The Familiar Face of Terror, and Resolve
Living in the Har Nof section of Jerusalem more than 20 years ago, I knew what terror was like.
In those days, it was the Scud missiles of Saddam Hussein that brought fear, but also a lesson in faith, determination, and the simple resolve of people that want to live a peaceful life in their country at all costs.
Like other mostly American communities in the Jewish state, Har Nof has grown tenfold, with more and more American Jews thriving in Israel.
But as we saw last month, regardless of Jews’ desire to do nothing more than live, work, study, and pray, there will still be those determined to deprive them of all of the above.
The horrific carnage that erupted inside a Har Nof synagogue on November 19 reminded me of the old adage coined by Abba Eban – that those who want to destroy Israel “never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.”
After gaining widespread sympathy during the Gaza War provoked by Hamas rockets last summer, those who embraced the despicable synagogue attack have brought back a familiar narrative: senseless targeting not of military forces – but the soft underbelly of Israeli society, its women and children and rabbis at prayer.
Some have attempted to link the attacks to a so-called “dispute” over the holy Temple Mount and recent moves by some Jews to gain the right to openly pray there (as if this might justify the horrific gun and axe attack).
Since the very idea of this “dispute” is fiction – Prime Minister Netanyahu has rejected any notion of change in religious control of the site – the linkage is even more preposterous.
What’s more likely happening is that Arabs from East Jerusalem, who have free access to the rest of the city, are being prodded by Palestinian jihadi groups to pick up the slack in terror attacks, which have dropped dramatically due to the highly successful security barrier. The object of international scorn, this 430 mile fence has nevertheless drastically reduced homicide bombing infiltrations.
Now, instead of bombs we see attacks with cars and construction equipment, or stabbings and shootings.
These attacks are celebrated by some Palestinians, and a Hamas spokesman reacted to the Har Nof attack by saying “The new operation is heroic and a natural reaction to Zionist criminality against our people and our holy places.”
While Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the attack, he made a desperate attempt at linkage by decrying in the same statement “incursions and provocations by settlers against the Aksa Mosque.”
In a bitter rebuke to Abbas and Israel’s international critics, Ambassador Ron Dermer decried the “fog [that] descends to cloud all logic and moral clarity [when the Israel-Palestinian conflict is discussed.] The result isn’t realpolitik, its surrealpolitik.”
Supporters will claim that the absence of peace talks and harsh rhetoric from Israeli extremists fuel Palestinian rage and invite attacks such as the Har Nof atrocity.
It is clear that Jewish right-wingers do seem to strike great fear in the hearts of Palestinians and their supporters. But Palestinians know full well that the Israeli mainstream is ready for peace and willing to make great sacrifices if they only had a partner that is willing, trustworthy, and capable of delivering on promises of coexistence.
Like many people, I would love to one day have an opportunity to visit beachside resorts operated by the Palestinians in Gaza, in a state negotiated by the parties with the help of the U.S..
But the coastline that could have attracted throngs of tourists from Europe and international investment has instead become the object of intense Israeli blockades to keep out weapons shipments from Iran and other terror supporters.
Beautiful, innovative, productive greenhouses built by Jews were destroyed, as labor and creativity was put instead to the smuggling and firing of rockets. Concrete that could have built schools and hospitals above ground instead went to terror tunnels below.
There may well be a large segment of Palestinians who want peace, but they are continuously eclipsed by the more visible and deadly elements for whom the conflict is a nihilistic zero-sum game. In the absence of more attainable goals, killing Israelis is no longer a means to an end for them, but the end unto itself.
Life went on in Har Nof and the rest of Israel after the Scuds fell, and will go on after November’s massacre, and after every other vile murderous outrage that, God forbid, may come after it.
Each time, it is a lesson in faith and determination from a people who embrace life over death.
Eli Verschleiser is a financier, real estate developer, and investor in commercial real estate. In his Philanthropy, Mr. Verschleiser is a board member of the American Jewish Congress, Co-Founder of Magenu.org, & President for OurPlace, a non-profit organization that provides support, shelter, and counseling for troubled Jewish youth. Mr Verschleiser is a frequent commentator on political and social services matters.