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October 13, 2015 5:23 pm

Wanted: A Palestinian Leader Who Builds Bridges, Not Burns Them

avatar by Abraham Cooper and Yitzchok Adlerstein

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (right) and Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas pose for a photograph in September 2011 after Abbas submitted a formal application for PA status as a UN member state. In early January 2015. Photo: UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon (right) and Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas pose for a photograph in September 2011 after Abbas submitted a formal application for PA status as a UN member state. In early January 2015. Photo: UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras.

On October 3, Muhannad Halabi knifed his way onto the Palestinian top ten terrorist list. The Arab law student stabbed Rabbi Nehemiah Lavi, Aharon Bennett, and Bennett’s wife and two-year-old son in the Old City of Jerusalem. Only the latter two survived.

Halabi was immediately shot and killed by Israeli security forces. Within minutes, the martyr’s photo was all over social networking sites; within hours – even before his burial- Halabi’s mother was consoled by a phone call from a woman in Gaza. She had named her newborn boy Muhannad to immortalize the memory of the shahid.

Muhannad The Older sacrificed himself on the altar of all-consuming hatred of Jews fueled by a sustained fabrication of the Palestinian Authority, which claimed that Israel planned a takeover of the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Muhannad The Younger will be brainwashed by the ideology of Hamas, where the purpose of life itself is seeking death in the cause of the destruction of the two Satans: Israel and the United States.

If he is lucky and nimble, Muhannad The Younger will escape Gaza’s chronic unemployment by joining other children in digging tunnels. He best avoid the Egyptian border, where the tunnels are being systematically flooded on orders from Cairo. As for the Hamas terror tunnels targeting Israel, Muhannad the Younger may not survive. At least nine children have already died during cave-ins of these tunnels.

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Halabi was no more successful in death than he was in life. Since his attack, there have been so many more in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Afula, Kiryat Gat, Kiryat Arba, and Herzlia, that Muhannad The Older’s star as a terror-martyr-celebrity is already fading.

In truth, focusing on Muhannad the terrorist is a distortion. Terror is an abstraction that obscures what is behind the wave of attacks in Israel. Unless we can stop treating it like a bumper sticker that reads, “Terror happens,” we may soon see similar attacks on our own shores.

Terror doesn’t just happen. It has to be nurtured before being ignited.

The day before Muhannad stabbed his victims, two cars trolled Highway 60. The spotters drove in one; two Palestinian gunmen rode in the second. They unleashed a fuselage of bullets on Eitam Henkin, a 30 year-old accomplished scholar and his young wife. In the seconds before he succumbed to his injuries, Henkin managed to open the back door of his car allowing his four children to miraculously escape the carnage they had just witnessed – their survival facilitated when one terrorist accidentally shot the other as he took aim at the children.

The murders were celebrated by Palestinians through the customary sharing of sweets.

Dr. Yigal Henkin’s funeral oration for his saintly brother speaks the blood-stained truth:

Terror is a tool. The one who uses terror is the enemy. Terror is the enemy’s tactic, knives and bullets – its weapons at hand. …Do not fight terror, fight those who dictate it… Behind those murderers there is a society who supports this kind of warfare. A society which supports targeting civilians, a society which supports finishing off a young couple. The murderers are the hangmen. But those who preach that “here is a Jew and therefore he deserves death,” – they will not be imprisoned. And those who today will give candies to children in order to celebrate the murder in cold blood of two more Jews, will pay no price.

Focusing on lone wolf lunatics to end terrorism is like trying to stop highway carnage by going after cars, not the people who drive them. It is time to focus on the cultures of hate that devalue human life, and that serially inflame passions and incite violence – not just in the Middle East.

The road to terrorism is a highway system linked by ideology and Internet technologies. You can start almost anywhere in the jihadi world, and get anywhere else. ISIS (which in August tortured a 12 year-old Christian boy to get his father to renounce his religious beliefs, and then crucified both of them when he wouldn’t), Hezbollah, Hamas, all preach extermination of the other, and promise the glories of martyrdom, even to children. Thus, a member of the Palestinian Authority Fatwa Council broadcast from a mosque: “Have no mercy on the Jews, no matter where they are, in any country. Fight them, wherever you are. Kill those Jews and those Americans who are like them.”

A Hamas children’s magazine passes the message to the next generation by teaching that Americans’ hatred and insensitivity “are caused by the Jewish filth … inspired by the Jews’ cruelty, heresy and barbarity.”

This is what Mahmoud Abbas said to his people on Rosh Hashanah eve about us Jews:

The Al-Aqsa [Mosque] is ours… and they have no right to defile it with their filthy feet. We will not allow them to, and we will do everything in our power to protect Jerusalem… We bless every drop of blood that has been spilled for Jerusalem, which is clean and pure blood, blood spilled for Allah, Allah willing. Every martyr will reach Paradise, and everyone wounded will be rewarded by Allah.

Some within the Israeli security community argue that Abbas is working to keep the demonstrations from getting worse. But should we be thanking an arsonist for calling in an alarm to the fire he set?

Abbas is where the current terror road inevitably leads to. He can hoist a flag at the United Nations, but he  is no nation builder. Hopes for peace will have to wait for a Palestinian leader willing to build bridges, not burn them down.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper is Associate Dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein is the Center’s Director of Interfaith Affairs.

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