The Jewish terrorists who murdered Palestinian infant Ali Saad Dawabsheh before dawn on Friday morning have exacerbated the situation in the territories to its most dangerous point since the end of the Gaza war last summer. In coming days, the Israeli and Palestinian security forces will make a supreme effort to keep the lid on and prevent a spillover into extensive violence – like we saw in the West Bank last year after the abduction and murder of three Israeli teens, and the immolation of Palestinian teen Mohammed Abu Khdeir in Shoafat.
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Murderous terror attacks on Jews, alongside fatal shootings of Palestinians by the Israel Defense Forces during demonstrations or attempts to detain suspects, have occurred throughout the past year, in both the West Bank and, mainly, Jerusalem. But the accumulation of events this past week – the violent confrontations surrounding the demolition of the Dreinoff buildings in Beit El; the indictment of two men for arson at the historic Church of the Multiplication on the shores of Lake Kinneret; the tensions on the Temple Mount during the observance of Tisha B’Av; the killing of three Palestinians by IDF gunfire within a week; the “Day of Rage” declared by Hamas in protest at those shootings – constitute a possible recipe for a larger conflagration.
The army understands this. That’s why four battalions have been sent to the West Bank and two more brigades have been confined to base, on alert. Those who were scalded once – like in the aftermath of Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount in September 2000 – are more cautious even when the temperature in the cauldron is a bit lower. The army maintains that the Palestinian Authority leadership is against terror and isn’t interested in violent conflict. But in the immediate term, at least, the intention is to take every precaution.
Even though it’s a small group on the ideological margins of the settlement movement that is responsible for the murder of an 18-month-old Palestinian boy and the attempted murder of his family – as it was for previous terrorist attacks on mosques, churches and Palestinian homes – it’s impossible to be impressed by the condemnations and professions of shock that came from Israel’s leadership and settler heads on Friday morning.
The forgiveness the state has shown over many long years toward the violence of the extreme right – which was also evident this week at Beit El (none of those attacking the police are now in detention) – is also what makes possible the murderous hate crimes like Friday’s in the village of Douma. There is a price for the gentle hand.
Political struggle, including when it is waged against implementation of a court order, is part of the legitimate discourse. However, when the elected (and appallingly weak) settlement leadership tacitly accepts this rampage, while government ministers and Knesset members vie to show contempt toward the High Court of Justice, it’s hard to perceive the infant’s murder as a bolt from the blue – even if the clear majority of settlers are opposed to the deeds of the handful of Jewish terrorists.
It appears the murderers who set fire to the homes in Douma will ultimately be apprehended. The police unit that investigates nationalist crimes was established very late in the day, but has learned its job quickly – as proven most recently by the apprehension of the alleged church arsonists – after a long series of previous failures. The Jewish unit in the Shin Bet security service is also now devoting more resources to dealing with Jewish terror than it had until a few years ago.
However, the war on the Jewish terrorists cannot be confined to security-services measures. This is a long chain, which should begin by shaking off those rabbis and politicians on the far right, and culminate in a strong hand at the courts, which tend to show disproportionate consideration to the personal circumstances of Jewish fanatics.
Due to the authorities’ softness, those who used to be dismissively called “price-tag offenders” have developed into a real terror organization. The arsonists at the Galilee church appear to be a separate branch of the group that focuses on attacks on Christian religious sites. Their indictment included a startling document that the police confiscated from one of the accused: a detailed “How to” guide for the rookie terrorist – from strict operational security instructions to recommendations for escalating levels of terrorism, including bodily harm. We shouldn’t let the spelling mistakes and substandard language in it lead us astray. There is a determined hard-core developing here, one that is unimpressed by ministerial condemnations or the efforts by the Shin Bet and police to track them down.
These people want to ignite a religious war, which is not much different from what the jihadists on the Palestinian side have in mind. If the authorities don’t take action against them in a coordinated and comprehensive manner, and if the security coordination with the Palestinians that the IDF praises so highly isn’t maintained, they’re liable to achieve their aim.