I don't know how many upticks in violence have occurred during the 40 years I've lived in Jerusalem.
My first experience came a couple of days after my arrival. Friday was a day off from Hebrew lessons, and I went downtown for some shopping. It was years before the era of malls, and the center was crowded with people buying things for Sabbath. The explosion came from an abandoned refrigerator, and killed more than 40 people. I was several blocks away, and wandered in a daze for some time before I found myself at the bus stop that would take me home.
The next came a year or so later, in the midst of a seminar. I was more accustomed to Israel, and the student giving his paper did not drop a word when the explosion occurred. We finished commentating on his work before going outside. The mess had been cleaned, except for blood stained remnants of a fiberglass bench. An Arab young man and woman had been sitting there, and blown themselves up while getting their bomb ready for something else. Israeli media describes those cases as "industrial accidents." One of the students in the seminar became Israel Radio's senior political commentator, now getting close to his own retirement. For years, we've heard him giving the latest assessment about who is up and who is down in political maneuverings.
It's impossible to count the various "waves" or "upticks" in violence, insofar as some passed quickly with a few sidewalk stabbings or cars driven into people waiting for a bus.
When our kids were small, we talked with them about the need to be decent, yet concerned. If they noticed an Arab walking behind them, they should step aside to let the Arab go ahead.
The most serious violence came in the Second Intifada, from late in 2000. Israeli and overseas leftists blame it on Ariel Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount, but others say it was planned for some time and engineered by Yassir Arafat. Among the first victims were two reservists who made a wrong turn into Ramallah, trapped and beaten to death. One of their killers appears in an iconic picture, waving blood covered hands from the window of the building where the killing occurred.
Several explosions were heard from home, or from the classroom where I was teaching. One came during our evening walk, close enough that we smelled the chemicals used in the explosion. That one was especially troubling because it was at the bus stop that our daughter used daily on the way to her army base. .
Now we're in a wave or uptick that has commentators arguing what it should be called. Some say the Third Intifada. Others say it is too individualized for designation as a movement.
Its results to date make it the most pathetic of the upticks. The police and IDF have stationed personnel at vulnerable points. A result is that the most likely victims are men or women in uniform. However, most of their injuries have been minor or moderate. Some have not been injured at all, while a large number of their attackers have been "liquidated," and almost all the rest "neutralized" at the point of attack. Those liquidated have produced arguments among security personnel about whether to release their bodies to family members. Those opposed argue that it would produce a mass funeral likely to incite more to violence. Those in favor say that holding them back contributes to greater anger among family members. Several of the attackers have been close relatives of people killed in previous attempts to kill Jews.
There is competing analyses as to whether officials of the Palestine Authority are inciting violence or trying to minimize it, and whether Palestinian opponents of the ruling party are successful in drumming up support for greater violence.
Security personnel have responded with frequent sweeps into Palestinian areas and the arrest of individuals planning violence, or aiding those engaged in it. Courts have been more lenient about allowing the destruction of homes as punishment for family members' violence. Kids throwing stones now face a pretty good chance of being arrested. Throwing a home made fire bomb is more dangerous for the kids doing it.
Israel becomes a tough state when aroused. A group of young Jews, including juveniles suspected of involvement in terror against Arabs, have been denied access to lawyers. An Arab has been arrested for writing inciting material on one of the social network sites. We can expect that telephone calls and e-mails are being screened by computers looking for keywords that will bring further action.
So far 10-15 Israeli Jews have died, while Palestinian deaths are above 100, with those arrested somewhere above a thousand. A number of Arabs have been killed by Palestinians, apparently by mistake.
Critics are worried about unnecessary Arab deaths. They ask if all the attackers killed had to be killed, rather than simply neutralized by shots in the legs.
Arab acquaintances have told me about worries for their safety, either from Jews intent on revenge or Arabs who can't identify the proper targets.
On one of my neighborhood walks I found myself gaining on a young couple walking slowly ahead of me. They were in their 20s, and dressed like any number of others, and not all that different from me. As I got closer, the young man turned around with a worried look on his face, until he saw that I was a harmless old man. Here and now it's good to know who is walking behind you. Then as I passed, I heard them speaking Arabic.
Several times in recent weeks friends and relatives have written from the Old Country to express worry about us. I've thanked them, and responded that we're safer than Americans.
That has brought comments that their neighborhood is safe.
Ours, too. I know where to walk and what to avoid, and try to be alert for something unusual. I'm still less than half as likely as an American to be the victim of a violent crime. And I'm only two thirds as likely to be killed in a traffic accident--taking account of the number of vehicle miles driven in each country--despite what American tourists say about Israeli drivers. Statistics in both countries indicate that a disproportionate incidence of violent crime is minority on minority.
The pathos of this wave is that it shows no signs of accomplishing anything more than the deaths and incarceration of enraged individuals, while the world is more concerned about the Islamic State than Palestinian anger,
Israel has also acted against Israeli Arabs or Palestinians known to be planning on joining the Islamic State, or if they made it across the border, survived, and returned home. Planning to aid the enemy, or aiding the enemy is worth several years on the inside.
If the recent violence has accomplished anything, it is the doubtful value of provoking those--including Jews--to another round of nonsense about Israelis' responsibility for it all. One American academic has produced an elaborate essay dealing with several kinds of morality, employing words that my own academic training has not prepared me to understand, making the argument that Israel's actions in the West Bank amount to immoral occupation. Another Jewish academic set the standard for simple minded blather, by claiming that Israel is guilty of "one of the most massive, ethnocidal atrocities of modern times."
My own morality tells me that Americans ought to be more concerned with their own country, whose social statistics are the worst among western democracies, despite having one of the highest levels of wealth that should be capable of doing something about it.
I continue to enjoy daily walks in a neighborhood that the US government describes as the occupied West Bank. Since security personnel have dealt with the restive neighborhoods of Isaweea and Shuafat, I no longer carry a pointed stick. It's hanging by the front door. I'll wait a bit before putting it in the closet.
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem