Amos Oz: Last chance for a Jewish State

At the recent eighth international conference of the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, Israeli author Amos Oz gave a landmark address on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. You can watch Oz speak in his exacting, poetic Hebrew with English subtitles here. What follows is an excerpt, translated by Elise Shazar.

I would like to talk this morning about dreams that Israel should forget about as quickly as possible. I will start with the most important thing, that which is, in my opinion, a matter of life and death for Israel: if two states don't come into existence now and fast, there will be one state. If one state comes into existence, it will be an Arab one from the sea to the Jordan River. If an Arab state is established, I do not envy our children and grandchildren.

I said an Arab state from the sea to the Jordan River, I did not say a bi-national state.

Except for Switzerland, all bi-national or multi-national states have faired badly (Belgium, Spain) or have already collapsed into a bloodbath (Lebanon, Cyprus, Yugoslavia, FSU, Iraq, Syria, Ukraine). If two states do not come into existence immediately,  it is possible that  in order to delay the establishment of an Arab State from the sea to the Jordan River, a dictatorship of fanatic Jews will temporarily rise to power, a religious and racist dictatorship that will suppress with an iron fist both the Arabs and its Jewish opponents. A dictatorship of this kind will not last long. No dictatorship of a minority ruling over a majority has ever lasted in the modern world. Even at the end of this road, i.e. a dictatorship of a Jewish minority over the Arab majority, what waits for us is still an Arab State between the sea and the Jordan River, and perhaps also an international embargo, or a bloodbath, or both punishments together.

Ladies and gentlemen, there are among us a lot of wise men–perhaps some are even in this room– who are telling us over and over that there is no solution to the conflict, so they preach the idea of “conflict management.” I want to call your attention to the fact that conflict management will look exactly what last summer looked like. 

Conflict management means a continuum of the Second Lebanese War, the Third Lebanese War, the Fourth and the Fifth, a continuum of Cast Lead, Pillar of Defense, Protective Edge and Stretched Bow and Iron Boots and Murderous Punches and maybe an intifada or two in Jerusalem and the territories until the PA collapses and Hamas, or another organization that is even more fanatic and extreme, rises to power. That is the meaning of conflict management in my opinion. And, I have to say in parenthesis that I do not represent anyone, no one chose me. If I prepare a good lecture, I sometimes manage to represent myself.

Let us talk for a minute or two about a solution of the conflict and not the management of the conflict. In the last 100 years or so (you can call them our 100 years of solitude) we have never had a better opportunity than now to end the conflict. Not because the Arabs have become more  Zionist, not because they are ready to suddenly recognize our historical right to this Land, but because Egypt and  Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, the Maghreb States and even Syria of Assad have a current enemy that is more immediate,  destructive and dangerous than the Jewish state.

Twelve years ago the Saudi peace proposal, which is the Arab Peace Initiative, you all know, was put on the table. I do not recommend that Israel rush to sign the dotted line of this proposal, but it is a proposal worthy of negotiations and bargaining. We should have acted thus 12 years ago, and if we had, circumstances would be different today.

If we had received such a proposal in the days of Ben Gurion, or Levi Eshkol, or the times of the three no's of the Khartoum Summit, we would have danced in the streets.

I will say now something which is controversial, and will be controversial. Since the 1967 war (at least), we have not won any wars. Not even the Yom Kippur war. War is not a basketball game in which someone who scores more points wins the trophy, the handshake and the applause of the fans. In war, as opposed to basketball, even if we burn more tanks than the enemy, fell more planes, kill more enemies and conquer more territory, that still does not mean we win. The victor in war is the one who achieves his goals, and the loser is the one who does not.

In the Yom Kippur War, the goal of Sadat was to shatter the status quo established in the Six Day War, and he succeeded. We lost because we did not achieve our goal, and we didn’t achieve our goal because we had no goal, and we could not have had a goal that we could achieve through force. Am I saying that military force is unnecessary? No way! At any point of time in the last 70 years, including this moment when we are sitting and talking in Ramat Aviv, our military force stands incessantly between us and destruction.  But only if we remember this: in regard to us and our neighbors, our military force can only be a preventive one– to prevent calamity, destruction and mass attack on our civilians. But we can’t win because we have no goals that can be achieved through military force. That is the reason that I see conflict management as a recipe for trouble after trouble, and of course defeat after defeat.

Many Israelis, too many Israelis, believe –or are brainwashed to believe– that if we only take a huge stick and hit the Arabs one more strong blow, they will be afraid and leave us alone for all time and everything will be alright. For the last hundred years we have been raising a bigger and bigger stick, and it has not helped. The right and the settlers tell us incessantly that we have a right to all of Western Israel, that we have a right to the Temple Mount. But what do they mean when they say right? A right is not something I really, really, really want. A right is not something that I feel strongly about.  A right is something that someone else recognizes as your right. If others do not acknowledge your right, or if only some people acknowledge what you think is your right, then what you have is not a right but a claim.

And that is the difference between Ramle and Ramallah, between Haifa and Nablus, between Beersheeba and Hebron. Most of the world, including most of the Arab and Muslim world, acknowledges today, happily or not, that Haifa and Beersheba are ours.   Except for Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran, everyone accepts this. But no one in the world, except for the settlers, and maybe their extreme supporters in America, acknowledges that Nablus and Ramallah are ours. And that is the difference between a right and a claim. The settlers and their supporters say that we have a right to all of the Land of Israel and of course the Temple Mount, but they are telling us something else altogether.  Not that we have a right but that we have a religious obligation to hold on to every inch of it.

If I go to an ATM, I have the right to withdraw 2,000 shekels. But that doesn’t mean I have to withdraw the NIS 2,000 every time I go by an ATM. If I am standing at a marked crosswalk, I have the right to cross the road. And, if it's a green light, and perhaps there is even a policeman waving me on, I certainly have the right to cross the road.  But if I see a truck racing towards me at 100 km an hour, I have the full right not to fulfill that right.  Not to cross the road. I am speaking, for instance, about the Temple Mount. Why shouldn't Jews have the right to pray on the Temple Mount? But we have the right not to realize this right in this generation.

I want to tell you—there are those among us who have outgrown the 70 year old conflict: they are tired of it, bored with it. They want action. They want to lead us into war with all of Islam—with Indonesia, Malaysia, Turkey, and nuclear Pakistan. They are ready to go to war against the whole world.

And I ask you and I ask myself: to die for the right to pray on the Temple Mount? There is nothing about this anywhere in the Jewish writings. Under no circumstances.  To those who want a world war on the issue of the Temple Mount, I say do it without me or my children or grandchildren.  Also, the war against all of Islam is not enough for them.  There are those who are trying to lead us into war with the whole world.

You know, 40 years ago on the day after the 1977 rise of Likud to power, a senior editor of one of the dailies was so happy with the change of government, so euphoric, that he began his op-ed with the words, “The success of the Likud party in the elections in Israel restores America to its real dimensions.” Today I also identify an Israeli attempt to restore America to its real dimensions, to destroy the alliance between Israel and America for the benefits of an alliance between our extreme right and the extreme right in America.

We must never forget that at least twice in our history we found ourselves in a war against almost all of the world. And those two times it ended very badly. I see a day in the not too far future (and I hope I am wrong)  when airport personnel in Dublin, or Amsterdam or Madrid  refuse to process El Al passengers. When consumers refuse to buy Israeli products and leave it on the shelves. When investors and tourists stay away from this ostracized country. Ladies and gentleman, this is not futurology, we are half way there.  David Ben Gurion taught us that Israel cannot survive without the support of at least one superpower. Which superpower? It changes. Once it was Britain, once it was even Stalin's Russia, once Britain and France and in the last decades, America. But the alliance with America is not a natural force of nature.

Let me dedicate the next minutes to talk about one of the most important differentiations that an individual or a county can make –the differentiation between constants and variables.  It is dangerous to let those who cannot differentiate between these two concepts to navigate in the world. Kishon (*NOTE: Ephraim Kishon, the humorist) gives instructions to a friend “right at the post office, left at the crossroads, and right again when you get to the guy who is beating his kid.” It is not a joke.  There are those who remember how, for decades, we were intimidated, told that if we return the territories, Soviet forces will turn up near Kfar Saba. I cannot tell you for sure that if we withdraw from the territories everything will be wonderful, but I can tell you with certainty that there will be no Soviet forces.  That's the difference between permanence and change.  Let's talk about the present. The same powers that scared us for decades regarding Soviet forces near Kfar Saba are scaring us now by telling us that if we withdraw from the territories, missiles will fall on Tel Aviv, on the Ben Gurion airport, on Kfar Saba.  I can't be sure if that is true or not. But let me tell you  — with all the authority of a first sergeant in the IDF — that  missiles can already hit Tel Aviv, Ben Gurion airport and Kfar Saba, launched  not only from Kalkilya, but also from Iraq, from Pakistan and maybe even from Indonesia. Like the Soviet forces in Kfar Saba, there is a lack of differentiation between the constant and the variables. If not today, then tomorrow or the day after, it will be easy to accurately hit any point in the world from any other point in the world too. So should we send the IDF to conquer the whole world?

The fact that America is an allied superpower can change, and may change, (if we try hard enough it will change even quickly). But the fact that the Palestinians are our neighbors and that we live in the heart of the Arab and Muslim world, is a constant. Even the nuclear threat of Iran is a variable, not a constant.  Because even if we — or others in our name — bomb the nuclear facilities in Iran, we can't bomb the knowledge. Because nuclear Pakistan can become tomorrow, if not tonight, an Islamic state even more extreme than Iran and it already has nuclear weapons. Because there is no one who can prevent our rich enemies from buying ready made nuclear arms and using them against us. And mainly, because in a few years, anyone who wants to obtain weapons of mass destruction will be able to.  Here, too the constant has to be the power of deterrence of Israel. And the abilities of our enemies, (nuclear and other), is a variable that is not dependent on us.

Contrary to many of my friends in the dovish left, I cannot guarantee that if we leave the territories with a peace agreement, everything will be wonderful.  But I believe that if we stay in the territories, it will be worse. If we stay in the territories an Arab State will be eventually established from the sea to the Jordan River.

I want to criticize myself and some of my friends from the dovish left. There are millions of Israeli citizens who would give up the territories for peace but they don’t believe the Arabs. They don’t want to be suckers.  They are afraid. We should never decry that fear or mock it (and we have done this). You can try to defuse it, try to calm it and perhaps it won't hurt the dovish left to participate in this fear a bit, because there is room for fear. A person who is afraid, justifiably or not, should not be mocked or scorned. The question of peace in exchange for territories should be argued, not with mockery, not with disdain and not with anti-Semitic cartoons. People should argue as people who weigh one danger against the other.

And one more mistake that some of my leftist dovish friends make.  (I did not make this mistake), something they think peace is sitting high on a shelf in a toy store—you just need to reach out and touch it. Our father Rabin, almost touched it at Oslo but he was too miserly to  pay the price at the last moment and  didn’t bring us the toy.

Father Barak almost touched the toy at Camp David, but was too miserly to pay the price so came home without peace. And the same with Father Olmert. We have a miserly father, one who doesn’t love us enough, otherwise he would have brought us the peace that we so yearn for. I do not agree. I believe that peace has more than one partner. A juicy Arabic saying says that, “You can't clap with one hand.” After my lecture, you can try it for yourselves.

My Zionistic starting point has been for years as follows: We are not alone in this country; we are not alone in Jerusalem. I say the same to my Palestinian friends. You are not alone in this country. There is no choice but to divide this small house into two even smaller apartments. A two family home “and a good fence makes a good neighbor” to quote the poet Robert Frost. (*NOTE: the accurate quote is “good fences make good neighbors).

We hear here and there about the idea of a bi-national state, both from the extreme left and also from the extreme right, Moshe Arens for instance. I think the idea of a bi-national state is a sad joke. Not only because the fate of bi- national states in the world. But because of a much simpler reason:  you can't expect Israelis and Palestinians after 100 years of blood, tears and calamity to jump into a double bed and begin the honeymoon. If someone had suggested in 1945 just after World War II to unite Germany and Poland into a bi-national state, they would have confined him to an asylum.

I was one of the first, at the age of 28, that wrote a short time after the Six Day War that the occupation would corrupt us. In the same article, I wrote that the occupation would also corrupt the occupied. No, we and the Palestinians cannot become one happy family tomorrow because we are not one, we are not happy and we are not a family. We are two unhappy families. We need a fair divorce and not a honeymoon. Maybe with time there will be a common market, a federation, cooperation, but as a first phase this country is going to be a two family home because we are not going anywhere. We have nowhere to go. And the Palestinians are not going anywhere because they have nowhere to go either.

The long dispute between the Palestinians and Israel is not a Hollywood western portraying good against bad, but a Greek tragedy about  justice versus justice, and often, unfortunately, injustice versus injustice.

Because of these views I often get called a traitor, but I ask you: What should a surgeon, if he is a good doctor, ask himself when he encounters a patient with multiple injuries: “What comes first? What is urgent? What might kill the patient?”
In the case of Israel, it is not religious coercion, it is not even accessible housing, or even the price of Milky. The continued fight with the Arabs is becoming a war between us and the whole world. This war endangers our existence.

This is the moment which I should reveal out loud, in front of hundreds of people, the biggest military secret we have, the most censored one there is.  And the secret is that we are actually weaker and we were always weaker than all our enemies together. Our enemies have been soaked for years in wild rhetoric about destroying Israel and throwing the Jews into the sea.

They could have easily sent a million well equipped warriors against us, or two or three million, and we wouldn't be here today.  But they never sent more than a few tens of thousands. Because in spite of the wild rhetoric, the existence of Israel or its destruction was never a question of life and death for them.  Not for Syria, or Libya's Gaddafi, or Egypt, and not even for Iran of the Ayatollahs. If it was a question of life and death for them, we would not be here. We are maybe a question of life and death for the Palestinians, but luckily for us they are they are too small to overpower us in any case. But remember, the sum of all our enemies can overpower us if they have, God forbid, the real motivation, not only rhetorical motivation.

Our adventure in the Temple Mount could, God forbid, give them the needed motivation. I don’t know if we can end this conflict overnight, but I believe we could try. I believe that we could have reduced the Israel-Palestinian conflict to an Israel-Gazan conflict. I did not say to solve it, just reduce it, from an Israel- Palestinian conflict to an Israel-Gazan conflict, if we hadn’t said for years that Arafat is too much of a bloody murderer to do business with and Abu Mazen is too weak and harmless so why do business with him? We could have reduced the Israel-Palestinian conflict a long time ago to an Israeli-Gazan conflict and we can do it now too.

It is hard to be a prophet in the land of prophets—there is too much competition. But my long life experience has taught me that in in the Middle East, the words “forever”, “never”, or “not at any cost” usually mean something between 6 months to 30 years.

If someone told me when I was recruited to reserve duty in Sinai in the Six Day War to the Golan Heights in the Yom Kippur War that one day I would travel to Egypt or  Jordan with a Jordanian or Egyptian visa in my Israeli passport, I, the dove, the optimist, the peace monger would have told him “don’t exaggerate.” Maybe my children, my grandchildren, but not me. But I have traveled to Egypt and Jordan and I have Jordanian and Egyptian visas in my passport. 

In summary, I want to tell you in case you have not heard, that for decades we have been experiencing in this small country a Golden Age in literature, in cinema, in the arts, in high-tech, in science and even in philosophy. People usually talk about a Golden Age with nostalgia, after it has passed.  But Israel has been for several years in the midst of a wonderful and creative Golden Age and in terms of spiritual and intellectual creativity, the status of Israel is one of a universal superpower.

And I want to tell you something, that you may have not thought of but maybe think about it now: the city of Tel Aviv, the first Hebrew city, is in my view, a collective creation of the Jewish –Israeli people and it is a no less important and perhaps even a more important creation than, for instance, the Rabbinical Literature of the Diaspora. The city of Tel Aviv is perhaps even more important than the Hebrew Poetry of Spain. The city of Tel Aviv is perhaps no less wonderful than the Babylonian Talmud, and it is only one of the many collective creations  that we have crafted here in the land of Israel in the 100 years of our solitude.

Now comes a small confession:  I love Israel even in the times when I can't stand it.

You know why? A story: Stanley Fischer told me that he once went to Cyprus with his wife for a restful weekend. The flights to Cyprus leave Ben Gurion at 1:30 am and land at 2:30 am. At 2:30 in the morning Stanley Fischer and his wife are standing, very tired, waiting for their suitcases. And an Israeli passenger walks up to them and asks politely: “excuse me, are you the Governor of the Bank of Israel? Tell me, where should I exchange my money—here at the airport or tomorrow in the city?” That is what I like about Israel. This would never have happened to the Chancellor of the Bank of Germany or the Governor of the Bank of England or the President of the Bank of France.  That is why I love Israel even when I can't stand it. . 

I love Israel because of its directness, its bluntness. I love it because it is like this:

If I have to fall in the streets, I want to fall in the streets in Israel—not in London, not in Paris, not in Berlin and not in New York. Because someone will help me up onto my feet.   I know that once I stand up, there will be many that will want to see me fall again. But if I fall again, someone will help me up again.

I am concerned for our future. I am worried about the policy of the government and also ashamed of it.  I am concerned because of the growing fanaticism and violence, and I am ashamed. But I am happy to be an Israeli, and happy to be a citizen in a country where there are 8 million prime ministers, 8 million prophets, 8 million messiahs.  Everyone, every taxi driver with their own personal formula for instant redemption, everyone yelling all the time and no one listening.  I listen, because I make a living out of it.  

It is not boring here, and sometimes even very fascinating intellectually and emotionally. What I have seen in my lifetime is much less and also much more than what my parents and grandparents dreamt about. Thanks for the patience and tolerance.

Can Israelis protect themselves from a new wave of low-tech terror?

Just after dawn on Nov. 18, a pair of Palestinian cousins from East Jerusalem went ” target=”_blank”>three American and one British — as well as a Druze traffic officer who tried to intervene.

“I was in shock — I didn’t understand what they were doing,” said Simha Anteby, 30, a Venezuelan immigrant who lives across the street from the synagogue and watched police kill the shooters as they ran from the building. “Never before has Hamas entered the shul. This is our calmest time, when we’re standing wrapped in tefillin. We’re completely vulnerable.

“They took advantage,” she said.

The Har Nof synagogue massacre, above all other recent acts of terror, has shattered the Israeli public’s sense of security in its most intimate settings. And it is forcing Israelis, who have secured their skies with the Iron Dome and their borders with fences and separation barriers, to attempt to figure out how to defend themselves against their next-door neighbors.

Regular worshipers at the Kehilat Bnei Torah synagogue in West Jerusalem inspect bullet holes left by Palestinian shooters in a Nov. 18 rampage. Photos by Simone Wilson

This was the sixth fatal attack against Israelis within one month. There were also two car-as-weapon assaults ” target=”_blank”>attempted assassination of religious activist Yehuda Glick; and two stabbings on the same day, at a ” target=”_blank”>Tel Aviv train station.

A trend has emerged: Palestinian assailants, most with Jerusalem residency cards and, therefore, freedom of movement around Israel, are launching lone-wolf attacks with easy-to-find weapons.

Israeli social media analyst Orit Perlov, a research fellow for the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), said that trend has turned into a wildly effective, almost ISIS-like online campaign called “Ida’as, Ita’an, Itbah” (Arabic for “run over, stab, slaughter”).

“It creates a bigger effect than before,” Perlov said. “I’m sitting in Tel Aviv, I don’t leave my house, and I’m getting those pictures in a second. It doesn’t mean we have less security today, but we feel more insecurity. … I don’t need to physically be there to be terrorized.”

Most of the attacks before Har Nof seemed to be spur-of-the-moment decisions, impossible to predict or prevent.

“This is quite clearly a popular [movement] that is going from bottom up,” said Udi Dekel, a former negotiator in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and managing director of the INSS. “It’s the popular, kind of copycat nature of terrorism that people are getting excited about. … They can decide one morning to go out and [release] what’s been cooking in their souls for a week or two.”

When the attacks began, Israeli police erected concrete blocks at rail stations, deployed more than 1,000 extra officers around the city, set up dozens of vehicle checkpoints, and launched a new fleet of helicopters and surveillance balloons overhead.

Still, early on Nov. 18, the Abu Jamal cousins drove to the Har Nof synagogue with a car full of weapons and entered with ease.

“They didn’t have to break in,” said Dr. Joyce Morel, a first responder. “It was time for prayers — it was open. Anybody could just walk in.”

In response, Israeli Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovich implemented sweeping changes. He boxed in all Palestinian neighborhoods with concrete barricades, requiring anyone entering or exiting to pass through a checkpoint. He ordered all synagogues to hire private guards and enlisted four reserve border police companies for public patrol. 

The residents of Har Nof in West Jerusalem, many of them English-speaking immigrants, gathered for a special service on Nov. 20 in memory of four synagogue members killed two days before.

Perhaps most controversially, Aharonovich eased restrictions for former cops or soldiers — and anyone living in a high-risk neighborhood — to acquire a gun license.

“The decision comes from a need to improve the feeling of safety among the population in light of the recent terror attacks,” Aharonovich said.

Jonathan Fine, a senior researcher at the Institute for Counter-Terrorism at Israel’s Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya (IDC), lives in a mixed Arab-Jewish sector of Jerusalem called French Hill. He said he doesn’t leave the house anymore without a gun.

“On the intelligence and tactical levels, it’s almost impossible to predict an independent attack,” he said. “Therefore, the only response on the ground will be from those who happen to be there. Police, pedestrians, or … your humble servant jogging with a pistol in his pouch.”

Yoram Schweitzer, INSS’ resident expert on terrorism, stressed that Israel can’t “put a guard in every synagogue and every kindergarten, because you have a zillion installations. This is not a solution.” In an INSS roundtable on the state of the conflict, Schweitzer and his colleagues advised that in order for calm to be restored, knee-jerk security measures would not be enough without a real political effort to move forward in the pursuit of Palestinian independence.

“We have to fight against the terror and dismantle the terror infrastructure … but it’s not enough,” Dekel said. “You have to all the time strive and go forward in the direction that you believe would be better for us and for the Palestinians.”

An insecure nation

Multiple Jerusalemites told the Journal that the synagogue massacre, more than other attacks, has left them with a feeling of total insecurity.

Kalman S., an Orthodox father-to-be and West Jerusalem resident who was afraid to give his full name, said he had always considered Har Nof off-limits to the enemy. “Americans come all the way to Israel to live in this beautiful place,” he said. “Until now, it was the area that was more safe than the rest of Jerusalem. Then, all of a sudden, these guys are barbarically killed.

“Now,” he said, “I’m crossing the street with my wife, nine months’ pregnant, and I’m looking over my shoulder to make sure there’s no Arab guy to stab me.”

More than 12 hours after the attack, small clusters of Har Nof residents still lingered near the front steps to the shul, their faces dark and disbelieving. Charedi men in black coats and hats inspected bullet holes in synagogue windows and car doors, now marked with police tape. Women pulled their cardigans tighter to shield themselves from the cold.

“We know that if we go to the center, to the Western Wall, they can hurt us,” Avraham Kleiger, 25, told the Journal. “But, here we thought we were safe. We thought the synagogue was the red line.”

Young women from Har Nof hide their tears behind their prayer books during an emotional Nov. 20 service at the Kehilat Bnei Torah shul.

In the agonizing hours that followed the Nov. 18 attack, Har Nof residents would learn which of their seasoned Torah scholars hadn’t made it through morning prayers alive: Aryeh Kupinsky. Kalman Levine. Avraham Goldberg. Moshe Twersky.

Twersky comes from a famous Chasidic family with a strong presence on America’s East Coast that is a household name among the Jerusalem Orthodox. His friends and family knew him as a strict scholar with a warm smile, devoted wholeheartedly to serving God. Twersky’s niece, Rebecca Rosenblatt, currently studying abroad at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, said in a hushed interview outside the family shivah that she had never once heard her Orthodox uncle discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“Uncle Moshe respected everyone,” she said. “The only one he ever sought recognition from was God.”

Israeli security and social-media analyst Perlov said this attack on religious Jews wrapped in tefillin comes amid a shift in iconography driving the Palestinian resistance. Whereas propaganda cartoons used to mainly show uniformed Israel Defense Forces (IDF) under attack, she said, many of the victims are now depicted as caricatures of Orthodox Jews.

IDC counterterrorism expert Fine said the synagogue massacre was a clear sign that Palestinian attackers are taking clues from radical Islam. “They used butcher knives,” he said of the assailants. “If you get into Sharia law, you’ll see very specific rulings on killing the enemy with a knife.”

Some analysts believe the Har Nof synagogue may have been a random pick, born of convenience, but there’s a good possibility the Abu Jamal cousins chose their venue carefully. East Jerusalem residents who knew Ghassan and Uday told the Journal that the Kehilat Bnei Torah shul was the same one frequented by the family of the man convicted of brutally murdering young East Jerusalem boy Mohammed Abu Khdeir in July. (Various Israeli and Palestinian media reports provided evidence toward the same claim.) And Ghassan, they said, had been close friends with Yousef Ramouni, the Palestinian bus driver Dust and lightning

A short drive from Har Nof, at the mouth to Jerusalem, a few hundred Israelis gathered beneath the Bridge of Strings on the night of the synagogue massacre to voice their pain — and their anger at Israeli officials for not preventing the attack with a greater show of strength.

Israeli activist Itamar Ben Gvir rallies a crowd near the entrance to Jerusalem on Nov. 18, calling for Israel to expel all Arabs from the country.

The rally soon devolved into a rowdy mob led by members of the extreme anti-Arab group Lehava. They taunted riot police, chanted “Death to the Arabs!” and attempted to chase down suspected Palestinians and “lefties” walking by. Slogans like “No Arabs = no attacks” and “There is no coexistence with cancer” were scrawled on homemade signs. Wartime-level racial tensions had returned to Jerusalem.

Said one young protester: “The government needs to fight stronger against this enemy. We need to go and blow up their house — right now. It’s taking too long.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had the same idea. That night, under pressure to take decisive action and to console an insecure nation, he said in a media statement:

“We will not tolerate this reality; we will fight terrorism, and we will defeat it. We will restore law, order and security to the streets of Jerusalem. This evening, I ordered the demolition of the homes of the terrorists who perpetrated the massacre and the hastening of the demolition of the homes of the terrorists who perpetrated the earlier attacks.”

The next night, a demolition team made up of IDF Combat Engineering Corps soldiers, Israeli police and border cops A young relative of terror suspect Abdel Rahman Al Shaludi stands in the rubble of their family home. The building was partially demolished by Israeli forces on Nov. 19 as punishment for Al Shaludi’s deadly October attack at a Jerusalem light rail station.

The family building didn’t crumble entirely. However, 21-year-old Abdel Rahman’s apartment — where he lived with his mother, father and five brothers and sisters — has been gutted, rendered unlivable, by an IDF explosive. And the building’s other seven units are now in various states of destruction — some with holes in their walls, some with their belongings ransacked and furniture shredded. A car parked on the street below was destroyed by falling objects. “They peed on the bed of the children, and on the schoolbooks of my niece, on the first floor,” Enas claimed.

Her son, now a community shahid (martyr) with his face on fliers and banners all over Silwan, allegedly had rammed his car into a Jerusalem light rail station on Oct. 22. The crash killed a 3-month-old baby girl and an Ecuadorian immigrant, and sent Jerusalem into a new era of tension and violence some are calling the Third Intifada.

“I don’t like to see innocent people dying. I don’t like to see anyone die — Jew or Palestinian,” she said. “But violence will create more violence. Action will create more action. The situation will only become worse. The only solution is to end the occupation and to keep the settlers out of Al-Aqsa mosque.”

‘An extraordinary step’

The Al Shaludi home demolition was the first in a lineup of at least six punitive demolitions that as of press time Nov. 24 was expected in the coming days.

Back in July, the IDF demolished two family homes in the West Bank belonging to Palestinian men suspected of carrying out the infamous kidnap-murder of three Jewish boys. At that time, officials were hesitant to confirm the demolition to the press. The practice was then somewhat taboo: It had been discontinued in 2005 after the IDF declared it ineffective and had only been approved in two exceptional cases since.

But with the 4 a.m. explosion in Silwan last week, this tactic, whose effectiveness is often debated, re-entered the mainstream.

In a video interview with CNN, the prime minister’s spokesman, Mark Regev, explained the revival. “It is an extraordinary step, one of the tools in our tool box,” Regev said. “A Palestinian terrorist, any terrorist, may not care about themselves. But maybe they care about their immediate loved ones and where they live. I’ve been in security discussions, and our experts believe this policy could save lives.”

Jabel Mukabbir, the East Jerusalem hometown of the Abu Jamal synagogue attackers, will be hit hardest by the demolitions. Their two family homes — plus that of Mohammed Naif Ja’abis, who flipped over a Jerusalem bus with his tractor on Aug. 4, killing one — are on the IDF’s list.

Theirs is a tight-knit neighborhood that cascades down a hill just south of Jerusalem’s Old City, spilling over the political fault line that separates East Jerusalem from the West Bank. It’s also a hotbed for anti-Israel activity: In 2008, another Jabel Mukabbir resident shot up a yeshiva in West Jerusalem; eight boys died in the attack.

On the afternoon of Nov. 21 in Jabel Mukabbir, hundreds of residents had gathered to support the Abu Jamal family at a mourning tent for Ghassan and Uday. Their mothers were holed up in a neighbor’s home, too distraught to speak to the press. They’d just gotten word that Israel might not return their sons’ bodies for burial — and a 48-hour demolition notice posted on their family homes Nov. 20 was set to expire the next afternoon.

“When you build this house, your soul is gone when you finish,” said Kamal Awisat, 51, a cousin of the synagogue attackers. “It’s not easy for Palestinians to build in Jerusalem because Israel doesn’t give us new permits. So every time your children have children, you cut a new apartment into the house.”

The two stone buildings set for demolition, home to around 20 members of the Abu Jamal family, are situated about 50 meters apart, surrounded by olive trees and connected by a dirt path. One is said to be around 200 years old.

By last Friday, families had removed their furniture from the home and were bracing for an explosion in the night.

Uday’s younger brother, who didn’t want to give his name for fear the Israeli police would arrest him, said that if the IDF demolished his home, he would sleep in the rubble — right where Uday’s room used to be. “I will be like him some day, inshallah (God willing),” said the 10-year-old, a red checkered keffiyeh draped over his shoulders.

“You see? Instead of making calm, they are making more fire,” said Awisat. “How would you feel if this was your house? They will make 500 youth ready to do more than what [Ghassan and Uday] did.”

Waiting for Demolition

Next door, in the more low-key, upscale East Jerusalem neighborhood of Abu Tor, there’s another IDF demolition slated for the home of Mutaz Hijazi — the man suspected of the near-fatal shooting of Israeli-American activist Yehuda Glick, a lead campaigner for Jewish prayer rights at the contested Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City.

Hijazi‘s father Ibrahim, 67, welcomed a nonstop rotation of journalists into his house on Friday afternoon. He walked from room to room, showing them the space where he‘d raised his children. The furniture had been dragged out, but traces of life remained: In the living room, a child had painted stripes of glitter on the wall. In an adjacent bedroom, deflated red and yellow balloons were still tacked to the ceiling. An embroidered “Welcome” sign and a photo of his dead son Mutaz hung near the front door.

Waiting for the IDF to arrive, Ibrahim said, was almost more painful than the demolition itself. “He’s already gone,” said Ibrahim of his son. “What they‘re doing now is just to show how much hate they have for our people.”

The renowned Israeli professor and doctor Shimon Glick, father of the man Hijazi allegedly shot, said he sees the demolitions mostly as a means of attempting to calm the Israeli people.

“No one knows whether this is effective” in preventing future terror attacks, he said. “Everyone has an opinion. They like to think they know, but no one knows for sure.”

Personally, Glick said, “It gives me no satisfaction to know that these people will have their house blown up. But when something this horrible happens, people demand a response. The government has to do something.”

The U.S. has urged Israeli authorities to avoid punitive home demolitions. “We’ve made it clear that all sides have to work together to lower tensions,” U.S. State Department Jeff Rathke said at a recent press conference. “And we believe that punitive home demolitions are counterproductive in an already tense situation. This is a practice I would remind that the Israeli government itself discontinued in the past, recognizing its effects.”

Various Israeli security experts stressed to the Journal that the country’s long-term security depends on a delicate balance of initially cracking down on radicals — to deter future attacks — while not pushing other Palestinians to the breaking point, and keeping hope alive for the future.

“When you have a gloomy option of peace negotiations, naturally the radicals have the upper hand — they incite and violence grows,” Fine said.

‘They knew the neighborhood’

The initial crackdown phase is in full effect in Jerusalem. Over the past few days, the Israel of a decade ago — in which one couldn’t walk a block without being watched or patted down by a man in uniform — has come back to life. More than usual, the streets are full of vigilantes: Plainclothes men in kippot walk around slung with rifles. On a recent Friday, one young man on the Jerusalem light rail, fresh out of the army, said he was carrying a gun to show Palestinians that “Jerusalem is ours.” Two others peeled past the central bus station in black helmets and Israeli flag capes, whooping into the wind. Central bus station security guards looked like they’d just woken up from two years of vacation, and spent a good 30 seconds rifling through each passenger’s bag.

Some Jerusalemites told the Journal that there’s not much they can do besides stay alert — or hide. “There are fewer people in the streets,” said Kalman S. “We stay home when we can.” 

Others are taking a stand. A controversial new campaign has urged Jewish business owners to fire their Palestinian employees.

According to police, the Tel Aviv stabbing suspect had been working illegally in Israel before he lashed out. One of the Abu Jamal cousins, too, is said to have worked at a grocery store a few blocks from the Har Nof synagogue. (Residents of Har Nof each named a different store when questioned by the Journal, and storeowners all denied the synagogue attacker had worked in their businesses.)

“They knew the neighborhood. If they didn’t work here, this wouldn’t happen,” said 17-year-old Har Nof resident Yakov Wilshinky. “The Arabs don’t want us alive in this country. You don’t know which one will come and kill you.”

Wilshinky and his friends — one of whom held up a flier reading “Don’t hire Arabs!!!” — said they had been making the rounds to local businesses. “We’re going to the managers of all the grocery stores and telling them to fire their Arab workers,” said Dudu Asulin. He said his own boss, at a nearby supermarket, had sent all the Arabs home that day and told them, “Don’t come back to work.”

Despite warnings from the Prime Minister’s Office — “We should not generalize an entire population because a small minority of it is violent and belligerent,” Netanyahu said — the “don’t hire Arabs” movement quickly spread beyond Har Nof. A reception hall chain in Bnei Brak reportedly fired more than a dozen Arab dishwashers after the synagogue attack. And the mayor of Ashkelon, a large Israeli city near Gaza, made international headlines when he banned Arab workers from construction sites near schools. (He later retracted his decision.)

Protesters at the Lehava rally said there was no alternative. “Every Arab you see, you get scared,” said Avi Mann. “If an Arab wakes up in the morning and he’s angry, he could take a knife and kill Jews.”

A 22-year-old Palestinian woman living in Jabel Mukabbir and working at an Israeli hospital would only give her initials — R.A. — in an interview with the Journal, for fear her hospital superiors would see the article and fire her.

R.A. also volunteers for a Palestinian emergency response team, where she’s been treating young Jabel Mukabbir protesters wounded in clashes with police ahead of the slated home demolitions. “We couldn’t just let them come in,” she said of Israeli forces. “All of the people of this village stopped them from entering. We are very close here; every home is our home. We can’t give up that easily.”

Of the motives driving recent terror attacks, she said: “Things escalated over a few months. It started on Ramadan, when they stopped us from going to the [Al-Aqsa] mosque. Then Abu Khdeir was killed, and then Gaza — it built up, bit by bit. And they just suppressed it. They didn’t let people express their feelings.

“These bad things that happen don’t come from nowhere,” she said. “It’s a reaction. We don’t all wake up every morning and want to kill.”

Is Obama bringing a peace plan?

Over and over, American officials insist that President Obama has no new Israeli-Palestinian peace plan hidden in his pocket, ready to be whipped out during next week’s meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. But Palestinians hope and Israelis fear that he will try to restart a peace process that has been moribund for the past four years.

“President Obama’s visit is hopefully the beginning of the renewal of American attention and engagement here,” Ghassan Khatib, a professor of cultural studies at Birzeit University and a former Palestinian spokesman told The Media Line. “But 99 percent of Palestinians believe that American official policy is biased towards Israel. We need to see if it’s just a visit or an event with serious consequences.”

Netanyahu has said that the three main issues on the agenda are Iran, Syria and the Palestinian issue.

“I can assure you that the Palestinian issue will be addressed in depth,” Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor told The Media Line.

Israeli analysts say that it seems unlikely that, despite his protestations to the contrary, that Obama is really coming only to listen.

“The Americans are trying to lessen expectations but its hard for me to believe President Obama will come and not talk about renewing negotiations,” Shlomo Brom, an expert on the Palestinians at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) told The Media Line. “The question is how much he will be willing to pressure both sides. If we look at his past term, the answer is not much.”

US policy has adopted the two-state solution, calling for an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem alongside Israel. Palestinian officials warn that time is running out for such a solution.

“If Netanyahu is allowed four more years of “settlement” expansion, that means the end of any chance of two states,” Khatib said. “The only party that can make a difference here is the US government.”

Israeli officials agree that the US has the power to affect change on the issue.

“Netanyahu might think he only wants to talk about the Iranian issue,” a senior Israeli official told The Media Line on condition of anonymity. “But for the Americans the Iranian issue and the Palestinian issue go hand in hand. It is possible that the President Obama will work toward a trilateral summit with Netanyahu and Abbas.”

The visit comes as an Israeli government has not yet been formed, although it seems likely that there will be a coalition by the President’s arrival next Wednesday. Obama originally said he would postpone his trip if Netanyahu had not succeeded in forming a coalition but later changed his mind.

In any case, it will be a new government with a new Defense Minister and unlikely to make major decisions.

Palestinians say that they hope the President will pressure Israel to stop building in post 1967 areas, and to do more to stop “price-tag attacks” by Israelis who live in the post 1967 areas on Palestinian property and mosques.

“Things can change if Big Brother holds Israel accountable,” Khatib said, referring to the US. “He can say to Israel that if you disregard us, it will affect other aspects of our relationship. Now the US says that “settlements” are illegal and an obstacle to peace but they don’t do anything about it.”

For the first time in decades, the Palestinian issue was barely mentioned during Israel’s elections in January. Most Israelis believe there is little chance of an agreement as long as Palestinians remain divided between Fatah, which controls the West Bank, and Hamas, which controls Gaza.

“The politicians have convinced the public that there’s no chance for a deal right now,” Shlomo Brom said. “But that could change. I remember when Yitzhak Rabin was elected (in 1992). All of a sudden feelings shifted.”

Rabin, of course, was assassinated by an extremist Jew in 1995. Since then, several attempts at the peace process have failed. But now there is a feeling that it’s now or never.

“Time is not on the side of a moderate, two-state solution,” Khatib warned. “In many places in the Middle East the Islamists are taking over. That could happen here as well.”