Explaining terrorism to a Nobel laureate

The world finally has a definitive answer to the age-old question about whether intelligence is the same thing as common sense.

That answer, in case you've ever wondered, is a conclusive "no." Last week Israel Army Radio interviewed Dr. Ada Yonath, professor of structural biology at the Weizmann Institute of Science, on her selection for a Nobel Prize for Chemistry. Dr. Yonath, who uses high powered x-rays to map locations of things I can neither spell, pronounce, nor use in a sentence, is the first Israeli woman ever to win the Nobel in any category.

Yet in this interview, although understandably very excited about her award, she revealed a naiveté remarkable for someone who has lived most of her life in the land of Israel. Since then, similar reports on the interview were published by the Jerusalem Post, YNET News, and Israel National News.

I have watched for some clarification by Dr. Yonath, or some protestation that her words were taken out of context, but so far nothing like that has been forthcoming. However, according to these sources, when the topic turned to 'Palestinian' prisoners and Israeli hostage Gilad Shalit, Dr. Yonath reportedly said the following:

"It's not clear to me why we're holding these Palestinian terrorists, instead of releasing everybody who is [in our jails] from the outset, without any connection to a deal for Shalit. I do not understand why he is there."

Well, that's pretty simple. Staff Sergeant (promoted from corporal since his capture) Shalit is there because he was taken hostage while serving his country. His kidnappers, members of various terror gangs, are the sons of foreigners once given refuge by that same country. Perhaps Dr. Yonath should ask them why he is there.

"Anyone who sits in our jails who is not just a criminal but what we call a terrorist, with or without blood on his hands - and these definitions are also unclear to me - should not be sitting in our custody."

No? Where should they be, then? Out running around loose looking for more victims? Back in the custody of the terror chiefs who trained them for their missions? I am confused by Dr. Yonath's differentiation between "criminals" and "terrorists."

Scientifically speaking, why does one deserve prison for violent offenses while the other does not? Is the murderer who cuts off a stranger's head as a ticket to 'paradise' somehow nicer than the murderer who poisons his wife for insurance money or shoots the store clerk for a drug hit? Does it matter to the victim? As a simple community college intellectual I may have to ponder this conundrum for a while before it sinks it. I'd say we're looking at a long while.

"If we wouldn't have these people here there would be no one to release and no motivation to kidnap."

So Israel should put an estimated 11,000 violent terrorists out on the street on the assumption they won't attack anyone or take hostages? There's nothing else they want that might be attained through those finely honed social skills? By that logic shouldn't we buy our children all the candy they want at the supermarket? That would eliminate tantrums in the checkout aisle, wouldn't it? At least for that shopping trip.

While we're at it, why not just repeal all laws against everything? After all, if there weren't any laws, there wouldn't be any lawbreakers, would there? If she took time to read the PA/FATAH charter penned in 1964 and never repealed, Dr. Yonath would see it calls for the "demolition" of the State of Israel as well as "the eradication of the Zionist economic, political, military and cultural existence." So I guess there is something else they want after all: her country and her heritage.

"When a man sits in our jails for a number of years, and around him friends and family become angry, that is how we create terrorists."

We create terrorists? Not the individuals who commit the crimes in the first place? Anyway, Muslims love incarceration in the cushy West and are constantly finding innovative ways to break in -- not out -- of Western detention facilities. On Oct. 3 the Daily Mail reported that Pakistani Salman Mukat made a hoax bomb threat to try to prevent his deportation from the UK, shutting down one airport and putting three others on red alert. There was no bomb, it later turned out, just an asylum seeker who didn't want to go home. In September one female prisoner released in exchange for the Shalit video was a 15-year-old serving time for attempted murder of an Israeli soldier -- but not attempted very hard. Her parents, she explained, were forcing her to marry a man 20 years her senior. "I therefore decided to head to the checkpoint and do anything that would get me arrested," she said.

"I could be dreaming ... "

This is one of only two opinions in the interview that I agree with.

"You could give other punishments, no need to hold them here."

The "other punishment" I have in mind, however, is the traditional Israeli one for premeditated murder, going back now, oh, about 3,500 years. "An eye for an eye" might blind a few people, but it sure would work wonders on the recidivism rate. That way "terrorists" with truly extenuating circumstances -- like a coerced young kid who cooperates with the police, or the teenage girl trying not to actually hurt anyone while escaping a forced marriage -- could be shown some leniency on a case-by-case basis. And the rest could be put where they couldn't victimize anyone anymore, or kidnap soldiers to use as pawns.

Marylou Barry is a columnist and children's book author. Visit her blog at Marylou's America and her bookstore at House with the Light Books.
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