Where should Israel go from here?

Israeli police barrier in Jerusalem (photo credit: wikimedia commons)
Israeli police barrier in Jerusalem (photo credit: wikimedia commons)

“What would you do in New York, Washington, London or Paris if terrorists were attacking people in the streets with knives and meat cleavers? Your policemen would act immediately to prevent it, and that’s what Israeli policemen and doing now!”

That was Netanyahu’s response to the insinuation by U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby:

“We have seen some reports of (Israel’s) security activity that could indicate the potential excessive use of force.”
It appears that Kirby jumped on one case – when a seventeen-year-old Israeli with a problematic record, had stabbed and wounded four Arabs in the town of Dimona. He was immediately arrested.

Secretary Kerry himself refuted Kirby’s comment by saying:

“There is simply no justification for the reprehensible attacks, and we will continue to support Israel’s right to defend its existence.”

This, at least, has cleared the air before the Secretary starts out on another trip to the region to advance ‘Middle East’ peace.

After more than two weeks of spiraling Palestinian terrorism, mainly in Jerusalem, where do things stand? Seven Israelis have been murdered and dozens more wounded. At first stunned by the ferocity of very young Palestinians literally butchering Israeli civilians in the streets, the security forces have introduced new tactics while the government is imposing harsh penalties on the terrorists’ families.

First of all, it is important to put things into proportion. In Jerusalem, most of the attacks have been occurring along the ‘seam line’, where Arab and Palestinian neighborhoods border on one another. However, there have been attacks elsewhere, such as at the Central Bus Station at the entrance to the Capital. In the first days, the country went into a state of shock, but even here in Jerusalem, we who live in the western part, there are almost no Arab neighborhoods and things are pretty calm.

Yesterday when I walked to a super-market there were two tough looking Border Guards near the entrance. Holding their automatic rifles at the ready, they looked pretty cool and ready to cope with anything. They inspired a sense of confidence. When I left a short time later they were gone. I got the impression that security officials have divided the city up into areas with standby SWAT teams ready to go into action almost within seconds of an alert or attack. Otherwise, it’s hard to explain how swiftly they arrive at the scene.

Most secular Israeli men and women have done at least basic military training. In many cases, they jump in even before the cops arrive.

For some time now, the Jerusalem police have very speedy special two-man motorbike teams. Behind the driver, a second policeman ‘rides shotgun’, ready to start shooting while still speeding in and around traffic. These cops are young, slim to ride on motorbikes, look pretty formidable, and drive like hell! Moreover, most secular Israeli men and women have done at least basic military training. In many cases, they jump in even before the cops arrive. In one case caught on TV, a citizen was captured rushing to the bus stop when a terrorist, drove his van at full speed into a bus stop, killing and wounding several; the terrorist then jumped out with a meat cleaver and starting hacking at people. The civilian drew his revolver and shot the attacker who lunged at him with the meat cleaver. The bullet knocked the terrorist down, but he got up again to attack the Israeli, who shot again. He then kicked away the meat cleaver with his foot while keeping his gun on the attacker. It was a textbook example of how to neutralize a dangerous attacker, and looked like it was a depiction of a TV police drama.

In other attacks, Israeli bystanders have also intervened to take down the killers. The classic example of this confrontation is when a thirteen-year-old Palestinian boy stabbed and critically wounded a thirteen-year-old Israeli boy who was riding on his bicycle. The Arab kid was shot but not seriously hurt when he also took a run with his dagger at an Israeli policeman who arrived at the scene. Both boys are being treated in an Israeli hospital. The Israeli is still in intensive care. The Palestinian youth is expected to be released from hospital soon.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas fouled up when he accused Israel of killing Palestinian kids in cold blood and mistakenly used this case as an example. His officials later admitted they had received false information. Nonetheless, Abbas has been trying to make political capital out of the current bloodshed – as usual Israel was all to blame and not his own incitement, like charging that Israel was murdering Palestinian children.

It is also fair to say the panic level did soar in the first days. Downtown Jerusalem was a ghost town – it was only natural that if Muslim teenagers were out looking for victims to stab to death, civilians would not give them easy targets. Therefore, restaurants and shopping centers were nearly deserted and business came to a near standstill. The question on everyone’s lips seem to be, ‘What’s going to be’?!

