The current wave of terrorism, the most serious and devastating
ever experienced by Israeli society, has affected everyone's daily
routine. Recent statistics show there were 15,298 Palestinian
terror attacks against Israel between September 2000 (the onset of
the al-Aqsa Intifada) and November 2002 (Freund, 2002). However,
politically motivated violence in this region is hardly new - full
scale wars, sporadic clashes and terrorist attacks have been a
constant companion of daily life in this troubled region for more
than 100 years.
Although concern with security is not the only stress factor facing
Israelis (see Landau, 2002), it is definitely the most salient one,
both on the national and individual level, today more than ever.
Public surveys clearly reveal a sharp increase in a personal sense
of insecurity among all citizens (98 percent). Israel's current
economic crisis is closely related to its security-related
problems, adding its negative effect to the public's distress. An
overwhelming majority of Israelis (91 percent) are very worried
about the economic situation (Pulse of the Nation, 2001).
Security Related Stress and Violence: Some Conceptual
Two opposing hypotheses have been proposed regarding the effect of
war and security-related stress on violent crime: the cohesion
hypothesis and the legitimization-habituation hypothesis. The
cohesion hypothesis (based on Coser, 1956 and Simmel, 1955) posits
that outside pressures and threats serve to unify and strengthen
the community and to reduce internal conflict, including in-group
violence. The legitimization-habituation hypothesis (put forward by
Archer and Gartner, 1984) claims the authorized and sanctioned
killing that takes place during war has a depreciating effect on
human life and provides legitimization to acts of aggression and
the perception of violence as a habitual way of behavior. According
to this hypothesis, one should expect an increase in homicide after
A third relevant model (Landau, 1988) postulates that the
prevalence of violent crime in society will be related positively
to the intensity of stress factors, and negatively to the intensity
of social support systems. This model, which incorporates two
important elements for the explanation of violence and aggression -
social stressors and social support systems - predicts that social
support systems will have either a direct effect on, or act as
mediators between, the social stressors and the reactions to which
they are presumed to lead. The basic assumption here is that the
greater the strength and stability of the social support systems,
the greater the ability of the individual and society to cope with
stressful events and situations.
The Effects of Security-Related Stress: Some Empirical
Studies examining the relationship between wars and war-like
situations and crime in Israeli society generally provide support
for the legitimization-habituation hypothesis rather than the
cohesion hypothesis. For example, in one of my studies (Landau
& Pfeffermann, 1988), the number of security-related casualties
had a marginal positive effect on "regular" homicide. It seems
that, in the long run, violence resulting from conflicts with
out-groups ("enemies") is generalized and directed toward in-group
members of society.
At the time of the first Intifada (1987-1993), there was much
public debate regarding its impact on Israeli society. During the
space of five years, up to and including 1992, 2,631 people were
killed in Israel (within the pre-1967 borders) and the territories
under Israeli control (Gaza and the West Bank). Only 17.7 percent
(458 cases) were defined as "regular" (i.e., non-politically
motivated) criminal homicides (Landau, 1994). A strong similarity
was found between the trends of politically motivated ("terrorist")
homicides and "regular" criminal homicides. In addition, a sizable
increase was found in homicides resulting from domestic conflict
within Israel. These findings are not coincidental and can
definitely be interpreted as being related to the increased
exposure of Israelis to violence in the territories, thus lending
additional support to the legitimization-habituation
I have studied extensively the relationship between the subjective
perception of social stress and solidarity factors and crime and
social deviance in Israeli society. The stress indicators in these
studies related mainly to perceptions of the security, economic,
and political situation, and the solidarity indicators related
mainly to the relationship between various groups in Israeli
society (Jews of Eastern and Western origin, religious and secular
groups, new immigrants and veteran Israelis, etc.).
