My Word: A personal response to terrorism

Fighting the indoctrination to hate is harder than fighting the physical battle.

Funeral of Zidan Saif (photo credit: Courtesy)
Funeral of Zidan Saif
(photo credit: Courtesy)
As I was listening to a radio report on Palestinians in Gaza, Ramallah and some Jerusalem neighborhoods celebrating the lethal attack on the synagogue on Tuesday, I received an email from my son’s state-religious school. The letter to parents and pupils provided a refresher of security precautions and procedures, called on all staff who have licensed weapons to carry them during the school day, and noted prayers are being said for the wounded and for the safety of the security forces.
In a bold font above the principal’s signature the letter stated: “We emphasize that it is completely forbidden to take the law into your own hands.”
I am grateful the school is reinforcing this message. I am sad that it has to issue a call for teachers to carry arms and warn students not to be tempted to use them.
The terror attack on the synagogue in Jerusalem’s Har Nof neighborhood will be remembered for its brutality: two Palestinian terrorists wielding axes, butchers’ knives and a gun slaughtering Jewish men wrapped in prayer shawls and phylacteries deeply immersed in the morning service.
“I had just finished the Shmone Esrei prayer,” said one worshiper. “I had just recited: ‘May He who makes peace in His high places, make peace on us, and on all Israel, and say amen.’” When pious men are slaughtered at prayer, simply for being Jewish, Jews everywhere suffer the sudden painful collective flashback to pogroms and worse.
When the question “Where was God?” is raised, I’m one of those who, in typical Jewish style, answers the question with the question: “Where was Man?” In times like these, when more than 10 people have lost their lives in terror attacks in Israel within a month, I seek consolation where I can find it.
That includes prayer and psalms. I’m the sort of person who argues with God rather than denying His existence.
This week I also remembered the advice of a friend who is a Reconstructionist rabbi in North Carolina when America was coping with the Sandy Hook school attack. She shared the wisdom of Fred Rogers, known in his lifetime for helping young children deal with difficult moments.
“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping,” Rogers is quoted as saying.
Sadly, in the synagogue attack, one of the helpers paid the ultimate price: Traffic cop Zidan Nahad Seif, 30, from the Druse village of Yanouh-Jat, was one of the first on the scene. He exchanged fire with the two terrorists until he was felled by one of their bullets.
To mark their gratitude, busloads of ultra-Orthodox and Orthodox Jews from Jerusalem and elsewhere traveled to Seif’s Galilee village to pay their last respects at his funeral.
It is not a gesture that will capture many headlines abroad; it was a simple act of humanity.
Given the headlines that the attack did create, perhaps we should be grateful. After the fiasco in which a CNN report accidentally described the atrocity as an attack in a “Jerusalem mosque” and newspapers and news services counted the terrorists as victims, or questioned via quote marks that it was a terror attack at all, who knows what they would make of the story of black-hatted, bearded Jews journeying en masse to the funeral of a Druse policeman.
Condemnation for the attack poured in from around the world, including a strong denunciation from the foreign minister of Bahrain and even Turkey’s foreign minister, who reportedly said, “There is no excuse to attack a synagogue.”
The trouble is this type of terrorist doesn’t need an excuse, just a perverted ideology. I bet that whatever school the two murderers attended, they were not repeatedly exhorted to avoid violence and vengeance.
Fighting the indoctrination to hate is harder than fighting the physical battle.
Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas did issue a condemnation, of sorts, under heavy pressure from US Secretary of State John Kerry.
Kerry is still apparently besotted with the idea that Abbas is a possible peace partner for Israel if only we’d be willing to take the risk – experiences in Gaza, Lebanon and even following the handover of Bethlehem to Yasser Arafat’s projectile-launching forces notwithstanding.
Among the emails condemning the attack that flowed into my inbox, almost burying the school’s letter, some were very double-edged: the sharp edge of moral equivalence reserved for Israel. Take one of the emails from the Jewish Voice for Peace organization with this message: “As the horrific news of more violence and more death pours in from Jerusalem, the JVP rabbinical council stands in mourning with all those who have lost parents and children, homes and houses of prayer, sisters, brothers, and friends. We renew our efforts to be a voice for justice and peace for all people in Israel and Palestine.
“We offer this bundle of poetry as a way to reflect and heal from the reports of mounting violence and to recommit to being part of building a future we can all be proud of....”
I will spare you the bundle of rhyme and JVP reasoning. A different email from the group earlier in the day read: “Early this morning, four Jews at prayer were brutally murdered in a Jerusalem synagogue and on Sunday a Palestinian bus driver was likely lynched.
“We call on the Israeli government and its supporters to cease further calls to incitement and collective punishment.”
For the record, the coroner’s report by then had already determined the poor bus driver had committed suicide, not been “likely lynched,” and if they think it is the Israeli government that is calling for incitement rather than the PA, they should check they know the difference between Hebrew and Arabic. They should also avoid perpetuating rumors of lynching.
I thought Adalah New York, a member of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, was also sending some kind of condemnation and condolences, but I was wrong.
Their email was just to boast of their so-called “Art against artwashing” action that night, protesting the performance of Israeli singer Idan Raichel, because, well, he’s an Israeli singer and proud of it.
Apparently 60 New Yorkers “braved the sub-freezing temperatures to highlight the contradiction between Raichel’s self-image as a representative of a ‘tolerant, multi-ethnic Israel’ and his role as a cultural ambassador for Israel and its brutal policies toward Palestinians.”
We have a very different idea of what “braving” means. Most of my Israeli friends think it’s what we do when we carry on going to concerts, prayers, schools and cafes – in short, living and enjoying life – despite terror attacks and rockets.
But this is not our fight alone (as evidently the Bahraini leadership understands better than BDS supporters).
By chance, the Global Terrorism Index was released this week. The report by the Institute for Economics and Peace said that nearly 18,000 people died in some 10,000 terrorist attacks in 2013, a 61 percent increase from the previous year. The vast majority of fatalities, 14,722 out of the 17,958, occurred in just five countries: Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria. This means that Islamic State, Boko Haram, the Taliban and al-Qaida were responsible for nearly all the terrorist killings last year. Look at the first part of the name “Islamic State” to see what all those terror organizations have in common.
They have something else in common, apart from their warped view that turns a religion from a way of life into a tool for death: They are very wealthy.
But among the wealthiest purveyors of terror is Hamas, although it recently pleaded poverty to the donors’ conference set up to fund the reconstruction following Israel’s response to the 50-day rocket war launched in Gaza this summer.
Hamas, with an income of some $1 billion per annum, was named as the world’s second-richest terrorist organization in the latest issue of Forbes Israel, outstripped by Islamic State with double that annual income, at some $2b. Hamas financially outshines Hezbollah, Taliban and al-Qaida.
Not bad for “poor Palestinians.”
I’ll leave you to guess their real motivation for terrorism.
May the families of the slain be comforted among the mourners of Zion. And may the prayers of those who died with the call for heavenly peace on their lips not be wasted.
The writer is editor of The International Jerusalem Post.
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