My Word: Looking beyond terrorism

Incitement must be tackled and coexistence must be promoted in order to stop the violence.

 PEOPLE STAND at the entrance to a bar near the scene of the fatal terror attack in Tel Aviv on April 7. (photo credit: CORINNA KERN/REUTERS)
PEOPLE STAND at the entrance to a bar near the scene of the fatal terror attack in Tel Aviv on April 7.
(photo credit: CORINNA KERN/REUTERS)

Israelis have a word for it: “Hamatzav.” It means “The Situation” and it is used during any period of increased security tension.

Even before last week’s terror attack in a Tel Aviv bar – the fourth attack in less than a month, bringing the death toll up to 14 – the government didn’t quite declare war, but it did announce that the defensive measures to halt the wave of terrorism would be given its own name: Operation Break the Wave.

Unlike last year’s Operation Guardian of the Walls, the name hasn’t really caught on, but it’s important in its own way. Giving the current situation a specific name is an acknowledgment of the problem; it is a declaration of intent to take it seriously; and it is an indication of a new type of operation adapted for current circumstances.

Cynical pundits have accredited the name-giving with another explanation – whenever the prime minister or government is asked what they are doing about The Situation, they can reply with the words “Operation Break the Wave” to get off the hook.

The public is on edge. The term “Third Intifada” is being voiced. The prevalence of social media does nothing to soothe tensions, and the TV coverage of the attack in Tel Aviv last week was shameful. The search for the terrorist turned into something like a reality show with live broadcasts of the security forces’ every move.

 Members of Israeli ZAKA team clean blood from the site after a shooting terror attack on Dizengoff street on April 8, 2022 in Tel Aviv (credit: Amir Levy/Getty Images) Members of Israeli ZAKA team clean blood from the site after a shooting terror attack on Dizengoff street on April 8, 2022 in Tel Aviv (credit: Amir Levy/Getty Images)

Apart from the voyeuristic nature of the footage, there was a real security breach: A veteran journalist, I appreciate the freedom of the press; a concerned citizen, I worry that the operating methods and identities of elite forces might have been compromised and that the mass of reporters and photographers could have hampered the manhunt.

I also bristled at the headlines in foreign media. The Guardian, for example, initially ran the headline “Israeli forces kill Palestinian after Tel Aviv shooting leaves two dead.” It was later changed to: “Israel: Two dead after gunman opens fire in Tel Aviv bar.”

How can terrorism be tackled if you can’t say the word out loud? Or if the terrorist is perceived as “a gunman,” with no radical ideological or religious motivation? If cause and effect, murderer and victim are switched? It wasn’t the Israeli forces who set out last Thursday intent on killing, but the Palestinian terrorist from Jenin.

The stories of the lives of the victims cut down were heartbreaking. Each one a world with family and friends who will never be the same again. But however awful the toll, the current wave of terrorism is not the same as the Second Intifada period.

In March 2002 – the intifada’s bloodiest month – more than 135 people were murdered in terror attacks. In those terrible days, 20 years ago, going about everyday life was akin to playing Russian roulette.

That wave of terror culminated in the Park Hotel Massacre in Netanya on Seder Night when a suicide bomber murdered 30 people as they celebrated the start of Passover.

The abominable attack led directly to the decision to launch Operation Defensive Shield in which IDF troops and security forces regained control of Palestinian hotbeds of terrorism such as Jenin. It also led to the construction of the security fence. Israel’s detractors, who like to call it “The Apartheid Wall,” are eager to ignore the Palestinian terrorism that made it necessary.

The security cabinet this week approved a NIS 360-million plan to fix the gaps in the fence and boost it with added height and extra technological means. For years, the spots where Palestinians have been able to freely cross unchecked into sovereign Israel have been an open secret.

Palestinians with the relevant permits can enter Israel to work and pray, but those who do not have proper security clearance need to be kept out. There’s no point in Operation Break the Wave if the dike that is meant to provide protection has huge holes.

For Operation Break the Wave to succeed, it would make sense to “follow the money,” keeping an eye on Iran, which funds Hamas, Hezbollah and other terrorist organizations.

There also needs to be more international pressure on the Palestinian Authority to end the incitement to terrorism and halt its “pay-for-slay” policy rewarding terrorists and their families.

PA head Mahmoud Abbas condemned the attacks but is still providing the fuel that keeps them going. The current wave of terror has thrown the spotlight back on Jenin, where the mayor, from Abbas’s Fatah party, has praised the murderous assaults. The father of the perpetrator of the Tel Aviv attack served in the PA’s security forces.

Israeli security forces cannot take over and hold Palestinian centers of terrorism like Jenin but they are bravely tackling the terrorists in their homes and making arrests, thwarting some “ticking bombs” on their way to carry out attacks.

It is hard to prevent every potential so-called “lone wolf” and the copycat killers, but action can be taken against those who incite and foster the toxic atmosphere in which terrorism and martyrdom flourish. Since two of the three lethal attacks in March were carried out by Arab-Israeli citizens, there’s a need to focus efforts on this community too. This is especially important in light of the lethal Arab riots last May as Hamas rockets from Gaza rained down on the country.

There is a widespread understanding that the wave of violence within the Arab community has spilled over into terrorism. While Ra’am (the United Arab List) Party leader Mansour Abbas, a member of the coalition, has condemned the terror attacks, opposition Arab MKs have failed to do the same. Particularly jarring were the comments of Joint List head Ayman Odeh. After the Tel Aviv attack, Odeh did call for people to lay down their arms – but not the terrorists. He demanded it of police officers and soldiers.

Addressing primarily Israeli-Arabs and Israeli-Druze, in a video recorded at Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate, Odeh declared: “The young people must not join the occupation forces. Throw their weapons in their faces and tell them that our place is not with you.”

Haifa-born and -raised Odeh, who likes to present himself as a modern, secular Muslim moderate, told the Arab and Druze members of the security forces their “natural place” is with “the Palestinian people.”

Forget fighting terror, crime and domestic violence – which disproportionately affect the Arab sector. To hell with coexistence and quality of life. Conveniently ignore that the Israeli taxpayer pays the MK an above average salary to sit in the Israeli Knesset, not the Palestinian parliament in Ramallah.

The massive show of public sympathy for heroic Christian-Arab police officer Amir Khoury, who died from the wounds he sustained when battling the terrorist in Bnei Brak, proves that Odeh does not represent the vast majority of the country. The ultra-Orthodox Jewish city has announced it will name a street in Khoury’s memory.

Tensions are expected to increase as Passover, Easter and Ramadan coincide next week. It is sad that we have come to expect a spike in terrorism during the Muslim festival, which is being hijacked by Islamist extremists. The arson attacks this week on Joseph’s Tomb in Nablus, biblical Shechem, were another assault on “the infidels.” This wasn’t an act of vandalism, but an ISIS-like act of desecration at the site where the biblical figure of Joseph is believed by many Jews and Christians to be buried.

Recent years have shown that terror attacks can be carried out anywhere. No major city, cultural or religious site in the world can be considered completely safe.

I have often shared my advice on coping with terrorism at a personal level. Take a Krav Maga or similar self-defense course. Learn first aid. And study Arabic, so that you’ll realize that you’re not surrounded by terrorists but by ordinary people with the same worries you have.

Above all, don’t spend all your time staring at your phone. Being aware of your surroundings not only makes you safer, it serves as a reminder that no matter what happens, there’s still plenty of beauty to see in the world.

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