Middle Israel: Thoughts from atop Har Adar

Behind this week’s terror attack lurks the return of the economic blindness that helped spark the First Intifada.

Israeli soldiers guard near the scene where a Palestinian gunman killed three Israelis and wounded a fourth in an attack on Har Adar before himself being shot dead, September 26, 2017. (photo credit: REUTERS)
Israeli soldiers guard near the scene where a Palestinian gunman killed three Israelis and wounded a fourth in an attack on Har Adar before himself being shot dead, September 26, 2017.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Anyone who has ever climbed toward dusk up the 16-meter memorial tower atop Har Adar will never forget its balcony’s majestic view, soothing breeze, and bewitching tranquility.
Tucked 15 kilometers west of the capital, the concrete turret that was planted on the remains of a Jordanian infantry outpost unveils much of what sprawls between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
Now shouldering a sleepy suburb of some 4,000 people and several hundred cottages, few places express more forcefully the Israeli quest to bury war under peace.
That is why Tuesday’s shooting spree at this mountain’s foothills was so disconcerting.
Standing in this terrace, the Arab-Israeli fighting that raged here in 1948 and 1967 feels almost as distant as World War I feels in the golden wheat fields of Verdun.
The illusion that our conflict was ready to die vanished a decade ago, but places like Har Adar seemed to rise above it, quietly dismissing the territorial utopias of both Right and Left while seeking ways to live and let live with the local Arabs.
That is why many noted this week that one of the guards slain here Tuesday was Yousef Othman, a native of Abu Gosh, the Israeli Arab village facing Har Adar’s entrance, and that is why many sought consolation in the flocking of workers from the old border’s Palestinian side to the checkpoint at Har Adar’s rear.
That labor traffic, they claimed, is the real routine here, and it, they implied, is how things should be.
It isn’t.
TRUE, the terrorist, Nimr Mahmoud Ahmad al-Jamal, had beaten his wife who fled to Jordan and left him with their children, a catastrophe and disgrace he could not handle other than by killing Jews.
Added up, the circumstances of an Israeli Arab hero and a lowlife terrorist help stoke the delusion that things are generally fine. Even before recalling that, the occasional terror attack we face is dwarfed by comparison to the terrorism in recent years elsewhere, from Orlando and San Bernardino to Barcelona and Berlin.
Well things are not fine, because behind this week’s attack lurks something very wrong.
Not because the attacker was part of a larger plot – he was not. And not because the security services malfunctioned – they did not; and also not because the formulas that failed to deliver peace in the past decade stand a chance of doing so today – they do not.
What is wrong is the restoration of a deformed labor relationship that emerged as a result of the Six Day War and now bustles in Israeli-Palestinian junctions like Har Adar.
Palestinian laborers began working in Israel almost the morning after the war, in what represented a political victory for defense minister Moshe Dayan over finance minister Pinchas Sapir.
Sapir thought that Israel could not digest the West Bank and Gaza, and should be ready to quickly retreat from them. He therefore advocated banning all civilian traffic across the Green Line.
Dayan thought allowing freedom of movement across the Green Line, for both populations, in both directions, would sow the seeds of a future peace.
There were deeper dimensions to this debate. Sapir, who arrived here in 1929 at age 23, emerged from the Czarist Pale of Settlement. As if longing for the shtetl’s intimacy, he feared that entangling Israel and the territories would threaten Israel’s Jewish identity.
Dayan, by contrast, was raised among the Jezreel Valley’s pioneers.
Interacting daily with Arab neighbors was to him both nonthreatening and natural.
Dayan’s vision quickly defeated Sapir’s, and the Palestinian worker was sucked into the Israeli economy, thus creating a relationship that for 20 years seemed good for everybody, peaking in 1987 at 110,000 Palestinians – nearly half the Palestinian workforce – working in Israel.
That might have been workable, even healthy, had the Palestinian worker met Israeli Jews the way Israeli Arabs do – as a dentist, pharmacist, surgeon, contractor, lawyer or engineer. Alas, the Palestinian worker saw Israel through the prism of a dishwasher, street sweeper and carrier of cement bags.
It was, as Arab-affairs expert Meron Benvensiti put it, “the coexistence of the horse and its rider.”
IN ECONOMIC TERMS, the Palestinians’ surplus labor and Israel’s surplus capital had to meet. The question was how. Had we been smart, our capital would have gone to their labor, so that Palestinian workers could work in Palestinian towns for Palestinian bosses. But we were stupid, and thus let the Palestinians work in Israeli towns for Israeli bosses.
This was the same mistake Europe made when it opened the door to Muslim immigrants it would not socially digest. This policy caused the hatred that is now Europe’s main headache. Dayan’s labor policy did not create the hatred Israel faces; it was already there, but the daily encounter between Israeli taskmasters and Palestinian hewers of wood and drawers of water multiplied it.
The labor relationship’s idyll ended abruptly with the outbreak of the First Intifada in 1987, as Palestinian leaders called a general strike. The strike, by the way, backfired as it crippled the Palestinian economy while not even denting Israel’s.
The following decade, as suicide bombings raged, Israel was the one that pressured the labor relationship, cutting its Palestinian workforce by nearly 50%.
Now it is returning.
Spawned by the combination of recent years’ quiet on the Israeli side of the Green Line, and rampant unemployment on the Palestinian side, Israel admits 75,000 mostly unskilled Palestinian workers on a daily basis, up from 28,000 five years ago, in addition to an additional 30,000 who work in West Bank settlements and an estimated 30,000 illegal Palestinian workers, squatting mainly in greater Tel Aviv.
This column decried the Israeli- Palestinian labor relationship already in the aftermath of the First Intifada, on the Six Day War’s 30th anniversary (“Fatal attraction,” June 6, 1997.) Now the war that Har Adar’s monument commemorates is already 50, and we are marching bravely back to square one.