A Jewish Week reader called on Tuesday morning to express his sadness, outrage and frustration over the increasingly frightening wave of violent attacks by Arabs against Jews in Israel. The caller said he had just spoken with a relative in Israel who had made aliyah. She told him that her young children are unable to sleep at night and are fearful of going outside. How is it possible, he wondered, that a state founded to ensure the security of Jews finds itself in a situation where people live in constant worry.
That is the effect of a new yet primitive wave of Palestinian terror, the intimate and personal violence of stabbing innocent men, women and children with knives, along with other weapons. It’s bad enough when much of the world shrugs its shoulders at the murders of innocent civilians. But it’s far worse, outrageous even, when there is a widespread implication in the Western world that somehow Israelis are to blame when they seek to thwart those who attack them with murderous intent.
Headlines too often proclaim how many Palestinians were killed by Israeli soldiers without noting the context. For example, a recent New York Times story included this sentence: “As the bodies have piled up over the past week — four Israelis killed in two Palestinian attacks, four Palestinians slain by Israeli troops — people here have been nervously debating whether they are witnessing the onset of a third intifada.”
What the article failed to mention in its attempt at even-handed treatment is that three of the four Palestinian fatalities came about when the assailants were murdering Jewish civilians; the fourth, as reported by Camera, the pro-Israel media watchdog, occurred during a violent Palestinian riot when an IDF bullet “aimed at the foot of the riot leader ricocheted off the ground and hit the victim in the chest.”
Descriptions of this new outbreak as another chapter in the longstanding “cycle of violence” are infuriating to many Israelis. In a poignant graveside eulogy for his brother and sister-in-law, Eitam and Naama Henkin, who were shot down in their car in front of their young children, Yagil Henkin asserted “Israel has no war on terror. … And similarly Eitam and Naama were not murdered by a passing car firing at them. These are all methods. Not enemies. Terror is a tool. … Do not fight terror; fight those who dictate it.” (See page 23.)
But the government in Jerusalem is in a bind because Israel is a democracy struggling to ensure the safety of its citizens. Collective punishment, such as imposing curfews on Arab neighborhoods, particularly east Jerusalem, may be effective in the short term for security reasons. But such actions lead to more resentment and sense of inequality within the Arab population.
Whether or not the current situation qualifies as a “third intifada,” the sense of fear and anxiety among Jewish citizens is palpable and real.
The tragic irony here is that this latest outbreak of bloodshed began because of a false rumor that Israel was going to permit Jewish prayer at the Temple Mount. One might well ask why Jews shouldn’t pray at their holiest site. But it was Defense Minister Moshe Dayan’s decision made in the midst of a heady Six-Day War victory in 1967, which brought all of Jerusalem into Jewish hands for the first time in many centuries. Dayan prohibited Jews from praying at the Temple Mount so as to avoid a religious war between Jews and Muslims over access to the spot sacred to both religions.
That policy has held fast for almost five decades, a powerful sign of Israeli self-restraint. Yet here we are: Innocent blood is spilled by Palestinians bent on “saving” their mosque from the Jews. And while Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has not specifically called for violence, he has made statements in recent weeks that come awfully close, such as: “Al Aqsa mosque is ours. They [Jews] have no right to defile it with their filthy feet.” Or, “We bless every drop of blood spilled for Jerusalem, which is clean and pure blood, blood spilled for Allah.”
Yet Abbas gets a pass from Western leaders while the onus is on Israel — for using force to defend its people under attack and for not pushing harder for negotiations — ignoring the fact that the Palestinian leadership has never shown an authentic willingness to make peace.
We join all decent people in praying for an end to the needless deaths even as we insist on what our Tuesday phone caller demanded: the right of Jews to live securely in their own state.