As predicted by the stress-support model, violent crime (homicide
and robbery) and property crime were related positively to most of
the subjective stress indicators and negatively to the subjective
perception of national solidarity (Landau, 1988, 1997, 1998). For
example, the higher the level of security worries or economic
worries, the higher the monthly homicide, robbery, and property
crime rates; conversely, the higher the level of solidarity (good
relations) between Jews of Eastern and Western origin, the lower
the rates of these violent crimes. Another study, using the same
approach and research methods (Landau & Rahav, 1989), yielded
similar results with regard to suicidal behavior, and a study
focusing on mental health (Landau, 1990) revealed that psychiatric
admissions were negatively related to security worries and
dissatisfaction, as well as measures of social solidarity. It seems
the increased social solidarity experienced during times of
security-related stress have a delaying, rather than a healing,
effect on mental help-seeking behavior.
The Brutalization of Interpersonal Relations
Not all possible effects of social stress on life in Israel can be
quantified or scientifically studied and analyzed. Over the years,
security-related stress has become such an integral part of the
Israeli identity and daily routine that sometimes it takes
outsiders to make us aware of this connection. I will focus here on
what I consider to be the most salient aspects of the process of
increased brutalization experienced by Israelis in recent years:
everyday aggressive behavior in the street and behind the steering
wheel, and the proliferation of firearms.
A recent cross-cultural survey on school violence, conducted in 28
industrialized countries, disclosed that half of Israeli students
reported having been victims of verbal or physical violence at
school. Similarly, a substantial proportion of Israeli junior high
school students (about 25 percent of males and 6 percent of
females) reported bringing weapons (knives, clubs, firearms) to
school for self-protection (Sa'ar, 2002). On this measure, Israel
ranked second. There is no doubt that violence in the education
system and among adolescents, in general, reflects the general
level of violence in society.
Nowhere in the public domain is the so-called "Israeli mentality"
more salient than on the road. It seems that all the frustrations
caused by the various stresses experienced by Israelis find their
outlet in reckless driving. Indeed, the number of road accident
casualties (killed and wounded) far exceeds the casualties of all
the wars and terrorist activities in the country's history.
The increased security risks since the outbreak of the Al-Aqsa
Intifada have created an immense demand for personal firearms. When
the next terrorist attack can take place any time, any place, the
possession of a firearm may give many the feeling that, in case of
such an attack, they will not be totally helpless and will succeed
in defending themselves and those around them. Indeed, since the
onset of the current Intifada, there has been a 300 percent
increase in applications for firearm licenses and, in 2001, the
number of firearm licenses granted was 80 percent higher than in
2000 - 4,588 and 2,550, respectively (Landau, 2002).
The proliferation of firearms, however, is a double-edged sword,
since it may also exacerbate the brutalization of Israeli society.
The official policy on this issue oscillates between the obvious
need to minimize the number of licenses to avoid the misuse of
firearms, and real security needs leading to a more liberal policy.
This is a dilemma, with serious arguments on both sides. The
commonly held belief that more firearms in civilian hands will
prevent or decrease the number or severity of terrorist attacks is
not always supported in reality. In some of these attacks,
civilians have fired indiscriminately, endangering bystanders. An
incident on Independence Day this year provides a good example of
the possible misuse of licensed firearms. A trivial dispute between
two impatient drivers stuck in a traffic jam turned bloody, with
one dead and several more wounded, (Navon & Abu Tuama, 2002)
all due to the licensed gun of a veteran security officer.
The Effects of the Current Intifada on Life in Israel
It is too soon to reach valid and final conclusions as to the
long-term effects of the current Intifada on the various aspects of
life in Israel. At this stage, we have more questions than answers.
Nonetheless, the theoretical models and research findings briefly
mentioned here enable us to raise a few hypotheses. First, it is
worth mentioning the most salient changes that have taken place in
Israel since September 2000.
Security Distress: The worsening of the state of security and the
increase in terrorist attacks has brought the feeling of personal
safety to an all-time low. One of the most salient consequences of
this situation is a significant increase in the number of Israelis
suffering mental distress. A recent survey indicates that, in 2001,
almost every third Israeli (30 percent) reported experiencing
mental distress. Among lower-income citizens, this rate was close
to half (47 percent - Milner, 2002).
