When our apartment building in Har Nof was being built and for a few years thereafter, a young Arab from around Hebron was an almost constant presence in our building. Mohammed was quite charming and a skilled, reliable worker, and my kids loved to follow him around as he worked. He seemed to reciprocate our fondness for him.
We rarely, if ever, discussed politics. But one day Mohammed told me that the Land certainly belonged to Muslims and not Jews. What was his proof? "I can go anywhere in the Land without fear," he noted accurately, "but you would be terrified to enter my village." (We subsequently heard that Mohammed's older brother Bassam, a devout Muslim, who occasionally helped his younger brother, had been killed in a clash with Israeli troops in the first intifada, and there were rumors that Mohammed had shared his fate.)
Mohammed's "proof" came back to me this week, as I contemplated the fear in which we are all living today in Israel. It struck me that a least part of the motivation behind the rain of terror incidents is to convince the Jews that we do not really belong her and that we are like Kayin, nothing more than na v'neid in the Land.
True, the fear is not remotely similar to that during the Second Intifada in which suicide bombers regularly blew up buses (the number 18 bus in Jerusalem, for instance, on successive Sundays), pizza parlors (the Sbarra), night spots (Café Moment in Jerusalem and the Dolphinarium in Tel Aviv), and mothers pushing baby carriages in a park near Mirrer Yeshiva waiting for their husbands to come to make Havdalah.
Then we felt like ducks in a shooting gallery. Every day, we would listen to the morning terror alerts on the radio and consider whether we should send the kids to school or let them take a bus to a friend's house or a doctor's appointment after school.
In March 2002, 139 Israelis were killed in terror attacks in a single month. Only with the Seder night suicide bombing in the Park Hotel in Netanya and the subsequent launch of Operation Defensive Shield did the feeling of helplessness come to an end.
AGAIN TODAY, wherever we meet one another the discussion is either of the latest terrorist attack or of how best to protect oneself – a gun, pepper spray, etc. We have all begun to talk like those at a shiva house who relentlessly probe every detail of the deceased's final illness, as if in search of a distinguishing factor to prove that they will not suffer a similar fate (and live forever). We comb each news reports for some reason to believe that such attacks could never strike us.
That feeling, like the hope that the mortality rate will fall below 100% with ourselves as the exception, is increasingly hard to maintain. Once my neighborhood of Har Nof seemed like a distant suburb safely removed from downtown Jerusalem. Last November's massacre in the neighborhood's largest shul destroyed that illusion.
Once we reasoned that the Arabs with good steady jobs – the nicely uniformed, polite mechanics at our car garage, workers who deliver the groceries and work in the local markets – were no threat. Surely, they want to protect their livelihood, just like the stall owners in the Arab shuk from Jaffa Gate to the Kotel wouldn't want to scare away all tourists, we reasoned. But the car ramming attack at a Geulah bus stop by a Bezeq technician driving a Bezeq car showed the folly of any assumption based on economic self-interest. The driver turned out to be a cousin of the two attackers at Kehillat Bnei Torah shul in Har Nof, at least one of whom worked in a local fish store.
After the building of the security fence, we came to feel that the most likely terrorists were somehow cordoned off by the barrier. But almost all the recent attacks have been carried out by Arab residents of East Jerusalem, who pass freely back and forth from their homes into the heart of city and anywhere else in the country that they wish to go.
But if we are feeling vulnerable, no one I have spoken to is talking of going anywhere or wishes he or she could. Israeli Jews have shown themselves to be a remarkably stoic and resilient lot during lots worse times than the present – e.g., the first intifada, the second Lebanon war, when residents of the North spent a month living in underground shelters. No one doubts that this is our home and that we belong here.
The Silent Treatment
The world has decided to return Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's 45-second icy glare during his UN address with its own silent treatment about the spate of stabbings, stonings, car rammings, and failed car bombs directed at Israeli Jews in recent weeks.
More concern has been evinced about the killed or wounded terrorists by U.N. Chief Ban ki-Moon and Secretary of State John Kerry than their victims. And Kerry was not even a recipient of Netanyahu's stare having been ordered, along with America's U.N. ambassador Samantha Powers, to absent himself from the U.N. plenum during Netanyahu's speech by the characteristically childish and disdainful President Obama.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has thus far escaped a word of reproach from the president or State Department for having riled up the masses with a hysterical rant about "filthy Jewish feet" defiling the sacred al-Quds mosque and his blessing of "every drop of blood spilled for Jerusalem, which is clean and pure blood, blood spilled for Allah."