If the terrorism continues, Israel could totally seal off those neighborhoods with all that that implies.

People are lining up for compulsory gun permits required in order to purchase revolvers. Gun stores were running out of stock. On one day, eight thousand people applied for permits, usually it’s about two hundred. Personally, I’m thinking of also buying a revolver. Meanwhile I have a heavy club in the front seat of my car. The question is, what do you do if you suddenly see a terrorist stabbing someone to death in the street? Or if a berserk Palestinian comes running at you or your family clutching a meat cleaver!

In addition to security steps, the government has kicked in with a number of moves also designed to deter the violence. In east Jerusalem, checkpoints have been set up at the exits of Arab neighborhoods into west Jerusalem. Policemen search the vehicles and check the identity of the occupants. Bear in mind that thousands of Palestinians in Jerusalem have good paying jobs in west Jerusalem. In fact, the terrorist with the meat cleaver who was described previously was a repairman with the Bezeq telephone company.

I also noticed at the checkpoint that most of the cars were in good shape and fairly new. This indicates that the prosperity of these Arab neighborhoods depends on Israel. It was also a warning that if the terrorism continues, Israel could totally seal off those neighborhoods with all that that implies. Anyone who has been to one of Jerusalem’s world-class Jewish hospitals knows that a large number of the patients are Arab. Hopefully, calmer heads in the Arab communities will realize what’s at stake.

The Arab Mayor of Nazareth in Israel, Ali Salaam, is a case in point. The Mayor is incensed with Arab Knesset Members who have literally been inciting to the violence. While driving in his car, he saw one those Arab MKs, Imman Odeh of the United Arab List, being interviewed in the street by a TV reporter. Ali Salaam pulled over and railed at the MK, on camera, charging that Arab politicians were inciting young Palestinians to terrorism and this would destroy the fabric of Arab-Jewish coexistence in Israel. In the Mayor’s words, ‘these cheap politicians in the Knesset are hurting their own people, and Mayors like myself will have to rebuild what they’ve destroyed’. The current strife will obviously deter Jews from buying from Arab businesses or hiring Arabs. Hopefully, if the situation cools off, it will be possible restore these crucial ties.

Initially, the Israeli response has turned from shock at the recognition that some of the Arabs you are living with are ready to stab you to death, if given the chance. This has moved into a phase of anger and resentment. The polls may likely show an in initial swing to taking a hard line and not giving an inch. The question is, how will this play out in the long term? It is possible that in the long run, more and more Israelis will come to realize that what we are experiencing now is a sign of things to come if there is no two-state solution. That it could open the door to the kind of brutal sectarian violence that is sweeping the Middle East at this moment.

Israel can be master of its fate only if it is prepared to withdraw to secure borders and allow the Palestinians to found their own state.

In the future, Israelis will have to decide whether to return to a smaller state, which has been able to make such admirable achievements since its founding by David Ben Gurion in 1948 – a liberal democracy that from its first years of existence won the admiration of the free world. Or they will decide not to budge an inch, and be hurled into a vortex of bloodshed and dissension due to a vast number of Palestinians, who, in essence, want to wipe Israel as it is, off the map. Israel can be master of its fate only if it is prepared to withdraw to secure borders and allow the Palestinians to found their own state. Maybe some good will emerge from the past two weeks, we have heard the wake-up call, but will we listen to it?

It will not be easy. Yasser Arafat tried to wipe out Israel with terror and failed. A much smarter Mahmoud Abbas probably seeks the same objective, but prefers international diplomacy and an imposed solution. He is an old man and wants to literally leave office in one piece. The challenge for Israel is to jettison most of the West Bank and enable the establishment of a Palestinian state, but at the same time to preserve the security requirements necessary to defend itself and deter any aggression in the future. Egypt and Jordan also wanted to destroy Israel. They kept trying until they realized it could not be done.

What it boils down to is Israel adopting a pragmatic approach for survival and giving up the ‘Land of Israel ideology’ that will only lead to even more ferocious terrorism in the future.

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