Since the 1936-39 campaign of Arab violence against Jews, the town of Jenin, now in the West Bank, has been a center of terrorism. For example, during the PLO's 2000-04 war of terror (the "Aqsa Intifada") most suicide bombers came from Jenin.
Since 2004, Israeli governments have tried to promote Palestinian economic well-being and standard of living, hoping that these improvements would diminish the motivation for terrorism by reducing frustration and grievance on the one hand and raising the cost of terror attacks on the other.
Jenin has been a main beneficiary of this economic policy. Thanks to its proximity to Israel's Galilee and the many Israeli Muslim citizens who visit it for shopping and recreation, the town has become prosperous and well-developed. The economic boom reached its peak in recent years. Yet Jenin residents could not help reverting to their old selves, and on April 7, 2022, a resident murdered two Israelis and wounded another ten in a shooting attack in Tel Aviv. Judging by the string of Palestinian Authority officials who paid respects to the terrorist's father, this atrocity seems to be closely associated with Jenin's ethos and norms.
Nor is Jenin exceptional. A month earlier, on March 22, an Israeli Bedouin murdered four of his Jewish compatriots and injured two others in a stabbing and ramming terror attack in Beersheba. The Negev town of Rahat, from which the terrorist hailed, had received more government funding than any other place in the Bedouin sector with a five-year plan there currently underway, including heavy investment in infrastructure and housing, culture, and commerce. And yet Rahat hosts scenes of lawlessness and criminality, including shootings at public buildings in broad daylight.
Jenin and Rahat confirm the falsehood of the idea that poverty causes violence. In a 2007 study on the roots of terrorism, the American economist Alan Krueger showed that because terrorism requires resources and knowhow, its most senior practitioners have come from the more affluent classes. In contrast, the poorest elements of society show the least support for terrorism.
Nonetheless, the IDF and successive Israeli governments continue to hold that further economic inducements to the Palestinians, including permits to work in Israel, will reduce their terroristic inclinations. European and American political circles support this misconception, reiterating the myth that the wide gap between Israeli and Palestinian economic well-being aggravates the conflict.
How much more blood must be spilled, and how many more lives must be destroyed before this misconception is discarded once and for all?
Israel must set up more sophisticated carrot-and-stick mechanisms: yes, provide assistance, make life easier, and cultivate those who clearly reject the cycle of hatred and violence, but simultaneously impose harsher punishment for all acts of violence as well as manifestations of incitement and support (e.g., distributing candies whenever Jews are murdered, social media praise of terror atrocities, etc.). All state benefits must be denied to families enmeshed in the cycle of incitement and terror: no goodwill gestures, no entry or work permits.
Wishful thinking never works and cannot form the basis for a counterterrorism strategy. Only a clear policy that distinguishes between those involved and uninvolved in terror while waging a relentless war to break the spirit of the terrorists and their supporters, with no compromise or goodwill gestures, will defeat violence.
Yif'a Segal, a researcher at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security, has served as chief of staff for Israel's ambassador to the United States and as director of the International Legal Forum.