Instead his absurd claims about Israeli plans to alter the status quo at the Temple Mount were given implicit confirmation by State Department spokesman Mark Toner, who advised Israel "to uphold the status quo" on the Temple Mount, as if its intentions were in doubt. For his part, Kerry, in a speech at Harvard, linked the Palestinian violence to a non-existent upsurge in settlement activity.
Abbas must be sheltered from criticism, for to call him out on incitement would force the State Department to acknowledge that he is no partner for peace and that the current round of violence is just one more chapter in a religious war against a Jewish presence in Eretz Yisrael that goes back to the 1929 Hebron massacre and before. It is not just Jewish feet on the Temple Mount, but Jewish feet anywhere in the Land, which is a defilement in Muslim eyes.
And the anger at that defilement is only exacerbated by the flourishing of Jews in the Land, which consisted was home to a few listless Arab residents living in malarial swamps (as per Mark Twain's 1867 description) at the time of the first large-scale Jewish return. That flourishing serves as a constant reminder of the backwardness and failure of Arab society.
The rage of young Arabs today is the direct product of more than twenty years of non-stop incitement against Israel and Jews in all the official Palestinian media outlets. They were whipped into a frenzy of hatred throughout the entire misbegotten Oslo process, and never prepared in any way for the concessions upon which peace would have to be based. The refusal by all interlocutors to address that incitement – and numerous Israeli governments to emphasize it sufficiently – constitutes one of the great failures of the Oslo process.
AS USUAL THE WORLD MEDIA has maintained a discreet silence about the identity of the perpetrators of the savagery of recent weeks. Bret Stephens noted wryly in his Wall Street Journal column last week "violence" is killing a lot of people, as in "Palestinian Killed as Violence Continues." When perpetrators are specified, it is not whom you would expect: "Two Palestinian Teenagers Shot by Israeli Police." No mention of the fact that said teenagers had just stabbed a 13-year old Jewish boy on a bicycle.
That last headline recalls the CNN lede that caused Shraga Simmons, co-founder of Honest Reporting, to launch a full-scale campaign against CNN. "Israel police shot and killed a Palestinian in a gun battle," it read, while conveniently eliding the fact that the Palestinian in question was a suicide bomber strapped up with a suicide belt who had fired shots and throw pipe bombs at Israeli police before being shot.
Reducing everything to a cycle of violence is another familiar technique for leaving out the actual perpetrators. After the infamous lynch in Ramallah, which even in the age of ISIS remains perhaps the most the most brutal murder ever filmed, ABC's Peter Jennings began his nightly broadcast laconically, "This week [the Palestinians] are all angry at the Israelis." After Israel responded to the lynchings by bombing two empty buildings after issuing warnings, the New York Times still managed to find an equivalence between bombing empty buildings and literally ripping human beings apart limb from limb, in the form of a "collision of what each side sees as the other's core ugliness." In the same vein, CNN founder Ted Turner commented after two suicide bombings on successive days that killed 26 Israeli civilians, "Aren't the Israelis and Palestinians both terrorizing each other?"
"Treatises have been written about the media's mind-set when it comes to telling the story of Israel," writes Stephens. For my money, the best is Shraga Simmons' David and Goliath (2012), in which I have lately been immersed as part of my upcoming biography of Rabbi Noach Weinberg. (Simmons is one of the principals of Aish.com) Simmons brings a professional journalist's practiced eye to uncovering journalistic malfeasance and cracked narratives. And he lays them out in eminently readable fashion over 450 copiously footnoted pages.
Admittedly, the rejection of Israel's right to exist by a wide-swath of Western intelligentsia of which the media is but a symptom can be a depressing subject. But at least Simmons account has some happy vignettes as well, such as when CNN news executives came to Israel to sue for peace after a massive email campaign directed at their journalistic outrages and plummeting ratings, even going so far as designating a specific executive liason to handle Simmons' complaints. Or how Reuters, after receiving the dubious "Dishonest Reporting Award" from Honest Reporting and CAMERA finally admitted that Hamas was not a humanitarian organization fighting for a Palestinian state, but a terrorist group responsible for murder of hundreds of Israelis via suicide bombings that seeks the expulsion of Jews from every inch of Israel.
David and Goliath goes a long way to explaining the studied silence of governments, international bodies, and the media to the murder of Jews.