The slaughter of Shulamit Ovadia and the myth of ‘lone wolf’ terrorism - opinion

Israeli security officials, politicians need to realize: There is no such thing as a “lone wolf” terrorist. It’s not TikTok and Twitter that breed and cultivate such monsters; it’s the PA.

 Police near the scene of a suspected murder of an 84-year-old woman in Holon, September 20, 2022.  (photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/FLASH90)
Police near the scene of a suspected murder of an 84-year-old woman in Holon, September 20, 2022.
(photo credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/FLASH90)

When 28-year-old Mousa Sarsour from the Kalkilya area of the Palestinian Authority bludgeoned to death 84-year-old Shulamit Rachel Ovadia in Holon on Tuesday evening, it took the Israel Police hours to determine that the killing of the married, mother-of-three was “nationalistically motivated.”

This euphemism for anti-Jewish terrorism was created to distinguish it from regular criminal violence.

Due to the current wave of the former, most Israelis assumed that Ovadia, who had been battered repeatedly with a steel pipe or other blunt object, was a random target of a terrorist out for Jewish blood. Security forces realized it, too, when they discovered that the perpetrator hadn’t even stolen the victim’s wallet.

After a night-long manhunt, the suspect, who was identified through CCTV footage, was found dead in the center of Tel Aviv. It turned out that he had hanged himself in an abandoned apartment building.

Due to the uncharacteristic nature of the attack – which involved suicide, but only after the fact – Israeli authorities are baffled. An investigation into Sarsour’s background doesn’t seem to have cleared up their confusion.

 Israeli security forces at the scene where the body of a Palestinian man suspected of killing an 84-year-old woman in Holon, in central Tel Aviv on September 21, 2022. (credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/FLASH90) Israeli security forces at the scene where the body of a Palestinian man suspected of killing an 84-year-old woman in Holon, in central Tel Aviv on September 21, 2022. (credit: AVSHALOM SASSONI/FLASH90)

But it appears to be providing a few go-to excuses for their inability to have prevented the evil deed in the first place. Let’s start with the main one, gleaned from interrogations of Sarsour’s family members and acquaintances: that he suffered from mental health problems.

Naturally. Why else would someone described by one of his relatives as a “very shy and quiet person” prey on an elderly woman walking home from a nearby grocer after doing some Rosh Hashanah shopping?

That he was clear-headed enough to purchase a beer at that very store right before approaching Ovadia from behind and pummeling the life out of her – then taking two buses to his Dizengoff Street destination – says something about his faculties.

Why was the Holon terrorist not on Israel's security radar?

THE SECOND reason given for Sarsour’s not having been on the security radar is his lack of a record for past terrorist activity. This raises a serious question about those terrorists allowed to roam freely among the Israelis in their proverbial and literal crosshairs.

Speaking of which, Sarsour was picked up and questioned by police twice in the past few weeks, clearly as a result of his looking or behaving in a suspicious manner. But he was released both times after authorities saw that his permit to seek work in Israel – was valid.

Were his interrogators unable to discern that he was mentally unstable? Or did they not consider this to be relevant, despite the fact that such a guy would likely wind up with a construction job requiring sharp tools that could be used as weapons?

A third justification presented for Sarsour’s having slipped through the proverbial cracks is that he was not known to belong to any particular terrorist group. In other words, he was a “lone wolf” who acted on his own at the spur of the moment and without prior warning.

This, too, makes one wonder. Why aren’t all terrorists who exhibit their admiration for or affiliation with Fatah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad or ISIS behind bars from the first minute that they’re detected?

A crucial source, aside from informants working for or with the Shin Bet (Israel Security Service), is social media.

After all, it’s not only the official Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other pages of the above organizations that are filled with incitement to terrorism and praise for those who succeed in killing Jews. Many individuals, as well, proudly announce their intention to become “martyrs” for Allah by murdering Israeli soldiers and civilians. Some even craft final wills and testaments before setting out, with guns or butcher knives in hand, to engage in the slaughter of passersby.

Blaming TikTo and other social media for lone wolf terror attacks

WHICH BRINGS us to comments made this week by Israel Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai. In an interview with the weekend edition of the Hebrew daily Yediot Aharonot – an excerpt of which was released on Wednesday – Shabtai suggested shutting down social media sites as a way of curbing “civil unrest.”

He was referring to the violent Arab riots against Jews that accompanied Operation Guardian of the Walls, Israel’s war in May 2021 to put a stop to the thousands of Hamas rockets launched at the heart of the Jewish state. He didn’t phrase it this way, of course. Instead, he called it “inter-communal violence” that took Israeli law enforcement and the defense establishment by surprise.

“Not the police, not the Shin Bet, not the IDF – nobody expected there was going to be unrest in mixed cities,” he told the news outlet. Rather than take responsibility for sleeping on the job, he pinned the blame on a certain popular platform.

“The TikTok world burst onto the scene like crazy,” he said. “Along with what was happening in the Gaza Strip and the missiles fired into Jerusalem, this gave people legitimacy for violence.”

People. Not Arab Israelis. Not Palestinians.

“I am of the opinion that in such situations, blocking the [social] networks is necessary,” he said. “This is war.”

At least he got that last part right.

“I’m talking about a broad closure of the networks,” he insisted, adding that once a volatile situation settles down, the sites can be reopened.

“We are a democratic country,” he stated. “But there is a limit.”

THE RESPONSE across the political spectrum was fast and furious, with some members of the public pointing out that “Israel isn’t China.” The ruckus led Shabtai to issue a clarification.

He argued that he’d only been speaking about the “most extreme scenario, in which there is a danger to Israeli democracy and the security of the country, in the event of an uprising that incorporates broad elements of terrorism within the State of Israel.”

Talk about missing the plot.

Shabtai’s role is to protect Israeli citizens by rooting out and eliminating threats to their safety. He could have utilized social media to help accomplish this, first by tracking down those who post their violent exploits on the Internet, and then by arresting them. But he didn’t.

More importantly, he and his counterparts in the Shin Bet, as well as similarly disposed politicians, need to wake up to the reality that there is no such thing as a “lone wolf” terrorist. That Sarsour and others like him are awarded the title as a pretext for Israeli helplessness is as great a travesty as the stipend that his parents will receive from the powers-that-be in Ramallah for their son’s “heroism.”

Indeed, it’s not TikTok and Twitter that breed and cultivate such monsters; it’s the PA.