Friday April 1, 2022 – כ״ט אַדָר ב׳ תשפ״ב
This has been a terrible week and a very challenging month of March. Three brutal terrorist attacks in a span of 7 days have claimed the lives of 11 people. Aside from Operation Shomer Homot in May 2021, this string of terror has been the worst case of violence Israel has seen in several years.
This week we saw a Bedouin man connected to ISIS kill four people on a murderous rampage, two people killed in Hadera, and another 5 people killed in Bnei Brak, including two Ukrainian citizens.
Alas, these attacks reverberate throughout Israel beyond the devastating loss of life. They act as re-traumatizing triggers – bringing us back to -March 2002 – exactly 20 years ago this month – when Israel experienced a host of deadly attacks causing fear and anxiety, disrupting daily life. Israelis don’t forget so easily.
What do these attacks have in common and what can we understand about them? For one thing, they seem to be designed to call attention to the cause of the Palestinian people.
Events in Ukraine certainly overshadowed the Middle East Summit hosted in the Negev by Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid. But, that summit should, nonetheless, be seen as an extremely significant development. As Lapid and the American Secretary of State met with Foreign Ministers from Bahrain, Morocco, and the UAE, many people asked: “Where were the Palestinians?” Why do these efforts seem to bypass their involvement?
While Arab and American leaders showed up in Israel, Palestinians were protesting for Land Day and praising the ISIS terrorist. According to Al-Jazeera, Umm Musab Abdel-Al, a 45-year-old mother of seven, said that she joined the protests with her children to strengthen their attachment to Palestine, sending “Greetings to all our people in the West Bank, in the 1948 territories, and in the Naqab [Negev], and a salute for the soul of the martyr Diaa Hamarsha.”
Hard to say how representative she is, but I would venture to guess that she is not an outlier. Haaretz journalist Noa Landau claimed that “the enhanced normalization between Arab countries and Israel doesn’t mean we can now ignore the Palestinians, but rather, that the burden of finding a solution now weighs on us more than ever.”
She’s not wrong, however, we must ask what agency do the Palestinians have here?
My heart goes out to the Palestinian people, it really does. But, for years their strategy has been calling for an end to Israel and claiming that all the Land is theirs. What would happen if they adopted a different strategy? Instead of lashing out at their supposed Arab brethren and whining that ‘we are supposed to stick together,’ why not just show up to the party? Make a big splash entrance and force the spotlight on them.
Instead of going to sulk in the corner claiming that they are being ignored, perhaps the Palestinians could shift to controlling the normalization narrative. The Palestinians need to open their eyes and take note that, despite their greatest efforts to get Israel condemned on the world stage and include Israel as the key example of settler colonialism, the great evil of the last half-millennia, Israel is seen by most of its neighbors and other Arab states as a natural regional partner in the areas of security and intelligence, and on economic and trade affairs.
Perhaps, the Palestinians could persuade the Bahrainis and Emiratis that maybe a year ago wasn’t the right time with the right leaders to make demands, but now is the time to: make Lapid’s proposed Gaza makeover a reality; demand an airport in Ramallah; and let Gulf money flow legitimately towards building a Palestinian high-tech sector and not just suitcases of cash from Qatar.
The Netanyahu doctrine – that Israel need not solve the Palestinian problem nor end the occupation in order to be accepted in the region – is proving to have won out over the Kerry doctrine which maintained the opposite, that the status quo is not sustainable and that a two-state solution is the only way that the Palestinians can attain sovereignty and justice, Israel can remain Jewish and democratic, and security can better be assured for both peoples.
The Palestinians must realize that the Arab world was never actually a champion for their cause and that this current Israeli coalition is politically paralyzed in moving forward with any meaningful progress (even if stasis is preferable to many plausible but less attractive situations, like having a right-far right government that would push for more building in West Bank / Judea and Samaria and for Annexation of territory). That means that Palestinians must rethink their approach.
I don’t mean to suggest that Israel is without a significant role here. Israel is also finding it perfectly convenient to host a series of summits sans Palestinians. There seems to be little negative consequence in the regional and international community for maintaining military rule over lands conquered in 1967, now going into its 55th year. And yet, as any parent of young children knows, we try to reward positive behavior, and not negative.
Right now, terror on the streets of Israel’s cities will only have a widening deleterious effect. Jewish Israelis will resort to suspicion and mistrust which is dangerous and can lead to fracturing the fabric of Israeli society. As Rabbi Joe Schwartz of the Jewish Agency for Israel commented:
“A functioning society depends above all on trust. And when social trust frays, the first to suffer are minorities. The immediate victims of terror are the innocents whose lives it takes. But next in line are innocent members of the terrorists’ community.”
The residents of the Negev Bedouin town of Hura were petrified of retaliation as a consequence of recent terrorist attacks on Israelis. In one bloody afternoon, one unhinged individual can ruin years of progress towards peaceful co-existence. Jewish Israelis will become testy, fear-driven, isolated, and defensive. The old talking points about security and terrorism being the reason that progress towards a two-state solution is impossible will be pulled out of the desk drawer, dusted off, and polished with a shiny new look. People around the Western world will be asked what they would do if someone opened fire at their local supermarket or outside a shopping mall.
In fact, this time will be worse. Extremist MKs, such as Itamar Ben Gvir, likely will insist on hitting the Palestinians where it hurts by flaunting his ability to ascend the Temple Mount and walk around the Al-Aqsa Mosque – touching a raw nerve, which will ignite more protests and violence. And God forbid that Israel should be seen as capitulating to terror but not granting him access. PM Bennett has already proclaimed that citizens who have a license to carry a weapon ‘should do it [carry their gun] now,’ – what could go wrong??? Just think of the tragic murders of Trayvon Martin and Ahmaud Arbery at the hands of gun-toting citizens, and we ought to shudder at the potentially violent consequences. And yet, we must commend the last week’s standoff which featured a heroic bus driver who used his own weapon, as a last resort, to end the murderous rampage. Given that the terrorists were Israeli citizens and Palestinians from the territories, security forces have to be bolstered, but Israel should not rely on citizens as its security forces.
This Shabbat we will celebrate Rosh Hodesh Nisan, the first month of the year. In two weeks’ time, we’ll sit around our Pesach seders – some for the first time in-person in two years. This weekend also begins the Islamic month of Ramadan, often a tension-filled month, in which worshippers flock to Islam’s third holiest site – the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem.
Sadly, cries of “Death to the Arabs” are being heard once more in public. We must remember that such calls are no less racist this week than they were last week. We all need to be reminded that the majority of Israeli Arab and Jewish society wishes to live side by side in peace with each other.
As Nisan comes in, we are reminded by the Song of Songs that:
“הַנִּצָּנִים נִרְאוּ בָאָרֶץ עֵת הַזָּמִיר הִגִּיעַ וְקוֹל הַתּוֹר נִשְׁמַע בְּאַרְצֵנוּ”
“Flowers appear on Earth, and the time of singing has come, and the voice of doves is heard throughout our Land.” (2:12)
More than a decade after the Arab Spring, what will this Spring be? Will it be a time of singing or a time of mourning? We can only hope for the former.
Shabbat Shalom and Hodesh Tov!
 It is important to point out that the ability to procure a gun license in Israel is far more difficult than in the U.S.