Suicidal terror, radical evil, and the distortion of politics and law

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One of the main characteristics of this phase of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the resort by Palestinian groups to suicidal terror. This paper focuses on the unique nature of suicidal terror, since, I believe, it is this kind of terror that presents the most immanent threat to the foundations of politics and law in the free world. The article begins with a phenomenological exploration of the effect of suicidal terror on politics in Israel, inspired by the work of Hannah Arendt. It presents the various manifestations of the suicidal terror as a new Paradigm of Violence. This new paradigm poses a great threat on politics: as the terrorists waive their effort to stay alive, deterrence becomes useless; the Israeli politics, in response, redraws the boundaries of the collective according to demographic lines; the feelings of helplessness reduces politics to personal tragedies giving up on normative arguments and long term policies. Compassion replaces persuasion. The attempt of an organized army to respond effectively to suicidal terror is ridden by the dilemma of effectiveness-legitimacy, that is, the more the response is effective, the more difficult it becomes to retain the distinction between the actions of the army and the actions of the terrorist. Moreover, during the attempt to bring the actions of the army to the review of the court, the legal system itself is infected by the same dilemma. The article examines the response of the Israeli Supreme Court to several petitions that questioned the legality of the means employed by the IDF in its fight against terror. These cases provide a unique opportunity to examine the way in which terror infiltrates into the very legal system that is called upon to respond to it, mainly by changing the legal language. The question that guides my discussion is what effect terror exerts on politics and law, and can law provide a way to resist the destructive influence of terror on the political system.

Original languageEnglish
Article number5
Pages (from-to)132-161
Number of pages30
JournalTheoretical Inquiries in Law
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2004


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