My Word: Finding the true victims of terror

Wearing clothes that clearly identify you religiously is not a provocation or justification for being attacked. Neither is where you live. 

SECURITY PERSONNEL secure the area following the stabbing attack in Jerusalem on December 8.  (photo credit: Stephen Farrell/Reuters)
SECURITY PERSONNEL secure the area following the stabbing attack in Jerusalem on December 8.
(photo credit: Stephen Farrell/Reuters)

Some kids are just naughty. They do things that they shouldn’t on the way to school – buy candies or junk food they are not meant to eat, for example; maybe even shoplifting in even more serious cases. But a 14-year-old girl from Jerusalem this week was not content with anything so criminally petty. She stopped on her way to school on Wednesday to stab a Jew. Not just any Jew. The Palestinian teen chose a mother with five young children, three of them in a stroller, and stabbed her in the back before running into school. Well, you need a good excuse to be late for classes.

“What did you do in school today?” goes the perennial question of parents everywhere. The case of the teenage terrorist – for terrorist she is – provides part of the answer. The curriculum contains hatred and incitement. There has been a spate of what is called “lone wolf” attacks in recent weeks. But these attackers, beastly as they might be, are not acting entirely on their own. They are acting within a certain environment, picking up specific messages. With the prevalence of social media, radicalizing messages are available literally in the palm of the hand. 

Millions of teenagers are miserable – it almost comes with the territory along with acne – but mercifully, very few decide to pick up a knife and stab someone. There’s no excuse for it. Not poverty, not family woes. 

And wearing clothes that clearly identify you religiously is not a provocation or justification for being attacked. Neither is where you live. 

Both the attacker and the victim, Moriah Cohen, live in Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah/Shimon Hatzadik neighborhood where tensions run high after the courts ruled that Arab residents who refused to pay Jewish landlords could be evicted, and the affected families refused to accept any deal, even for minimal rent and a long-term lease. 

 A knife used in a stabbing in Jerusalem's Old City that injured two Border Policemen on November 17, 2021. (credit: ISRAEL POLICE SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT) A knife used in a stabbing in Jerusalem's Old City that injured two Border Policemen on November 17, 2021. (credit: ISRAEL POLICE SPOKESPERSON'S UNIT)

In a clear “blame the victim” message last month, triggered by President Isaac Herzog going to Hebron to light the first candle of Hanukkah, Haaretz publisher Amos Schocken referred to 10-month-old Shalhevet Pass who was killed there 20 years ago when a Palestinian sniper shot her in the head as she sat in her stroller near her family’s home. “Shalhevet Pass was killed because of the irresponsibility of her parents, who thought that they could bring up their children in a war zone; and also because of the Welfare Ministry, which in any normal country would have removed children from a war zone,” Schocken tweeted.

It reminded me of the response in June 2016 when some people tried to explain the murder of Hallel Yaffa Ariel who was stabbed to death in her bed in her home in Kiryat Arba, over the so-called Green Line. Hallel, killed by a hate-filled Palestinian teenager, should have been celebrating her 19th birthday this month. If you can justify killing a sleeping girl just because of where her bedroom is located, you have no moral compass.

As shocking as Wednesday’s incident was, and mercifully, Cohen suffered “only” moderate wounds, it was part of a recent spate of similar attacks. Among them: On November 17, a 16-year-old stabbed two Border Police officers before being shot dead by an armed civilian. On Monday, a 16-year-old Palestinian rammed a vehicle into security personnel at the Te’enim crossing before being fatally shot. And the murder of Eli Kay last month on his way to the Western Wall not only comes to mind, it’s hard to get out of my mind. 

AN ATTACK on Saturday night, close to Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate, also made a particular impression, this time for the knee-jerk reaction to the way it was handled. In this case, two border police officers, a man and a woman, shot and killed the terrorist, 25-year-old Mohammed Shawkat Salameh. Video footage that went viral shows Salameh stabbing 21-year-old ultra-Orthodox Jew Avraham Elimelech before trying to attack the members of the security forces. The officers first neutralized Salameh and then, one of them can be seen shooting him again as the terrorist made a move on the ground.

Trite and false comparisons to the Elor Azaria case were swiftly made. In the Azaria incident in Hebron in 2016, the soldier, who was later sent to jail, shot an incapacitated terrorist who had carried out an attack more than 10 minutes earlier. 

A completely different case needs to be recalled, the fatal terrorist stabbing spree in Jerusalem’s Baka neighborhood in 1990 when a teenage Palestinian terrorist left a bloody trail of three dead and several wounded. Heroic off-duty police officer Charley Chelouche shot at his legs, but the terrorist was not fully neutralized and managed to spring back and kill Chelouche. It came to symbolize what can happen when the security forces do not shoot to kill when the situation demands it.

The difficulty is assessing the situation in real-time. Police officers, soldiers or armed civilians at the site of a terror attack have a split second in which to make a literally life-or-death decision: Do they shoot to kill and prevent the assailant from carrying out further attacks, or do they try to neutralize the attacker without killing them, at the risk that the terrorist is still armed and dangerous, possibly carrying another weapon or wearing a suicide belt.

The security forces aren’t studying the scene slow-motion on news footage that’s repeated in a loop. They have to instantly assess the risks to innocent passersby and to themselves. Keeping the terrorist alive could be either a decision that’s easier to live with, or a fatal mistake. Incidentally, one of the advantages of leaving terrorists alive after an attack is to enable the security forces to question them and possibly help thwart the plans of a terror cell.

The rules for opening fire are very clear. It is the situations in which people find themselves under attack – as they cross the road on the way to work, dropping toddlers off at daycare, waiting for a bus – that are complicated.

It wasn’t the action of border police officers on Saturday that was scandalous, it was the automatic response of the “Bash Israel first” crowd. This included Regional Cooperation Minister Esawi Frej, a coalition member from Meretz, who tweeted that the killing of the terrorist was an “act of indifference towards human life.” Joint List MKs Aida Touma-Sliman and Ofer Cassif accused the officers of carrying out an “execution,” with Cassif going as far as labeling it a “blatant war crime.”

Cassif was echoed by none other than Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas, which would be good for a laugh if the situation were funny.

In tweet after tweet, the terrorist became the victim. It was as though Salameh was an innocent man suddenly shot down by security forces, rather than the terrorist who tried to kill someone whose only “crime” was being a Jew. Somehow, it was overlooked that it was the terrorist who set out with the intent to kill, not the two border police officers. 

There should be no doubt: The victim is not the dead terrorist, who was a former security prisoner jailed for incitement. The victim was the young man who was stabbed in the neck. And the police officers were not cold-blooded killers but cool-headed security personnel saving lives. 

Palestinian attackers range in age from pre-teen to over-sixties and come from different social backgrounds, poor, affluent, illiterate, well-educated. 

If the young attackers are victims of anything, it is of the cult of martyrdom. They are being educated to see taking lives and becoming a “shahid” as a way to gain an elevated status. This is true in Jerusalem, Berlin, Paris, London, Barcelona and anywhere else where jihadi terror strikes. Radicalization is the true threat. That should be a lesson for us all.

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