedics did not tend to the victims of the shooting….
Lies and truth. Lies and distortions occur, of course, wherever there are human beings. But whereas some cultures at least aspire to truth-telling as a value, others (including Western ones under totalitarian regimes) have used lies and distortions systematically. In the current intifada, Israeli columnist Dan Margalit notes,
Palestinian lies have reached new lows…. The Palestinians do not justify terrorist attacks—instead, they claim the attacks are staged by Israel and the attackers are murdered by Israel in a premeditated manner.
The Palestinian authorities use these claims to fuel further rage among the population—and further attacks. Palestinians, they say, are not actually attacking Israelis with knives; Israeli soldiers are planting knives beside the bodies of Palestinians they wantonly kill.
Life and death. Life itself—its sanctity, its desirability—is not a universal value. Hamas’s TV channel has warned Israelis that “[we] love death more than you love life.” Or as Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah has put it: “The Jews love life, so that is what we shall take away from them. We are going to win, because they love life and we love death.” Or as a 16-year-old Taliban warrior declared, “War is our best hobby. The sound of guns firing is like music for us…. The Americans love Pepsi Cola, we love death.”
God. “Allahu Akbar!”—God is greater—is the most dangerous phrase in today’s world. It was shouted by the Paris mass-murderers and is, of course, heard in countless other places as murders and mass murders are attempted or committed. It obviously comes from a cultural ambience and is not only espoused by attackers themselves. The notion of God as a being who wants people to be kind and merciful is, then, far from universal. Someone who believes in a God who wants so much bloodshed has a profoundly different mindset, and different values, from someone for whom such a belief is anathema.
President Obama, then—not uncharacteristically—read the significance of the Paris attacks wrong. It was an attack on a part of humanity and their values, values that, lamentably, much of the world does not share.