My Word: Near and far - Terrorism in perspective

Israel is the front line. It doesn’t need world sympathy; it needs support.

January 12, 2017 22:00
The Israel Project truck

The Israel Project's United Against Terror truck. (photo credit: COURTESY/THE ISRAEL PROJECT)

A British radio station contacted me for a brief interview on Sunday, when news of the terrorist attack on the promenade in Jerusalem’s Armon Hanatziv neighborhood was so fresh that I hadn’t yet managed to make contact with my immediate family to check they were all right.

Sadly there have been many terrorist attacks over the years, and this was far from my first interview, but this time something was different.

It wasn’t just the immediacy – albeit noteworthy – it was a change in tone. Despite the use of the word “alleged” before the term “terrorist attack,” many media around the world suddenly showed signs of understanding the fuller picture, or trying to.

As he introduced me, LBC’s Maajid Nawaz noted that Israel has been dealing with ramming attacks like these for a long time, but following the attacks in Nice and Berlin, Europe is now also learning about them.

I noted that the attack, in which four soldiers died and more than 15 were wounded, had nothing to do with “the settlements,” “frustration” at the lack of a peace process, or presumed poverty. Nawaz said he already had that covered.

Admittedly Nawaz is not your stereotypical journalist. A self-professed former extremist, today he is best known for battling Islamophobes while promoting his values as “a liberal reform Muslim.”

But the response in other networks was similar. After the Sarona food market shooting in Tel Aviv last June when four people were killed as they dined out, I was asked if the target might have been the military headquarters across the street.

This time, soldiers were obviously the target, but I didn’t need to explain that it doesn’t make the act any more legitimate.

Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas didn’t waste his breath on issuing a condemnation, so don’t hold your breath waiting for him to halt the PA-sponsored incitement that fuels such attacks. But in Turkey, where 2017 got off to a particularly bloody start, Deputy Prime Minister Mehmet Simsek was among those who condemned the attack, although he later toned down his response.

The UN’s special Mideast envoy Nickolay Mladenov, who has also condemned past attacks, issued a strong statement that: “It is reprehensible that some choose to glorify such acts which undermine the possibility of a peaceful future for both Palestinians and Israelis. There is nothing heroic in such actions.” At a memorial event organized by the Israel Project on Wednesday, Mladenov laid flowers and lit a candle at the site of the attack and declared: “We need to stand united against this rise of violent extremism.”

France, still traumatized by the truck-ramming attack in Nice on July 14, in which more than 85 people were killed, also issued strong condemnations. The Republic this week marked two years since the Charlie Hebdo massacre and the murder of four Jews at the Hyper Cacher supermarket.

The famous Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, the city where the attack on a Christmas market resulted in the deaths of 12 people, was lit in the blue-and-white colors of the Israeli flag – a Star of David shining proudly on the historic monument.

The Israeli flag flew at half-mast at the Rotterdam City Hall on January 10.

The world is small, global jihad is widespread. The message is getting through that nowhere is immune.

Jerusalem is also small. The promenade where the attack took place is walking distance from my home. The terrorist came from the neighborhood of Jebl Mukaber, whose muezzins are so close – or so loud – that I hear their call to prayers.

When the traffic report on a national radio station a couple of hours after the attack noted the road leading to the site was still closed, I got another reminder of how small the country is: traffic updates aren’t local or regional but national.

In another mark of Israel’s size, soldiers regularly travel home by bus or train. Even those on active service on the borders don’t spend too much time on the roads before reaching their home comforts.

Israeli soldiers are acutely aware that they are defending their nearby homes and families. It’s an inescapable part of the Israeli psyche. Families are close in every sense. Terrorist attacks and wars can cause us to argue, but they bring the country closer.

Israelis became aware of ramming attacks as far back as 2008, when a terrorist turned his bulldozer-type vehicle into a weapon on Jerusalem’s Jaffa Road. One of the three victims was the friend of a friend. And that too comes with being in a small country.

While we wait for the victims’ names to be published, we wonder if it’s someone we know.

We feel a connection in any case.

IT’S NOT hard to imagine what the soldiers were meant to hear after they got off their tour buses and formed orderly groups on the grass. The guides would point out the City of David and Temple Mount; the golden Dome of the Rock would automatically attract their eyes. They would be told of the cemetery on the slopes of the Mount of Olives, where Jews have been buried for millennia, but not always been allowed to rest in peace. They would see the modern buildings and the timeless olive trees.

Standing at this particular point offers a unique view – and viewpoint.

Tour guides pack some 4,000 years’ worth of history here, from the time of Abraham on. You don’t need to be a soldier to appreciate the strategic significance of the ridge and the vulnerability of Jerusalem through the ages.

Even ancient history feels close here; it reaches out and touches you. The day of the attack corresponded to the Hebrew date 10 Tevet, a day of mourning. It marks the start of the siege of Jerusalem by the forces of the Babylonian emperor Nebuchadnezzar in 588 BCE. This was the beginning of the events that led to the destruction of the First Temple and the exile when “we wept by the rivers of Babylon,” in the words of Psalm 137. No United Nations resolution or declaration can remove a Jewish link to Jerusalem that strong.

Next week, as the families of the victims finish the weeklong mourning period and try to adjust to lives that will forever have something – someone – missing, the French-led Middle East conference on Israel and the Palestinians is scheduled to take place in Paris.

Seen from here, the conference is doomed to failure. Putting Palestinian and Islamist terrorism on the same level as building a balcony in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City, and trying to impose a solution on the already tiny land, stopwatch in hand, is not going to work.

If statesmen want to get together to discuss a real threat to peace, they should discuss the threat from Islamic State and jihad. If you want to create a new state, let it be a Kurdish one, in return for enforceable guarantees that the Kurds will refrain from terrorist attacks.

Near and far, the world can learn from Israel’s painfully gained experience and expertise. Israel is the front line. It doesn’t need world sympathy; it needs support. Wherever you are, Islamist terrorism is too close for comfort.

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