The Diplomatic Void Is Deadly

This time we aren’t talking about a national struggle with religious trappings, but about an actual religious struggle. This time we’re talking about the kindling of a holy war over the holy city.

Ari Shavit
Ari Shavit
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Ultra-Orthodox Jews peer through the bullet holes in the main window of a synagogue in Jerusalem which was attacked the previous day by two Palestinians armed with a gun and meat cleavers.
Ultra-Orthodox Jews peer through the bullet holes in the main window of a synagogue in Jerusalem which was attacked the previous day by two Palestinians armed with a gun and meat cleavers. Credit: AFP
Ari Shavit
Ari Shavit

There was something chilling in the cool response of some liberals to Tuesday’s hate crime in Jerusalem. It’s not true that the four worshippers and the policeman “were killed” (passively) in an attack in the Har Nof neighborhood. It’s not true that the victims were “people” (with no identity). What happened was that two Palestinian fanatics murdered five people in a Jewish house of worship during prayers. This pogrom was not aimed at people as people, but at Jews as Jews and at Israelis as Israelis.

Anyone who cannot feel total moral outrage at this horror is not a true liberal. Anyone who cannot relate to the Palestinian Baruch Goldsteins the way he relates to the Israeli Goldstein, who in 1994 massacred 29 Arab worshippers in the mosque at Hebron’s Tomb of the Patriarchs, is not a peace-seeker. The implied tolerance of political correctness toward Palestinian murderousness is tolerance that cannot be forgiven.

In a way, the massacre in Har Nof took us back to the second intifada. We hope we aren’t yet there. We hope we can still stop this bloody vortex. But there is an unpleasant sense of returning in time to those terrible days after the 2000 Camp David peace summit, when the collapse of the negotiating process was accompanied by an outburst of violence. Today, as in the early 2000s, Jerusalem is the eye of the storm. After a decade of relative quiet and relative prosperity in Israel, in the Palestinian Authority and in Jerusalem, we are once again standing at the brink.

But in another sense, this massacre is even more disturbing than the suicide attacks by Iz al-Din al-Qassam or the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades during the second intifada. Because this time we aren’t talking about a national struggle with religious trappings, but about an actual religious struggle. This time we’re talking about the kindling of a holy war over the holy city. It’s no coincidence that the terror target was a synagogue, and that Jews were murdered while draped in their prayer shawls. The clearly religious foundation of the current wave of violence makes it much more dangerous than its predecessors.

While there are no organized cells of ISIS here yet, the state of mind and barbaric combat tactics of the Islamic State are slowly seeping into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The religious fervor of the attack in Har Nof echoes the religious fervor being seen in the group’s activities in Syria and Iraq, and the knife used in the attack echoes the knife on YouTube. There is a deep fear that when Israel is surrounded by the nitroglycerin of radical Islam, Jerusalem becomes a detonator that poses an unprecedented risk.

So the question is, where is the leadership? The Gaza war of 2014 should have reminded us of something we weren’t meant to forget: that a diplomatic void is a dark void. In the Middle East, if there is no movement toward a hopeful horizon, there is an inevitable plunge into a pit of deep despair. We learned this during the War of Attrition, during the Yom Kippur War and during the two intifadas. Even if there’s no chance of reaching a peace agreement that will bring utopia in its wake, we need a peace process to prevent war. There’s a need for a diplomatic organizing principle that will maintain stability and prevent a deterioration of the situation.

But since U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry abandoned Israeli-Palestine in the spring, there has been no such organizing principle. Nor is there a leadership willing to take the initiative and stop the downward spiral. The diplomatic void is absolute and deadly. First it led to the war in the Gaza Strip, and now it is leading to the escalation in Jerusalem.

That’s why these murders must wake us all — Israelis, Palestinians, Americans and Europeans. If we do not immediately initiate a new, creative and realistic diplomatic process, violence will lead to more violence, and zealotry will fuel zealotry, until disaster strikes.

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