It is reasonable to assume the situation has only worsened. It
seems this distress is a major reason for the ever-increasing
demand for firearm licenses. A comparative study of 15-year-old
adolescents found that, among those living in settlements in the
occupied territories, about 30 percent suffer from post-traumatic
stress disorder (PTSD), compared to 70 percent among Palestinian
adolescents in refugee camps, and 50 percent among Israeli Arab
adolescents (Rosenblum, 2002). These findings are indicative of the
detrimental long-term effects of security-related stress on the
young generation of both sides.
Economic Hardship: The personal distress experienced by wide
segments of Israeli society is due not only to the security
situation but also to one of its consequences, namely, the economic
crisis and high rate of unemployment. Income inequality between the
top and bottom percentiles in Israel, among the highest in the
world (Dahan, 2002), undoubtedly has a detrimental effect on
The relationship between economic hardship and crime, including
violent crime and other social problems, is among the most
consistent findings. The weaker segments of society, which suffer
most in times of economic crisis, also contribute more than their
share to the prevalence of violent crime, deviant behavior, and
social problems in general. A recent poll (Pulse of the Nation,
2002) showed that, more than two years after the onset of the
Al-Aqsa Intifada, virtually all Israelis are worried about the
state of the economy and the security situation (95 percent and 90
Increase in Social Solidarity: The current situation has had a
visible effect on the relationship between various segments in
society. The danger and threat experienced on the personal, as well
as the collective level, has led to increased solidarity and mutual
support within the Jewish population. This is expressed in several
* An increase in voluntary activities and social support: This
increase relates to the creation of new voluntary frameworks and
the expansion of activities within established ones, in order to
help the security forces and individuals in distress. For example,
members of the ultra-Orthodox community, a segment of society not
usually identified with enrollment in the security forces, have
played a prominent role among the volunteers to the civil guard
(Tsezana, 2002). Due to the increased incidence of mental stress in
large parts of the population, efforts have been made to expand the
availability and accessibility of mental health services in the
community, providing an address for support in times of distress.
The high response rate by reservists called up for emergency
service is another indicator of the increase in social solidarity
resulting from the sense of external threat and the need to
actively cope with it.
* Moderation of rifts within the Jewish population: The increase in
solidarity has, almost by definition, an immediate moderating
effect on the traditional rifts within the Jewish population, as
well as a strengthening of the Jewish identity of this population.
This solidarity is usually short-lived and when security tensions
ease, we are likely to get back to "business as usual," with
structural social divisions resurfacing on the public agenda.
Security-related stress has a cohesive effect in the short run but
an attrition effect in the long run, including the prevalence of
Increase in the Jewish-Arab Conflict Within Israel: Parallel to
increased solidarity in the Jewish community, the division between
the Jewish and Arab community has widened dangerously. Members of
the Arab population, who, for decades have perceived themselves
(justifiably) as a deprived minority have struggled for their
rights over the years (mostly) by non-violent means: by
participating in the democratic processes (elections) on the local
and national level and by exercising their legal rights in courts,
both as individuals and as a collective. The delicate balance
between the Arab and Jewish communities within Israel has become
unsettled since the onset of the Intifada. The natural
identification of many Israeli Arabs with the Palestinian struggle,
and especially the violent events of October 2000, when 13 Arab
citizens were killed by the Israeli police, made the rift
potentially the most dangerous internal social conflict. The
intensity of this conflict stems from its multi-faceted nature;
there are national, religious, cultural and economic divisions.
Each factor is enough to feed a conflict between population groups;
their combination turns this conflict into a particularly acute
Criminal Statistics Data: Comparing the years 2000 and 2001 (i.e.,
the year before and the year after the onset of the Intifada).
Police reports (Israeli Police, 2002) indicate that, with regard to
violence, the most salient changes in 2001 in comparison to 2000
are as follows:
* An increase of 28 percent in criminal homicide (from 135 to
* An increase of 11 percent in robbery (from 1,782 to 1,972).
* An increase of 16 percent in road accident fatalities (from 463
to 537), in spite of a decrease of 8.4 percent in the number of
casualties in these accidents (from 40,278 to 36,877).
