The words of last week’s Torah portion resonate loudly, as we read of the non-Jewish prophet Balaam’s description of “the people that dwells alone and is not counted among the nations.”
We have all been traumatized by the events of the past month. No sooner had we absorbed the shocking tragedy of the brutal abduction and murder of the three teenagers and humbled by the exceptional dignity of their anguished parents, we were stunned to learn of the barbaric murder of an Arab youngster by Jews.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned the act immediately, even prior to being aware of the motive or the killers.
U.S. President Barack Obama however related to the abduction and murder of the three Israelis in a somewhat muted manner, and only 18 days later, upon the discovery of their bodies. Yet within moments of hearing of Muhammad Abu Khdeir’s murder, he denounced the act in a highly provocative manner, insinuating that it was yet another act in a cycle of violence.
Predictably, Obama’s outburst paved the way for similar condemnations from the entire world, and any sympathy for the murder of the youngsters was subsumed by the application of moral equivalence to Israel’s democratic society and the Palestinian terrorist culture of “martyrdom.”
This in no small measure contributed toward the escalation of the atmosphere of extremism and violence against Israelis among Palestinians.
A society is not judged by the acts of isolated individual murderers but on how the people and its leaders respond to such acts and whether a universal rule of law is being applied.
In contrast to Netanyahu’s response, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the kidnappings five days after the event and only following enormous external pressure. But the bulk of his remarks were a condemnation of the Israel Defense Forces for their methods of locating the kidnapped victims. He certainly did not criticize the ghoulish celebrations that swept the Palestinian street as soon as the fate of the abducted youngsters became known. The PA-controlled media was particularly repulsive when it mocked the abduction of the Jewish teenagers and proudly broadcast scenes of Palestinian children displaying three-finger victory salutes for the three abducted Israeli youngsters. On July 5, Fatah — headed by Abbas — posted the following threat: “Sons of Zion, this is an oath to the Lord of the Heavens: Prepare all the bags you can for your body parts. … We wish for the blood to become rivers.”
Whereas Israelis would never obstruct police from apprehending murderers, both the PA and Hamas outlets urged Palestinians to deny police officers and soldiers information that could lead to the apprehension of the killers.
This is in sharp contrast to the universal revulsion, horror and outrage expressed at every level of Israeli society when it was learned that Jews were responsible for the bestial murder of teenager Abu Khdeir. Every single member of the Knesset condemned the abominable murder.
In the midst of her mourning period, bereaved mother Rachel Fraenkel released a statement that “this a horrifying act. There is no difference between blood and blood. Murder is murder. There is no justification and no atonement for murder.” Contrast this with the response of the mother of one of the suspected Hamas murderers: “If my son did this act, I’m proud of him.” Such sentiments are routinely expressed by mothers of “martyrs” engaged in killing Jews and reflect the Palestinian culture of hatred and death.
Netanyahu sent condolences to the Abu Khdeir family, assuring them that “the perpetrators of this horrific crime will face the full severity of the law.” Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat personally visited the family and even arranged for the parents of the Jewish victims to visit and convey their condolences. Unlike Palestinian terrorists, the perpetuators of this crime will not be paroled, hailed as heroes, have civic squares and football clubs named after them, or receive government pensions for their families funded by U.S. taxpayers.
Whilst it is understandable that a wave of revulsion against a Palestinian society that exalts terrorism occurred in the wake of the abductions, it is imperative that the government contains extremist outbursts and adopts tougher regulations to prevent racism and intolerance from impacting the lives of loyal Israeli Arabs.
The disgusting behavior at Beitar Jerusalem football matches should no longer be tolerated and laws relating to incitement should be strengthened. We must now more determinedly stamp out the “price-tag” outrages and recognize that hate-inspired desecrations can lead to the horrors we have just witnessed. We also look to our spiritual leaders to promote this message especially among religious Zionists, disowning the rabid outbursts from extremist rabbis and citing as an example of Jewish values the moving condemnations of violence expressed by Mrs. Fraenkel.
However, it is also incumbent on our prime minister to take drastic measures to deal with the dramatic radicalization of the Israeli Arab community, substantial sections of which have been transformed into an active fifth column supporting our destruction. We must, however, ensure that loyal Arab Israelis are enabled to fully participate in all aspects of Israeli society. Yet they must be made to realize that if they want to remain citizens of Israel, they will not be permitted to engage in riots or promote treason.
This government has been far too lenient of the treasonable activities of extremist Arab Israelis, including MKs – which no democracy under siege would tolerate. The northern branch of the Islamic Movement is effectively the Israeli branch of the Muslim Brotherhood and an extension of Hamas and should be outlawed. Its leader Sheikh Raed Salah has already been imprisoned for inciting hatred.
However there have been pressures from the Left, asserting that any attempt to treat these activities as treason would infringe on freedom of expression and undermine Israel as a democracy. Yet Israel must learn from the collapse of the Weimar Republic that a democracy cannot afford to allow its enemies to act with impunity and undermine it from within.
The Israeli police must be beefed up to enforce law and order and protect Jews in east Jerusalem and in the northern towns who are being intimidated, their cars torched, and even lynched by mobs of masked Arabs. If the police avoid entering “problematic” areas in the north or east Jerusalem, we are sowing the seeds for future disasters and will certainly forfeit our ability to retain Jerusalem as a united city.
In addition we cannot tolerate the renewed and intense onslaught of missiles launched against us from Gaza.
Few would envy Netanyahu’s obligation to make some very difficult decisions. He is aware of the risk of major casualties, including civilians, which could result from massive missile attacks in a military confrontation with Hamas. His predicament is exacerbated by members of his own government engaging in demagogic public criticism of him in order to score points instead of displaying a united front.
A policy of restraint is no answer to missile attacks targeted against civilians and deterrence cannot be retained by responding in a proportionate manner. Likewise, uttering mantras of “quiet for quiet”, “tit for tat” and proposing a “truce” with the terrorist Hamas induces déjà vu, is unsustainable, and will inevitably degenerate into all-out war at the time of their choosing. Netanyahu’s initial threats sounded ominously similar to former Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s hollow threats 14 years ago, which led to the collapse of his government. To restore deterrence, Israel must respond with powerful airstrikes, even knowing that this could result in an all-out war.
Reverting to targeted assassinations may initially lead to an escalation, but as Hamas leaders continue calling on the faithful to murder Israelis, we cannot be expected to remain passive. It is worthwhile recollecting that when the strategy of targeted assassinations was implemented, Hamas leaders feared for their lives and went into hiding — and we achieved quiet.
Another less drastic but obvious action that should have been introduced a long time ago is the cessation of delivery of both supplies and electricity to Gaza from Israel when missiles are fired against us. This would exert pressure from the street on Hamas — already beset with many problems, including deterioration in its relationship with Egypt and near bankruptcy.
The intensified firing of rockets by Hamas in response to Israel’s restraint may force Israel into launching a major military offensive. Hopefully, we will avoid the mistake of former Prime Minister Olmert who set unachievable goals, allowing Hamas to present itself as victorious even after being pummeled into submission. On the other hand, everything will be in vain if we merely seek to restore temporary quiet and defer the confrontation to the timing of Hamas who would choose to act when they were militarily stronger and the cost borne by us would be higher.
These are the burning issues that will test Netanyahu’s mettle, challenge his ability to retain the leadership of the nation and determine the nature of his legacy.
The writer may be contacted at [email protected].
This column was originally published in the Jerusalem Post and Israel Hayom