The oft-reported mantra that "occupation causes terrorism" has been disproved over and over again by history and contemporary experience.
Just this week, the old myth was once again uncut by the arrests in Britain of two-dozen suspects in a plot to blow up ten commercial airliners. There is no British occupation about which the suspects care. Britain, of course, is one of the freest countries on Earth. The suspects do not live--and apparently have not lived--under occupation (unless they consider the entire Christian world to be occupied by "crusaders." And yet the same slogan--that occupation causes terrorism--will persist.
Consider some of these examples as well:
• First, Palestinian terrorism began well before there was any occupation. It began in 1929 when the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem ordered a terrorist attack against Jewish residents of Hebron, whose families had lived in that Jewish holy city for generations.
• Second, other occupied people, for example the Tibetans, have never resorted to terrorism against innocent Chinese civilians, though their occupation has been longer and more brutal than anything experienced by the Palestinians.
• Third, terrorism against Israel got worse after Israel ended its occupation of southern Lebanon and Gaza, as these unoccupied lands became launching pads for rockets, missiles and kidnappings.
• Fourth, while it may be that a brutal occupation may increase the number of people willing to become suicide bombers, it is also true that no suicide bomber ever sent himself. They are sent by well educated, affluent leaders like Osama bin Laden, who do not live in occupied areas but who have terrorized the U.S., Australia, Great Britain and Spain, which do not occupy any Arab lands.
• Fifth, Islamic terrorists have sworn to continue terrorism even if Israel were to end its occupation of the West Bank, as it did of the Gaza Strip and Southern Lebanon. They regard all of Israel as occupied. Even if there were no Israel, terrorism would persist as long as any part of the world is not under Islamic control.
Accordingly, occupation does not cause terrorism. Terrorism is caused by the culture of death preached by radical Islamic clerics and by the world's reaction to it--namely making concessions and blaming the victims of terrorism who fight back. Terrorism persists because it is rewarded--because it works. Occupation does not cause terrorism, but terrorism does cause occupation and reoccupation. Israel would have left Gaza and much of the West Bank long ago if not for the fear of terrorism from that area. It never would have gone into southern Lebanon in 1982 were that area not being used as a base for terrorism. Now Israel has once again entered southern Lebanon to stop rocket attacks and try to retrieve its kidnapped soldiers.
If the international community cannot or will not protect Israel citizens against cross-border rocket attacks, kidnappings and suicide bombings, Israel will have no choice other than some limited and hopefully temporary form of reoccupation to protect itself. Nor will it leave the West Bank unless it can be assured that the areas it leaves will not become launching pads for increased terrorism. Israel is willing to give land for peace, but it is not willing to give land for terrorism. No nation would be willing to be so suicidal.
Most recently, when Israeli forces left Gaza after a two day occupation, a rocket from Gaza hit an Israeli kindergarten, sending eight children to the hospital. This occurred despite leaflets left behind by departing Israeli soldiers warning of dire consequences if rockets were fired from the areas they left. What should Israel do in this situation?
Imagine what the U.S. would have done if Germany or Japan, which it occupied after World War II, persisted in attacking the United States from occupied or recently unoccupied areas. And Germany and Japan do not adjoin our country the way Gaza, the West Bank and Lebanon adjoin Israel.
There is, of course, a difference between civilian settlements and a military presence in a hostile war zone. Regardless of what happens in Lebanon, Israel should begin to dismantle civilian settlements deep in the West Bank that have no military purpose--indeed that divert military resources from areas where they are really needed. But it will be difficult to end completely the military presence--the checkpoints, the teams that search out terrorists, the network of electronic protections--without the assurance of an international force that will be at least as effective in controlling terrorism as the Israeli army has been.
There has been far less terrorism from the occupied West Bank than from the unoccupied south Lebanon and Gaza. That lesson will not be lost on Israelis as they look to the future.
Alan Dershowitz is a professor of law at Harvard. He is the author, most recently, of Preemption: A Knife That Cuts Both Ways. His website is www.alandershowitz.com.