Jenin and Rahat prove again and again: Poverty isn’t the cause of terror

Researcher at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security, former chief of staff for Israel’s ambassador to the USA.

Yifa Segal
June 1, 2022

As is well known, Jenin has always been a stronghold of Palestinian terrorism. Not only against Jews, but as long ago as the anti-British Arab Revolt of 1936–39. The State of Israel experienced the worst of it in the Second Intifada, when most of the suicide bombers came out of Jenin.

For two decades, since the Second Intifada, Israel has been working to afford the Palestinians economic growth. The assumption has been that a better life eliminates the motivation for making war — because then they have no anger, they have no jealousy, and they have something to lose.

One of the areas with the biggest economic growth in recent years is Jenin. Thanks to its location in northern Samaria, close to the Galilee, and the ability of Israeli Arab citizens to cross in from Israeli territory for shopping and recreation in the city, Jenin has turned into a prosperous, well-developed tourist destination. That burgeoning reached its peak in recent years; it declined under the coronavirus just as everywhere in the world; and it has bounced back during the last year.

In the past month, we’ve met again with the murderousness of Jenin. The nests of terror, the fervor, the weaponry. If we dive deeper and examine the list of Palestinian Authority officers and officials, who came and paid condolences to the father of the terrorist who perpetrated the terrible attack in Tel Aviv, we can understand that such a terrorist is more closely associated with the norm than with the exceptions in the city’s population.

In recent days, we’ve witnessed terrorism in the streets of Rahat. Rahat has received more investment than any other place in the Bedouin sector. A five-year plan is currently being implemented there, including heavy investment in infrastructures and housing, culture and commerce. And it’s then, of all times, that we see scenes of complete anarchy and of shooting at public buildings in broad daylight. The situation in Rahat is another proof, like Jenin, that the economically based paradigm is wrong. But nonetheless, the debate continues. On the one hand, certain parties in the government and the IDF continue to claim that more work permits and more economic aid will reduce terror, while on the other hand Israel Security Agency experts insist that such conclusions are in error.

As long ago as2007, Alan Krueger — an influential American economist —demonstrated, in a study of the economic roots of terror, that not only does poverty not spur terror but on the contrary, it is among the poorest populations that support for terror is the lowest. Moreover, terror in its more sophisticated forms requires resources and knowhow; and in this connection as well, the research shows that most senior terrorists come not from the poor families but from the prosperous families.

That demonstrates, once more, the severe mistake underlying the assumption that economic improvement prevents terror. However, we still hear calls from security figures and public representatives that Israel must assist the Palestinians economically and then they will renounce the path of violence.

How much blood must be spilled, how many lives destroyed, before that assumption is abandoned? Its strength may derive from international pressure, mostly from Europe and the USA, repeating the claim that the great gap between the Israeli and Palestinian economies is what aggravates the conflict and underlies the motivation for terror. Europe, of all places — where huge gaps separate the nations — should understand that if there is willingness for peace and cooperation, then even a European Union can be created and peace can come true. In short, the roots of hatred and terror are not economic.

In order to stamp out terror, we must take dual action. We must set up carrot-and-stick mechanisms that are more sophisticated. Give assistance, make life easier, and cultivate strength for those who clearly stand outside the cycles of hatred and violence. In parallel, impose harsher punishment for all acts of terror, for support of terror, for distributing candies after Jews are murdered, for every post on social media. All benefits must be denied to every family in the cycle of incitement and terror. No good-will gestures, no entry permits or work permits. The cause and effect must be clear, with an end to the system of “Have you killed, and also taken possession?” — an end to the policy based on the false assumption, or perhaps the hope, that may be all these boons will eventually persuade even the brainwashed people to prefer the path of normalization. It doesn’t work, and a hope is not a policy.

Those on the receiving end learn that they can receive more. Those who receive from the enemy understand that the enemy, weak as it is, can be overcome by continuing pressure and violence. Only a clear policy that distinguishes between those involved and uninvolved in terror, while waging persistent war and breaking the spirit of the terrorists and their supporters, with no compromise and no good-will gestures to them, will defeat violence.

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