A Voice for Terror's Victims
El Congreso Internacional sobre Víctimas del Terrorismo | 13th-14th February 2006
Palacio de Congresos de Valencia -
Ladies and Gentlemen:
organizers of this magnificent congress – and of the two previous
gatherings in Madrid and Bogota in which many of us were privileged to
take part - have created something beautiful, and moving. A meeting
place. A solemn, dignified, respectful assembly. A celebration of our
humanity and of our survival.
is not beautiful to be a victim of terror. It is not romantic. It is not
transcendental and it is not heroic. It is not like the movies. It is a
nightmare and the deepest, most painful tragedy that most people will
ever experience in their lives.
The Madrid Declaration of 2004
states the matter in a clear way:
is never justifiable... Whatever its form, terrorism is always an unjust
and unjustified, cruel, abominable and repulsive crime. It is an affront
to the most basic rights of individuals and communities.“
It is not reasonable to be a victim of terror.
It is one of the most unreasonable things that can happen to a person.
We became victims because of someone else’s anger, someone else’s fight,
someone else’s value system, someone else’s religion. We did not consent
to become victims. We were not asked to consider the other person’s
viewpoint, and we were not persuaded. We became victims entirely against
our will, by surprise and with no preparation.
process of becoming a victim makes very little sense to those of us who
have experienced it. But the societies in which we live seek to
understand terror. They try to get to the bottom of the anger and the
hatred which animate terror by looking for root causes that explain it,
that rationalize it. We have seen this done by journalists, by
politicians, by community leaders, by our own neighbors.
As much as we find this painful and offensive, we must
admit that it stems from a basic human need for explanation.
to understand, to find an explanation for the inexplicable and the
irrational, has an interesting psychological basis. A distinguished
scholar of social psychology from Harvard University once carried out a
study – an experiment to try to understand our need to understand the
walked up to a line of people standing next to a copying machine. They
were waiting patiently for their turn to make copies. In a loud voice,
she said to the person at the front of the line: “Excuse me, I have
five pages. May I use this Xerox machine?” She did this repeatedly,
and on average some 60 per cent of the people she asked complied and let
her push to the front.
modified her approach with some other groups standing at other copying
machines. Now she said: “Excuse me, I have five pages. May I use the
Xerox machine because I'm in a rush.” On average, this was a much
more effective approach - 94 per cent of the people in the line let her
go to the front. For most people, “I’m in a rush” sounds like a
good reason to ask to be treated differently. It makes some sense.
interesting results came when she used the following words with some
other people waiting patiently in line. “I have five pages. May I use
the Xerox machine because I must make some copies.” Although this
was a deliberately nonsensical claim, it worked with 93 per cent of the
people in the line. In other words, the nonsense explanation and the
plausible explanation achieved about the same result. They persuaded
more than 90% of the people.
not the quality of the explanation she gave that caused strangers to
accept her request for preferential treatment. It was the mere fact that
she gave a reason at all, and that she asserted it with complete
an important insight in this famous experiment. People are desperate to
understand why things happen, to make sense of a given situation even
when the reason offered to us is unreasonable, and even when it makes no
sense at all. Some of these lines of people were in universities and
public libraries. So we can guess that they were not all ignorant or
foolish. They may have been similar to many of us sitting here today in
difficult and dark days, when wave after wave of terror have fallen onto
civilized communities and onto pleasant and innocent families, this need
for an explanation has let us down. It has placed us in a dangerous
situation where society and its important institutions – in particular
the mass communications media and the political sector – have failed us.
In some cases, I believe they have even become accomplices of the
practitioners of terror.
explain what I mean by referring to two examples. First I would like to
look at how the most important global organization in the world is
dealing with terrorism. I am speaking of the United Nations.
committee of the United Nations has been trying for the past nine years
to write a convention against terrorism. For ordinary people like us,
this does not sound like the most difficult thing for lawyers and
diplomats to do. We know that terrorism means the deliberate targeting
of civilians for injury and death. But there is an international
association of states – I will not name it – comprising some
countries, nearly 30% of the 191 member states of the United Nations.
For nine years, this association has frustrated the writing of the
United Nations anti-terror convention by insisting that terrorism must
be defined not by the nature of the act but by its
purpose. If an act is done in the cause of “national
liberation” then this important group of states believes the act is not
definition is not at all interested in how barbaric that
act may be. Or how random. Or how defenseless and innocent the victims.
neither a diplomat nor a politician. But I have consulted with some
academic experts and it is clear to me what this means. It means that
terrorism when it is done for a bad cause is bad. Terrorism when
it is done for a good cause is good. An individual citizen, a
diplomat, a journalist or a country which holds to this view is
not against terrorism at all but simply opposed to bad
effect of this regimented attention to semantics is that in its entire
history the United Nations has failed time and time again to express an
unequivocal condemnation of terrorism.
