Jews, even settlers, have the right to protect themselves from harm

The insidious optics of terrorism

Dvir Sorek  (photo credit: Courtesy)
Dvir Sorek
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Terrorism generates a hierarchy of victims. First come those murdered or maimed, as well as those present who experience long-term psychological damage even if they were spared physical injury. Second are the loved ones, the family members and friends of the direct victims. Yet a third category is society at large, for there are secondary consequences to each act of terror, ripple effects that travel beyond the immediate scene. I was recently witness to this last category; in fact, I found myself a participant in it.
The area that surrounds the Gush Etzion intersection, contiguous to the town of Efrat where I live and some 20 minutes south of Jerusalem, has been the scene of a large number of car rammings, knifings and shootings carried out by Palestinian Arabs over the last five years, resulting in both dead and injured. 
Israel’s characteristic response to this wave of terrorism has been to play defense and fortify the area as much as is possible, with various apparatus to protect pedestrians. This translates into the Gush Etzion Junction and the roads leading into it bristling with CCTV cameras, bus stops protected by steel-reinforced concrete pillars, and soldiers stationed at strategic points in and around the junction standing within their own reinforced guard posts. And still the terrorism continues, the most recent incidents being the stabbing murder of yeshiva student Dvir Sorek and the car ramming of siblings Noam and Nahum Nevies. Nahum remains hospitalized in serious condition.
On a recent Shabbat morning, I joined a group of local worshipers who frequently walk to a synagogue service in the area. Our route includes a five-to-seven minute stretch along a road that comes up from the main highway and leads only to a local Arab village, some of whose population have in recent years been implicated in local acts of terrorism.
Residents of the village, or visitors, regularly drive in and out along this road to the main highway. For a long time this small group of Jewish worshipers has been escorted along this short distance by two IDF soldiers on foot, both to and from the prayer service. The question has arisen: How does the presence of these soldiers offers protection against any sudden effort by an Arab driver choosing to ram his car or truck into this group of Jews walking on the side of the road?
In the wake of the recent murder of Dvir Sorek just outside of Efrat and the car ramming of the Nevies siblings across from the entrance to nearby Elazar, security protocol for this weekly Shabbat morning outing has changed. Since the murder, all vehicular traffic on this road is held up in both directions by IDF soldiers for the five-to-seven minutes it takes our group to arrive at a safe point. At each end one can see a line of cars and trucks with Palestinian license plates waiting to be allowed to proceed while the Jewish group makes their way along the side of the road.
THE OPTICS of this are horrible. Anyone observing this scene cannot help but view it as privileged Jewish settlers exploiting the military authority of the IDF and disrupting the lives of innocent Palestinian villagers. Just one more example of life under Israeli occupation. Just one more explanation for Palestinian resentment, even hatred.
Now, consider these optics: the bloody, lifeless body of a young yeshiva student lying on the ground punctured with stab wounds; or the broken and bleeding bodies of two teens who, not having quite made it to the protected bus stop, were mercilessly run over at high speed, the Palestinian driver going so fast the car flipped over when it landed in the ditch beyond the sidewalk.
Jews, even Jewish settlers, are people with the right to protect themselves from harm. Sometimes the means of protection are an inconvenience to others. A most poignant example is Israel’s security barrier, which is derisively, but wrongly, referred to by critics as an “apartheid wall.” Israel’s detractors can conjure up all the contemptuous terms they wish, but this barrier, like the traffic hold-up on behalf of Jewish pedestrians, like the check points separating the Palestinian Authority from Israel, are perfectly reasonable and responsible responses to the unremitting acts of terror perpetrated by Palestinians against Jewish Israelis.
The troublesome and annoying security procedures at airports throughout the world are also a response to terrorism. Passenger check-in is often a nightmare. All of us who fly must suffer this inconvenience if travel is to remain safe.
Yes, the optics are bad and they continue to feed the negative image of Israel held by many otherwise well-intentioned and good-hearted people. But the optics are obfuscating, and they work to the advantage of the terrorists. Whether by choice or media slant, many people’s impressions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are based on scenes and descriptions of the actions Israel takes against terrorism, be they preventative or subsequent to the act.
But it is not the means of defense that Israel employs to protect its citizens that is responsible for the terrorist acts. The historical sequence of events is clear: First came the terror, in response came the IDF checkpoints, travel restrictions, the security barrier and, at least for the meantime, the brief local traffic delay herein described.
Naturally all of these restrictions impede the daily lives of Palestinians. So if the means taken by the State of Israel and the IDF to allow Jews to remain protected from terrorist acts in public spaces is inconvenient for Palestinians, then it serves the interests of Palestinians for the terrorist acts to stop. Until that time Israel will do whatever it deems necessary.
The writer is the director of iTalkIsrael and lives in Efrat.