A cross-national comparison of road accident fatalities per 10,000
vehicles (for the year 2000) reveals that this rate in Israel (2.5)
is considerably higher than that in many other industrialized
countries, such as the UK (1.2), Switzerland and the Netherlands
(1.4), Germany and Australia (1.5), and Finland (1.6). (Israeli
Police, 2002). A much longer period is needed to ascertain whether
the increase of the level of violence in 2001 represents the
beginning of a consistent upward trend or whether it is just a
sporadic phenomenon. The above increases in violence are in line
with the theoretical models that postulate generalization from
outward-directed to inward-directed violence in society.
It seems all of the elements characterizing the current period are
likely to remain with us in the near future. This period will
undoubtedly leave scars that will last long after the violence
ends. I refer not only to the direct victims, but also to society
as a whole, especially its more vulnerable segments, including
children and adolescents. The most dangerous and potentially
devastating societal cost of the current situation is the immense
increase in animosity and demonization of the "enemy" - on both
sides. Although the emphasis in this paper is on Israeli society,
one cannot avoid mentioning the systematic, vitriolic
anti-Israeli/anti-Jewish messages emanating from the Palestinian
media and the educational system, which include the glorification
of the "martyr" suicide bombing as a noble and sacred act. It is
only natural that a similar (if not as sharp) process is
identifiable on the Israeli side. For example, in a letter written
by an Israeli schoolchild to reserve soldiers, the following
statement was found: "Kill as many Arabs as you can, forget about
the law, and just spray them (with bullets)," (Landau, 2002). As
long as this violent conflict continues in its current form, both
societies will continue to pay heavily in almost every aspect of
Archer, D. and Gartner, R. (1984). Violence and Crime in
Perspective. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press.
Central Bureau of Statistics, (1949-2001). Statistical Abstract of
Coser, L.A. (1956). The Function of Social Conflict. New York: Free
Dahan, M. (2002). Inequality - among the highest in the world.
Haaretz, (Daily), January 15,
Freund, M. (2002). Fifteen thousand and counting....The Jerusalem
Post Internet Edition,
November 19, 2002.
Israeli Police (2002). Annual Report, Internet Edition.
Landau, S.F. (1988). Violent crime and its relation to subjective
social stress indicators: The case of Israel. Aggressive Behavior,
Landau, S.F. (1994). Violent crime in a society at war: Israel and
In: Ramirez, J.M. (Ed.) Violence - Some Alternatives. Madrid:
Landau, S.F. (1997). Crime patterns and their relation to
subjective stress and
support indicators: The role of gender. Journal of Quantitative
Landau, S.F. (1998). Crime, subjective stress and support
indicators, and ethnic
origin: The Israeli experience. Justice Quarterly,
Landau, S.F. (2002). Violence in a society under stress: The case
of Israel, Opening Plenary Lecture at the 2nd International Seminar
on Violence and Adolescence, Tel-Aviv, July, 2002.
Landau, S.F. and Pfeffermann, D. (1988). A time series analysis of
violent crime and its
relation to prolonged states of warfare: The Israeli case.
Landau, S.F. and Rahav, G. (1989). Suicide and attempted suicide:
Their relation to
subjective social stress indicators. Genetic, Social and General
Milner, E. (2002). Every third citizen reports about mental
distress. Yediot Ahronot
(Daily), March 18, 2002. (Hebrew).
Navon, E. and Abu Tuama, F. (2002). The argument about overtaking
ended in a violent
death. Yediot Ahronot Internet Edition (Ynet), April 18, 2002.
Pulse of the Nation (2001). National Public Survey, Kol Israel
Radio Station, Internet
Edition, December 31, 2001. (Hebrew)
Pulse of the Nation (2002). National Public Survey, Kol Israel
Radio Station, Internet
Edition, November 28, 2002. (Hebrew)
Rosenblum, S. (2002). The price of the Intifada: 30 percent of
settlers' children are traumatized.
Yediot Ahronot Internet Edition (Ynet), July 1, 2002.
Sa'ar, R. (2002). Israel is second in the West in carrying weapons
in schools. Haaretz Daily Internet Edition, May 13, 2002.
Simmel, G. (1955). Conflict and the Web of Group Affiliation.
Glencoe, Ill.: The
Tsezana, S. (2002) Ultra-Orthodox, to arms! Maariv Internet
Edition, November, 7, 2002.