In Jerusalem, All They Have Is Fear and Despair

Israel's simplistic approach that it’s possible to teach East Jerusalemites a lesson, or scare them into submission so they shun terror, clearly isn’t working.

Reuters

Once again, a terror attack has taken place only days after an Israeli official boasted that the security forces had restored order to Jerusalem. This time it was Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino; at a ceremony marking the changeover of Jerusalem police chiefs, he said the objective was “to restore quiet. Following the increase in violent incidents we have launched an operation that will continue until we see a change – we’re already starting to see one.”

Reality’s noncompliance with these words reflects the authorities’ ineffectiveness in countering the wave of attacks. After Tuesday’s attack we again witnessed Pavlovian reactions by the prime minister, mayor, public security minister and Knesset members. Basically, they were saying: “What hasn’t worked using force will surely work using more force.”

On top of this is the promise, uttered with exaggerated pathos, that terror will be vanquished. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was particularly clear: “I have ordered an increase in enforcement and punishment,” he said at a press conference following the attack on the synagogue in Har Nof. He repeated the pledge to demolish the homes of the terrorists, adding that “we will fight this terror and defeat it, we will restore law and order and security to the streets of Jerusalem.”

Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch added that “the police are doing all they can to restore quiet – the terrorists will be defeated in this campaign. We will pursue every terrorist until we catch him.” Finance Minister Yair Lapid joined those calling for demolitions of terrorists’ homes.

Despite all this, Palestinian youths who commit these heinous crimes refuse to be impressed by the hollow slogans and bombastic threats. They’re not impressed by the municipality’s increased enforcement measures, including home demolitions, disruptions of water service and fines.

Officials from the National Insurance Institute or Tax Authority who raid Palestinian neighborhoods also fail to deter these youths; even the Border Police units that fill the streets are ineffective against these desperate, incited and suicidal youths. One of the two terrorists Tuesday left behind two small children. Apparently the likelihood of his children’s home being demolished didn’t deter him from committing his terrible act.

Now, following two attacks by cars running over pedestrians, one shooting (the assassination attempt on right-wing activist Yehuda Glick) and the synagogue attack, it might be time to reevaluate the approach to the problem. The simplistic, even childlike approach that it’s possible to teach East Jerusalemites a lesson, or scare them into submission so they stop these attacks, clearly isn’t working.

The violence in Jerusalem is carried out simply – the weapons are often cars or knives — but it stems from complex processes. It stems in part from political despair, nationalist and religious fanaticism, and feelings of discrimination and humiliation. It is influenced by incitement on social networks and the currents in the wider Arab and Muslim worlds. Attempts by Netanyahu to belittle the problem as one to be solved by increased enforcement and punishment are doomed to fail.

Following Tuesday's attack, the two sides of the city were clearly demarcated, as they are after every such incident. Palestinian laborers hurried home. The police lined the friction points, but even they couldn’t stop the seething violence – a young Arab was stabbed by Jews on a downtown street and a Jewish bike rider was beaten by Arabs near the Old City.

Not only the seam line divides the city. In the past few months, the two people’s perceptions have been diametrically opposed. Jews feel they are the subject of an organized and cruel onslaught stemming from totally unwarranted hatred. The Arabs feel they’re the ones under attack, that the Al-Aqsa Mosque is under imminent danger and that the occupation and settlements are deepening with no political horizon.

Jews are convinced that bus driver Yusuf Hassan al-Ramouni committed suicide and the little girl Inas Khalil was killed in a car accident. Palestinians are convinced that these two were murdered by Jews and that the car attacks by Palestinians were traffic accidents.

Just as Netanyahu doesn’t distinguish between Hamas and Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinians can’t differentiate between Netanyahu and far-right Likud MK Moshe Feiglin. They are convinced that the calls for changing the status quo on the Temple Mount arise from the heart of the Israeli establishment. For now, the only things uniting the two sides are fear and despair.