Following last week’s terror attack in Nice, a Belgian Jewish organization issued a highly unusual statement charging that, had European media not spent months “ignoring” Palestinian terror against Israel out of “political correctness,” the idea of a truck being used as a weapon wouldn’t have come as such a shock. But it now turns out that European officials did something much worse than merely ignoring Palestinian attacks: They issued a 39-page report, signed by almost every EU country, blaming these attacks on “the occupation” rather than the terrorists. The obvious corollary was that European countries had no reason to fear similar attacks and, therefore, they didn’t bother taking precautions that could have greatly reduced the casualties.
The most shocking part of the Nice attack was how high those casualties were: The truck driver managed to kill 84 people before he was stopped. By comparison, as the New York Times reported on Monday, Israel has suffered at least 32 car-ramming attacks since last October, yet all these attacks combined have killed exactly two people (shootings and stabbings are much deadlier). Granted, most involved private cars, but even attacks using buses or heavy construction vehicles never approached the scale of Nice’s casualties. The deadliest ramming attack in Israel’s history, in 2001, killed eight.
Firstly, this is because Israel deploys massive security for mass gatherings like Nice’s Bastille Day celebrations, forcing Palestinian assailants to make do with less densely-populated targets, like bus stops or light rail stops, which greatly lowers the death toll. As an Israeli police spokesman told the New York Times, an Israeli event comparable to the one in Nice would entail “a 360-degree enclosure of the area, with layers of security around the perimeter,” including major roads “blocked off with rows of buses, and smaller side streets with patrol cars,” plus a massive police presence reinforced by counterterrorism units “strategically placed to provide a rapid response, if needed.”
Secondly, Israeli security personnel have no qualms about using deadly force against terrorists in mid-rampage if less lethal means would take longer to succeed because they understand that the best way to save innocent lives is to stop the attack as quickly as possible. This lesson was driven home by a 2008 attack in which a Palestinian plowed a heavy construction vehicle into a crowded Jerusalem street. A policewoman tried to stop him without killing him; she wounded him and then climbed into the cab to handcuff him. But while she was trying to cuff him, he managed to restart the vehicle and kill another person before he was shot dead.
Now consider the abovementioned EU document, first reported in the EUobserver last Friday, and its implications for both those counterterrorism techniques. The document is an internal assessment of the wave of Palestinian terror that began last October, written by EU diplomats in the region and endorsed in December 2015 by all EU countries with “embassies in Jerusalem and Ramallah,” the EUobserver said.
And what did it conclude? That the attacks were due to “the Israeli occupation… and a long-standing policy of political, economic and social marginalisation of Palestinians in Jerusalem,” to “deep frustration amongst Palestinians over the effects of the occupation, and a lack of hope that a negotiated solution can bring it to an end.” This, the report asserted, was “the heart of the matter”; factors like rampant Palestinian incitement and widespread Islamist sentiment, if they were mentioned at all, were evidently dismissed as unimportant.
The report’s first implication is obvious: If Palestinian attacks stem primarily from “the occupation,” there’s no reason to think anything similar could happen in Europe, which isn’t occupying anyone (at least in its own view; Islamists might not agree). Consequently, there’s also no need to learn from Israel’s methods of dealing with such attacks.
In contrast, had EU diplomats understood the major role played by Palestinian incitement—for instance, the endless Internet memes urging Palestinians to stab, run over and otherwise kill Jews, complete with detailed instructions on how to do so—they might have realized that similar propaganda put out by Islamic State, urging people to use similar techniques against Westerners, could have a similar effect. Had they understood the role played by Islamist sentiments—fully 89 percent of Palestinians supported a Sharia-based state in a Pew poll last year, one of the highest rates in the world—they might have realized that similar sentiments among some European Muslims posed a similar threat. And had they realized all this, the crowds in Nice might not have been left virtually unprotected.
No less telling, however, was the report’s explanation for Israel’s relatively low death toll. Rather than crediting the Israeli police for managing to stop most of the attacks quickly, before they had claimed many victims, it accused them of “excessive use of force… possibly amounting in certain cases to unlawful killings.”
If the EU’s consensus position is that shooting terrorists in mid-rampage constitutes “excessive use of force,” European policemen may understandably hesitate to do the same. In Nice, for instance, the rampage continued for two kilometers while policemen reportedly “ran 200 meters behind the truck trying to stop it”; the police caught up only when a civilian jumped into the truck’s cab and wrestled the driver, slowing him down. Yet even then, an eyewitness said, “They kept yelling at him and when he did not step out – they saw him from the window taking his gun out.” Only then did they open fire.
Not everyone shares the EU’s blind spot about Palestinian terror. When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Africa earlier this month, the leaders he met with said openly that one of the main things they want from Israel is counterterrorism assistance. They understand quite well that anti-Israel terror isn’t some unique breed that other countries can safely ignore; terror is terror, and any tactic tried by Palestinians is liable to be quickly imitated by Islamist terrorists elsewhere—from airplane hijackings to suicide bombings and, now, car-rammings.
But European officials, entrenched in their smug belief that anti-Israel terror has nothing to do with the terror they face, are incapable of acknowledging that Israel’s experience might be relevant. And therefore, people died who might still be alive had the lessons of Palestinian terror against Israel been learned.
Originally published in Commentary on July 20, 2016