after the terrible events of 9/11, Mr Kofi Annan, the Secretary-General
of the United Nations, proposed some compromise language which condemned
terrorism unambiguously while still reaffirming the right of
self-determination. But he failed to persuade those 57 countries.
again in 2004 after the tragic massacre of school-children at Beslan in
Russia. But two of the countries that were members of the Security
Council at that time – I am referring to Pakistan and Algeria, both of
which are members of that group of 57 – again demanded a watering-down
of the language before they would give it their support. The
condemnation of terrorism was again abandoned.
months ago, the UN picked up the issue one more time. A special UN
committee with the grand title of “High Level Panel on Threats,
Challenges and Change” formulated this definition:
“Any action constitutes terrorism if it is
intended to cause death or serious bodily harm to civilians or
noncombatants with the purpose of intimidating a population or
compelling a government or an international organization to do or
abstain from doing any act.”
months ago, it was reasonable to expect that lessons had been learned
from the attacks of the terrorists in Bali, Madrid, Beslan, London,
Baghdad, Jerusalem and so many other places. Two of the most important
Islamic representatives, one from Pakistan and one from Egypt, were
among the many public figures who gave this language their explicit
support. Mr Annan must have been confident when he included it among the
proposals he sent to the major summit of United Nations member states in
failed. At the last minute, the clear language of the definition which I
read to you a moment ago was removed from the resolution – taken out and
thrown away. The reason was the same one as before: the unrelenting
objection of that same association of 57 states.
To dismiss this depressing chain of events by calling it
a difference of opinion over definitions is to miss the
point. There is an actual, practical life-and-death question here which
we, assembled here in this hall, are uniquely placed to answer: Is
it ever legitimate to target women, children and other noncombatants?
For nations comprising some 30 per cent of the United Nations, the
answer – tragically, astonishingly - is yes.
daughter Malki was 15 when the terrorists came for her in Jerusalem. She
was a musician and a youth leader. She loved to work as a volunteer with
disabled children. Everyone who knew her remembers the smile which was
so large it left almost no room for her eyes.
this mattered to the terrorists.
the men and women who murdered my child are in prison in Israel. Others
are alive and well and free and active. Some of them have even become
newly-elected members of parliament – not the parliament of my country
but the parliament of the neighbour with whom we desperately want to
live in peace.
brings me to the matter of the communications media.
I am a
person who reads newspapers and magazines intensely, mostly through the
Internet. Since the death of my daughter Malki, I read them carefully
and I pay close attention to the words they use. You may have noticed
that the media seldom use the word “terrorist”. Instead, the men and
women who kill innocent civilians in restaurants, who place bombs on
train carriages and buses, who stab and beat children in kindergartens
and playgrounds – these are called fighters, activists, protesters,
militants, insurgents, anything except what they actually are:
murderers, terrorists, barbarians.
believe that this avoidance of plain and clear language happens because
journalists, editors and publishers are unsure, themselves, of what
terrorism is. They need to hear our voices. They need to understand – to
really understand – that terrorism is not some kind of romantic
struggle for dignity. It is not a noble alternative form of warfare. It
is the purest, most physical expression of hatred and intolerance.
Madrid Declaration ends with a reminder that the struggle to defeat
terrorism unites civilized people from every country in humanitarian
victims of terrorism we do not want revenge or retaliation. What we do
want is freedom for future generations from the suffering that,
unfortunately, so many of us have had to endure either directly or
indirectly in finding that one day we had become victims of the cruelty
of these criminals. We are convinced that by standing side by side,
government leaders and everyday citizens, with our determination and
teamwork, we can overcome the suffering and breathe life into the hope
for a better world.
This message has an echo in Jewish traditional
literature, in the Midrash and the Talmud. It is expressed this way:
“He who is compassionate to the cruel will
ultimately become cruel to the compassionate”.
כל המרחם על אכזרים
סופו שהוא מתאכזר לרחמנים
wisdom of this statement is as great today as when it was first
transmitted from teacher to student, nearly two thousand years ago.
cruelty of terrorism has become a strange kind of secret. Many
politicians are too frightened to speak about it by name. And many in
the communications media prefer to hide from it by the use of euphemisms
and explanations which explain nothing. We, who understand better than
everyone else the cruel and barbaric nature of terrorism and the high
price which civilized society pays for its continuation, we the victims,
must stand together. We have a solemn obligation – in the name of
compassion - to remind our neighbors and our leaders that the vision of
a better world demands an uncompromising struggle. A struggle to bring
terror to an end. To stop the terrorists by every possible means.
merciful to terror and to terrorists, we are being intolerably cruel to
ourselves, our children and our society.
protect the principles and values of a civilized and tolerant society,
it is imperative that our voices – the voices of the victims of terror,
the inspirational words of the Madrid Declaration – be heard in the
United Nations, in the media, in our own governments and in every public