The killing by two brothers of four Jews praying at a synagogue in an ultra-Orthodox neighborhood of Jerusalem--as well as a Druze police officer who came to their defense--has brought forth wide condemnation.
But it has been mixed with support for the carnage.
A Palestinian member of the Jordanian parliament passed a resolution demanding a moment of silence for the martyrs who died for Palestine, while the Jordanian government condemned the attack on Jews at prayer.
As always in matters of politics, religion, and emotions, it is a lot easier to pose questions than to know with any certainty about what will follow.
We can ask if this killing will be a game changer, but we cannot answer it with any confidence.
The parliament of Spain enacted a resolution, non-binding on the government, in favor of recognizing a Palestinian state shortly before the attack. That put the Spaniards on the same side as several other European parliaments and the government of Sweden, but the synagogue attack may dampen enthusiasm for Palestine. Moreover, Israeli authorities demonstrated the problems of recognizing a state surrounded by a hostile and more powerful state. They have delayed or prevented the entry of diplomats to Gaza and the West Bank, and rejected a proposal that New Zealand appoint a joint ambassador to Israel and Palestine.
The attack has also produced actions and proposals from Israelis to harden its responses to Palestinian violence. They will not all have a smooth process of approvals by the government, the government's legal adviser, and the courts, but they have been endorsed by a variety of ranking security personnel as well as some Knesset Members from centrist as well as right of center political parties.
What links them is a strategy of using the strong family ties among Muslims against individuals who may be willing to lose their own lives for the sake of Palestine, but may be less willing to cause significant loss to their families.
Among the proposals
- To expedite the destruction of the family homes of terrorists, without the delays of months or years caused by judicial proceedings that serve to lessen the effect. This proposal has the widest support, extending up to the Prime Minister, and supported by security personnel who claim that it has proven effective in the past to dissuade those inclined to violence. Among the issues is whether to extend the destruction not only to the apartment of the terrorist, but to whole buildings that may include dwellings of the killer's extended family of parents, siblings, and cousins as well as unfortunate others. The US State Department has said that destroying a family apartment would not be effective, and be judged inappropriate as collective punishment. Nonetheless, Israel managed to finish with its procedures and destroyed the family apartment of the man who killed a baby at a train station with his car on October 22. Procedures are moving forward to destroy the homes of Jerusalem Arabs involved in two recent attacks, including the killijngs at the synagogue a few days ago, and the non-fatal shooting of a Temple Mount activist a week earlier.
- Prevent the return of the bodies of those involved in killing, who were themselves killed by security personnel. This is meant to frustrate the funeral celebrations of martyrdom by Palestinians.
- Tighten roadblocks and impose serious inspections of pedestrians and vehicles wanting to depart from problematic Arab neighborhoods, along with house to house searches and seizure of people active in violence, including children who were identified throwing stones. Critics say that the roadblocks and inspections are collective punishment and ineffective against terrorists who would leave their neighborhood by an unguarded path. Advocates say that collective punishment is the point, meant to employ the pressure of unhappy neighbors against potential troublemakers and their families.
- Removing from family members of terrorists Israeli citizenship or residence permits that allow non-citizens to live in Jerusalem, expelling them to Palestinian areas and causing the loss of Israeli welfare and health benefits.
- Ending the employment of Arabs. The Mayor of Ashkelon said that he would dismiss Arab personnel working in city kindergartens, in response to demands of parents. We hear that some businesses in Jerusalem have dismissed their Arab workers. These actions have been condemned as a step too far by Knesset Members and government ministers, and might run afoul of a municipality's capacity to find Jews willing to perform menial tasks. Ashkelon's mayor has already ratcheted down from his initial bombast, saying that he intended to re-hire Arab workers after the present tension subsides.
- Prevent the transfer of resources to Palestinian families of those who have earned the status of martyrs, or who have had their homes destroyed by Israeli authorities. This may involve the assertion of Israeli banking controls against Arab banks with branches in Gaza and the West Bank, but that also do business with Israeli citizens or firms, and more intensive inspections of the cash carried by travelers who enter Palestinian areas. Such actions might not be easy to implement, but would not be beyond Israel's capacity if officials become serious about applying intense pressures.
Note that all these actions would be less than a full scale invasion of Palestinian areas of the West Bank, with destruction and casualties similar to those in response to the suicide bombings that began in late 2000, or as in Gaza during July-August of this year. Should suicide bombings begin and be traced to the West Bank, then the Palestinians of that area should prepare themselves for what happened in Gaza.
A new feature of our skyline is a balloon with camera, quieter than the helicopters that otherwise hover over Isaweea.
Along with proposals to respond more forcefully to Palestinian violence, there remains the view,widely expressed among security personnel, that this wave of violence has not reached the level of the intifada that began in 2000.
Those expressing the view note that even while Islamic organizations trumpet their support of Palestinian violence and call for more, there is no clear indication that the attacks have been planned and executed by organizations or the Palestine National Authority, as was the case for several years from 2000. Moreover, the violence has not spread significantly to Palestinian areas outside of Jerusalem and throughout the West Bank.
Mahmoud Abbas condemned the attack on the Jerusalem synagogue, but has refrained from campaigning against violence. Individual Palestinian journalists have also condemned the synagogue attack in Arabic-language media, but the more prominent themes in those media are support for violence to advance the cause of Palestine.
Jews' visits and demands to pray on the Temple Mount have been widely condemned among Muslims. Israeli Jews are divided on the issue. The Prime Minister, Defense Minister, and Foreign Minister, among others, have urged Jews to refrain from inciting Muslims via their prominent visits and demands for religious rights on the Temple Mount. However, Knesset Members associated with the government parties Likud and Jewish Home, including the leader of Jewish Home Naftali Bennett, have insisted on Jews' rights to share access to the Temple Mount with Muslims.
A week ago an Arab driver for the country's largest bus company was found dead in his bus. Police concluded that the cause of death was suicide. However, this has not prevented a campaign of incitement, claiming that Jews killed the driver.
As is characteristic of problematic cases of death, a Palestinian pathologist was asked to participate in the autopsy. He accepted the conclusion of suicide, but has avoided making any public comments to the effect in the Palestinian community.
The lack of actions by Abbas and the pathologist resemble what we have seen from other Palestinians who express their personal willingness to cooperate with Israelis, but are reluctant to speak out against intense community pressure. Arab friends tell me that they would vote in Jerusalem's municipal elections, but cannot act against their community. Some individuals from Palestinian neighborhoods participate in joint committees with the residents of nearby neighborhoods that are largely Jewish, but only on condition that their names or pictures not be publicized.
Some or all of the above may prove to be significant, or simply run over in what comes next in achieving a place in the history of where we are now.
Some may be thinking about Baruch Goldstein in connection with the synagogue killings. Goldstein killed 29 and wounded more than 100 Muslims worshiping in the mosque at the Cave of the Patriarchs in 1994, before he was overpowered and killed by those who he did not manage to kill. No different from the Muslims honoring killers as martyrs are the Jews who honor Goldstein by making annual pilgrimages to his grave. Different, however, is the wide condemnation in Israel of those Jews who view Goldstein as a hero.