‘The knife intifada’: While the world mourns Paris, jihadism is destabilizing Israel

Islamists – whether in Paris or Palestine – seek martyrdom, murder alone being insufficient.

An Islamic Jihad militant attends an anti-Israel rally in Rafah. (photo credit: REUTERS)
An Islamic Jihad militant attends an anti-Israel rally in Rafah.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
As America reels from the San Bernadino shootings, as the international focus on the Islamist attacks in Paris remains intense, Islamist jihadism in Israel – currently in its latest iteration of the “knife intifada” – continues unnoticed. As I have been here in Paris and Strasbourg among the French, my thoughts return to my Israeli Jewish and Arab friends living through Islamism’s latest assault on Israel.
Israel has long experience with combating Islamist terrorism. Indeed, unlike Europe both the modern State of Israel and the ancient holy land have long been acquainted with terrorism: Josephus Flavius, a Jewish commander, Roman advocate and historian first documented terrorist attacks two millennia earlier, writing, “The panic created was more alarming than the calamity itself; everyone, as on the battlefield, hourly expected death. Men kept watch at a distance on their enemies and would not trust even their friends when they approached.”
Flavius was describing the Sicarii, the armed assassins of the Zealots – a group that used terrorism to oppose the Roman occupation of Judea. Infiltrating crowds, the Zealot Sicarrii murdered with concealed curved blades (sica), evading capture. Centuries later, the Assassins – Ismaili Shi’ites of the Nizari branch – also stabbed victims in crowds, but unlike the Zealots remained in the fray to become willing martyrs, inspiring even more dread. Operating between 1090 and 1275, they destabilized the Turkish Seljuk Empire.
Modern-day Islamism deploys zealots to great effect, prompting even seasoned media commentators to mistakenly refer to the “psychosis” of the Palestinian knife attacks.
Historical memory and knowledge of Islamism teaches us quite the opposite: rational decision-making, not psychosis, drives these acts.
Islamists – whether in Paris or Palestine – seek martyrdom, murder alone being insufficient.
Like all martyrdom, Islamist martyrdom craves an audience and in this, the Palestinians Islamists have succeeded wildly.
In the Internet age, an instant, massive and intensely engaged audience can assemble around the martyrdom act, even continents away. Martyrdom acts now reverberate more intensely than in any other era. When audiences are instantly mobilized, collective memory condenses and distills in the crucible of a shared apocalyptic event feeding our narcissistic compassion – compassion reserved only for those with whom we identify.
For example, while neither Beirut nor Beersheeba elicit Western compassion, the Paris attacks do.
Like the Paris attackers, Palestinian Islamists seek to dismantle the state. Palestinian Islamists understand their actions will provoke Israel into harsh retaliation, entrapping Israel into predictably biased media scrutiny fueling a subsequent cycle of global condemnation that advantages only Palestinian statehood.
Even as Western Europe finds itself unifying in the unprecedented crisis combating Islamist terrorism threats, recognition that Israel is waging the same battle remains lacking.
While Islamist propaganda would have us believe the “knife intifada” is a legitimate response to “occupation” or in “defense of al-Aksa,” or that the Paris attacks were a legitimate response to the escalating coalition operations against Islamic State, to the contrary, these Islamist acts are explicit in their pursuit of genocidal Islamist anti-Semitism seeking to destabilize, and, one day, annihilate the State of Israel, and follow from the expressly Islamist declaration of war on the kingpin of liberal democracy: secularism, as embodied in French democracy.
Those of us bearing witness around the world must remain aware of the driving Islamist motives in approaching its every victim and symbol, Israeli citizens and state included.
If we are to understand the enemy now within our European gates, our compassion must expand beyond the narcissistic and mature into a compassion for all Islamism’s victims, including Israelis, who also happen to have the greatest experience in containing, and hopefully one day defeating, the beast that is Islamism.
The author is an anti-Islamist Muslim and the author of In the Land of Invisible Women, an account of her experiences as a physician in Saudi Arabia. She holds an honorary fellowship at the Technion-Israel Institute of Science and Technology and is a member of the Committee on AntiSemitism for the USC Shoah Foundation, the Institute for Visual History and Education.