The “lone-wolf” stabbings, shootings and other actions by individuals designed to kill Israelis are not a new phenomenon. Nor are they “popular” responses to settlements, poor living conditions or alienation due to the “occupation.” They are an extension of the conflict with the Arabs that preceded the creation of the Jewish state.
Over the past year, incitement from the Palestinian Authority has intensified, matching that of Hamas, stoking the fires of religious fanaticism based on fabricated hysteria alleging that Jews plan to demolish Al-Aqsa mosque. PA President Mahmoud Abbas shamelessly directs this campaign of hatred, accusing Jews of “defiling Al-Aqsa mosque with their filthy feet,” praising the “holy blood” of the “martyred” killers and condemning Israel for “murdering” the terrorists.
The objective is clear. The PA — which still endorses a two-state policy when it communicates with Western countries — today unequivocally exhorts its constituents to promote the elimination of any Jewish entity and demands the establishment of a Muslim state incorporating all territory from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River.
The successful outcome of the incitement is reflected in Palestinian polls which indicate that 67% support the stabbings and killing of Jews and believe that this serves the Palestinian national interest and 48% regard the goal of the intifada as the destruction of the Jewish state.
In the past three months, over 25 Israeli civilians and 130 Palestinian terrorists have been killed.
What is frustrating is that the new genre of killers overwhelmingly comprise religious fanatics stirred into a frenzy by their leaders and mullahs to kill Jews with the promise of entry into Paradise as glorious martyrs. Many are teenagers, they include females, and they are virtually impossible to anticipate through conventional intelligence sources.
Terrorism will never be the undoing of the state and we have overcome far tougher challenges in the past.
But there is no sign of this terror abating, but rather predictions that it could intensify. It has already had a massive negative impact on tourism.
The numbers are still far less than casualties from road accidents. But each victim of terror has traumatic implications on the national psyche and is mourned by the entire nation. No matter how resilient Israelis may be, the indefinite extension of an atmosphere in which one is fearful when walking down the street or distressed by a constant stream of terrorist incidents is depressing.
Unfortunately, there are no obvious solutions. To deal with the duplicitous Abbas and the PA is not simple. Despite the incitement to kill, because it fears a Hamas takeover, the PA does prevent public uprisings and maintains internal order. The Israel Defense Forces understandably seeks to maintain this status quo because it has no desire to reoccupy Palestinian cities in order to maintain a semblance of authority.
This current untenable situation requires new approaches and strategies.
For a start, we should try to behave rationally. The decision by the Israeli Medical Association to instruct its members to give priority to wounded terrorists who seem to be in worse condition than their victims is bizarre. It explicitly calls on Israeli medical officials to blur the distinction between a murderer and his victim. It reflects a total lack of a moral compass. Could one visualize doctors being instructed to give priority to Nazi concentration guards in worse condition than their former captives? A terrorist murderer is surely no better.
Likewise, repeated warnings to security forces to take maximum precautions to avoid mortally injuring killers as they seek to murder Israelis may inhibit security officers and lead to tragic consequences. We are not engaged in a friendly sport or acting as chivalrous knights. When a terrorist seeks to murder an Israeli, the instruction should be shoot to kill.
Another infuriating action is the return of the bodies of the killers to their families. The IDF has been persuaded by Palestinian security forces that withholding the bodies generates enormous rage and leads to greater unrest. Yet despite repeated assurances by the families that funerals of terrorists will be low profile events, the horrific mass gatherings and anti-Israeli incitement calling for intensified terror that occurs at such funerals are surely worse than the anger generated when the bodies are not returned. We are dealing with frenzied murderers of innocent civilians, not soldiers or fighters. Handing over their bodies for funerals that become hate fests against Israel and that glorify the murderers as heroes should be terminated.
There is a need to explore further means of deterrence beyond demolishing the homes of the perpetrators’ immediate families.
The IDF has a good track record of pursuing and apprehending terrorists who are not “neutralized” instantly. However, the IDF concern to avoid direct occupation of the West Bank if the PA collapses makes it difficult to force Abbas to cease his incitement. Taking into account the overwhelming support for terrorist acts by Palestinians, the government could perhaps consider some collective punitive responses when Abbas or his leaders launch extreme calls to incitement. But easier said than done.
Closing the borders for a day or more to deny entry to Palestinian laborers would be painful but would cause unjustified hardship to the more moderate Arabs.
Consideration should perhaps be given to now formally annexing the major settlement blocs. This would also make it easier for the IDF to close borders should it be obliged to reoccupy the territories in the event of the PA’s collapse.
With the expanded threat of global terrorism, some Western countries may temper their pressure to create a Palestinian state at this time, realizing that the radicalization of the Palestinians would make such a state a prime candidate to join ISIS.
In terms of deterring Hamas, Israel has greater opportunities to adopt a tough approach. Hamas propaganda even exceeds the most obscene Nazi calls for the extermination of the Jewish people. It is directly engaged in orchestrating terrorist attacks against Israel and restoring attack tunnels on Israeli borders. Last week, Lebanon’s El Khabar newspaper quoted Hamas sources stating that it was resurrecting sleeper cells and recruiting volunteers with the intention of launching a new wave of suicide bombings against Israel.
Understandably, Israel has sought to avoid actions that would lead to a renewed war with Hamas in Gaza. Yet there are lessons to be learned from our failure to react swiftly to former Hamas provocations. Yes, there is a possibility that tough action could renew the conflict. But there is a more compelling case suggesting that resolute action now will prevent us sliding into another war.
We should consider destroying the radio and TV stations that broadcast calls for our annihilation. We should be prepared to cut off electricity and impose tougher blockades if they continue orchestrating terrorist activity or launch rockets against us. That does indeed represent collective punishment but taking into account the enthusiastic public support for terrorist acts against Israel, that should not deter us.
Of course, the greatest and most effective deterrent is to reintroduce targeted assassinations which will make the leaders think twice before indulging in terrorist acts. Such action is also likely to impact on the PA and oblige them to temper their current incitement.
All these suggestions are complex and can lead to other problems. But Israelis can take pride in the fact that they are capable of creative outside-the-box solutions and have frequently adopted unconventional actions that proved successful.
The status quo is unacceptable and in the absence of remedial action it is likely to worsen.
The government must determine a strategy and convey the message unequivocally to Hamas. Now may be the best time to bite the bullet. That Iran and Hezbollah are currently engaged in a bitter battle in Syria makes it less likely that, in the event of war with Hamas, we would face a two-front confrontation The international community, which is not unduly friendly toward Israel, will presumably again call for restraint and proportionality and Israel will still be condemned in the majority of international forums.
But today, with the fear being generated by ISIS terror all over the world, many countries — even as they publicly join the inevitable chorus of condemnation — are likely to have a greater understanding of our determination to protect our citizens from brutal terrorist attacks than was the case in the past.
This column was originally published in the Jerusalem Post and Israel Hayom