Friday, January 1, 2016

Don't just treat the symptoms

Don't just treat the symptoms

71% of Israelis are not satisfied with the government's response to the current terror wave. Something can be done.

By Dr. Jacob L. Freedman

The wave of terror sweeping Israel must be stopped.  The past few months have seen well over a thousand incidents of Arab terrorism resulting in the deaths of dozens of individuals with hundreds of others injured.  Tragically, very little has been done to end this atrocious violence.

Various officials have made headlines with strong words and rhetoric.  On December 14th 2015, an Arab resident of Jerusalem drove his car into a bus stop, wounding fourteen people including a toddler whose leg required amputation.  In response, the Israeli government defiantly decided to spend approximately two million shekels to place protective barriers at 300 bus stations around the capital,

When a rash of shootings, stabbings, and car attacks on the highways of the Gush Etzion region resulted in enough casualties—including the death of American Yeshivah Student Ezra Yechiel Schwartz—that it could no longer be ignored, security officials instituted a bold plan of action.  To protect entire towns of terrified citizens, it was suggested that the most frequently targeted roads be closed for cars that did not posses Israeli license plates.  But unfortunately even this measure was quickly undone due to a wave of counter protests.

While many plans have been executed in response to individual terror attacks, the root cause has yet to be addressed.  In considering this I am reminded of a fundamental rule learned during my training as a physician: don't just treat the symptoms, treat the underlying disease.  For example, every parent knows that Tylenol will bring a fever down overnight and stop a screaming infant, but only a visit to the pediatrician in the morning will get the antibiotics necessary to treat an ear infection.

As a psychiatrist working with patients on a "dual-diagnosis unit,” many of my patients are dealing with substance abuse issues in addition to primary mental illnesses.  Some developed chemical addiction and subsequently found themselves with a variety of anxiety-provoking and depressing financial, social, and legal problems.  Others developed substance abuse problems while self-medicating a preexisting depression or anxiety disorder.  For the first group of folks, the key is to complete a medical detoxification and then to help them pick up the pieces to begin a new sober life.  Treating the second group is significantly more complex.  If their underlying mental illness remains uncontrolled, a patient’s risk of relapse remains profound no matter how many times they are able to get clean.

This is how I've come to view the fundamental problem with the Israeli government's response to Arab violence.  Israel is constantly relapsing on terrorism and these past few months are just another episode in a history that spans decades.  But rather than attempt to treat the underlying cause of terrorism, Israel is further addicted to anemic responses aimed at providing a momentary calm until the next disaster.  As Harvard University professor Dr. Kenneth Levin so aptly described in his 2005 book—The Oslo Syndrome: Delusions of a People Under Siege—many have become traumatized into the delusional belief that there isn't any effective long-term solution to Arab terror.

Fortunately this isn't the case.  In identifying the root causes of Arab terror, a radically different approach can be taken.  Certainly this requires significant courage, but it is not unreasonable or impractical.  Consider the following examples:

The Palestinian Authority continues to both fund and incite terror including such unconscionable acts as financially supporting the families of suicide bombers.  Instead of shaking hands with its leader Mahmoud Abbas at the recent Paris Summit on Climate Change, Prime Minister Netanyahu could order the IDF to raze his compound and have him charged for his crimes against humanity.

Whereas families of Arab terrorists can still receive state benefits including welfare, housing subsidies, and tuition vouchers, concrete measures to deport family members of Arab terrorists—especially those who praise the acts of these monsters—should be enforced immediately.

But most importantly, efforts must be made to strengthen Jewish Identity.  Unless we are resolute in our belief that we are here for a purpose, we will end up being somewhere else without a purpose.  Promoting Jewish education and expanding Jewish settlement—most importantly doing it together with all of Am Yisrael for the sake of Jewish unity—are the only ways to treat the underlying condition that continues to threaten the Jewish people.

Jacob L. Freedman, MD, is a board-certified psychiatrist practicing in Boston, Massachusetts, and a former student of Yeshiva Aish HaTorah in Jerusalem. In addition to his work as a clinical psychiatrist, Dr. Freedman has worked as a healthcare and a risk-management consultant. He can be most easily reached at: