Terror hits Jerusalem: Riding the tiger of religious wars

November 18, 2014

Yesterday’s political crisis seems childish and negligible this morning, as Israel mourns and angers over the brutal murder of synagogue worshipers in Jerusalem. There is little to say about the gory details of the attack: the shooting, the axes, the disturbance of a quiet morning prayer. This is a despicable act of terrorism, and Israel rightly expects to hear a condemnation of it, loud and clear, no ifs and no buts, from the international community and from the Palestinian leadership.

The pointing of fingers toward Palestinian President Abbas has already begun. He is guilty of incitement – Israeli leaders were quick to say. He and the authority over which he presides. When a Palestinian bus driver was found dead on Monday, and Israeli police determined that it was suicide, the Palestinian propaganda machine blamed the “settlers” for his death, in a clear attempt to make a tense situation even tenser.

So, it is true that Israel is in the midst of a politically motivated campaign to destroy the credibility of Abbas as a moderate and peace-seeking leader. But it is also true that Abbas is playing with fire by essentially encouraging violent behavior in Jerusalem and elsewhere. Violence, as both Israelis and Palestinians discovered over a decade ago, is an unruly tiger. If Abbas plans to ride this tiger, the consequences could be dire.

Israel does not – and could not – respond calmly to the scenes of Jewish worshipers killed wearing a Talith. Israel was established to protect Jews from having to worry about being killed while wearing a Talith. It is no wonder that Aryeh Deri, the leader of the Shas Party, and a resident of Har Nof, the neighborhood in which the attack took place, called the attack a “massacre”. It is no wonder that other Knesset Members were quick to say that the attack reminds them of “events in Europe that we want to forget”. The scenes from the synagogue this morning rekindle Jewish demons, and such demons tend to make rational debates over proper policies seem irrelevant.

For the government of Israel the task of reigning down this wave of terrorism will be coupled with an effort to prevent retribution by violent Jews. As the tension and the violence rise, the danger of clashes that involve unruly Jewish groups or individuals also rises. That is one of the reasons for which the government has no choice but to demonstrate to the public that it acts decisively against those who encourage and perpetrate Palestinian terrorism.

This is a volatile moment for both Israelis and Palestinians, as both publics are dragged into a pit of more violence that will get them nowhere. The Palestinians should remember – if they still care – that when violence erupts Jews are killed but even more Palestinians are killed, that Jews suffer but that Palestinians suffer even more. They might calculate that violence is their only venue for putting the “Palestinian cause” back on the table, but the last rounds of violence proved such calculations are tricky at best. The second Intifada did not improve the Palestinian situation, nor did the war Hamas launched last summer.

The blood of synagogue goers is not redder than the blood of bus riders or club dancers or restaurant visitors – and yet, a terror attack on worshipers feels a little different in nature from all other terror attacks. The more the Palestinians behave like ISIS – butchering worshipers with an axe triggered such comparisons – the less they could find empathy or understanding for any political cause. The more the Israeli-Palestinian conflict looks like a religious war (Temple Mount strife, synagogue terror), the more it looks like a part of a larger trend in Middle East affairs that is not susceptible to diplomatic solutions. The tiger of violence is dangerous enough – but the tiger of religious wars is even more dangerous. We got a glimpse of him today.

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