The Arabs… will not flinch from the war of liberation… This is a fight for the homeland – it is either us or the Israelis. There is no middle road. The Jews of Palestine will have to leave…We shall destroy Israel and its inhabitants and as for the survivors – if there are any – the boats are ready to deport them.
– Ahmad Shukeiri, Yasser Arafat’s predecessor as PLO chairman, few days prior to the Six Day War
Claims of historical or religious ties of Jews with Palestine are incompatible with the facts of history and the true conception of what constitutes statehood. Judaism, being a religion, is not an independent nationality. Nor do Jews constitute a single nation with an identity of its own; they are citizens of the states to which they belong.
– The Palestinian National Charter
In my column last Friday, I warned that we were on the cusp of carnage. This grim prognosis came true even more rapidly than I had feared.
Early on Tuesday morning, Arab terrorists brutally struck down Jews at prayer inside a Jerusalem synagogue.
New phase in old battle
In the wake of the column, I was interviewed by the Voice of Israel’s Dan Diker, who asked me whether the recent incidents of Arab terror constituted a new phenomenon, or merely a continuation of the Arab enmity experienced in the past.
My response was that they were, in fact, both.
On the one hand, they reflect the continuation of obdurate Arab refusal to countenance any expression of Jewish political sovereignty. On the other hand, they are part of the emergence of a new, more menacing phase of that process. It is, sadly and predictably, a ghastly culmination of almost a quarter-century of gutless, guileless Israeli policy that has drastically undermined Israel’s deterrence, and dramatically emboldened its Arab adversaries.
In my column, I cautioned that a “perfect storm” is brewing against Israel, from all directions and on every front – on every one of its borders with neighboring states, within those borders from an increasingly recalcitrant Arab population, and far beyond them, with the looming specter of an Obama-facilitated nuclear Iran.
All of these are dovetailing into a peril that could overwhelm the country and jeopardize its survival.
‘… disrespect for Israeli sovereignty’
But as daunting as external threats are, I suggested that “perhaps the gravest threat of all is the prospect of insurrection and revolt by the Arab citizens of Israel – if they sense weakness and vacillation on the part of the Jews.”
Corroboration of this concern appeared in an opinion piece, written this week by Jerusalem-based freelancer Yoel Meltzer, who deftly described the disastrous degrading of Israeli authority that this deadly combination of flaccidity and foolishness has produced in the Arab sector. Commenting on the lawlessness in Arab villages in the North, coupled with the reticence of law enforcement agencies to intervene, Meltzer remarked:
“Already for years the Arabs in many parts of the country have become increasingly brazen in their disrespect for any semblance of Israeli sovereignty.”
In the South, the situation is, if anything, worse, with disdain for the rule of law often the rule rather than the exception. With the absence – some might say, abdication – of law enforcement bodies in large tracts of the Negev, crime among the Bedouin – theft, extortion, drug trafficking, gunrunning and polygamy – is rampant. After a group of Israeli officials were attacked earlier this year, a senior government minister declared,
“This is yet another illustration of the unbearable impunity of the Bedouin in the area, which began with illegal building and continues with violence and refusal to accept the authority of the state.”
With commendable – but, sadly, yet to be implemented – vigor, he pledged,
“We must deal with this national problem as soon as possible, without blinking and without apologizing,”
“We will do it.”
Misconceived one-state proposals
The perpetrators of Tuesday’s attack, Ghassan and Uday Abu Jamal, came from the Jabel Mukaber neighborhood in Jerusalem, annexed by Israel after the 1967 Six Day War.
Both reportedly held (blue) Israeli identity cards – like most residents of Jabel Mukaber – and, consequently, were formally “Israeli Arabs,” who in contrast to the Arab residents of the “West Bank,” enjoy most of the rights of Israeli citizens, including National Insurance benefits, and the right to vote in municipal elections.
Yet despite this, numerous terror attacks have been carried out/aided by perpetrators who hailed from this neighborhood – including the horrific 2002 Patt junction bus bombing, the 2008 massacre at the Merkaz Harav yeshiva, the 2008 car attack against a group of off-duty soldiers outside the wall of the Old City, and the recent “tractor attack” in the city center.
These and other instances of savagery conducted by inhabitants of other areas annexed by Israel convey an important message for anyone willing to heed it. They provide yet further evidence – if any was needed – as to how poorly conceived are the one-state proposals being bandied about by some prominent right-wing pundits. Typically these proposals suggest that to avoid the dangers of a two-state solution, Israel should create a single state by annexing all of Judea-Samaria, while setting up mechanisms to allow the Arab residents the possibility of acquiring Israeli citizenship or permanent residency.
Clearly the terrorism that has emanated from within the annexed areas of east Jerusalem proves – or at least, strongly suggests – that this will do little to attenuate the fierce enmity the Arabs have for Jewish statehood.
Perceived collapse of Jewish resolve
Last week, I laid out a clear rationale explaining why any consideration for, or acknowledgment of, Arab demands would be counterproductive, not satiating appetites for such concessions but merely whetting them – spawning further and more far-reaching demands.
This is why the Oslo process was so disastrous.
For by acknowledging the alleged validity of demands previously vehemently rejected, Israel has not created any progress toward amicable resolution of differences, but merely made ever-escalating concessions that at the start of the process would have been inconceivable.
Anyone doubting this should examine the startling erosion in Israeli positions today, under an allegedly right-leaning coalition, by comparing them with those expressed by Nobel Peace laureate Yitzhak Rabin in his last address to the Knesset seeking ratification of the Oslo II Accords in 1995.
What were considered by many as excessively concessionary dovish policies then, would be dismissed as unrealistic right-wing rejectionism today.
This procession of unrequited retreat has conveyed the impression of collapsing resolve on the part of the Jews to stand firm on any matter of principle – no matter how inviolable it is initially declared – not only to Arab adversaries beyond Israel’s borders, but to Arab communities within them.
Vacillation begets violence
In societies where protection of the weak is not exactly the defining hallmark, this perception of weakness cannot but fail to translate into increasing disdain, leading to growing disobedience and finally to bellicose defiance.
We are at a critical crossroads in the history of the Jewish people. Misreading the situation, and the response it calls for, will be disastrous – perhaps beyond what many imagine. That is why it is essential to grasp that at this stage restraint will be ruinous, and vacillation will beget violence.
There have been previous acts of terror that have inflicted greater loss of life and limb than Tuesday’s attack, but few have had such a profound public impact. There is a growing sense that we are on the brink of a qualitative – and insidious – change in the way the Arabs wage their century-long war against the Jews.
The indecisiveness in responding to external challenges has bred a perception that similar responses can be elicited to internal ones. That is why domestic Arab insurrection is an increasingly tangible prospect.
This must be nipped in the bud, a threat snuffed out before it can materialize, for if it begins to gather momentum it will be virtually impossible to contain.
Tactics meaningless without strategy
Contending with this danger will call for firm operational measures. But such measures, however harsh, will not be effective unless conducted within an appropriate ideological envelope and a suitable intellectual context.
For if operational measures are designed only to quell immediate manifestations of insurrection or revolt, and not directed to serve the attainment of some coherent and long-term strategic objective, they will at best be short-term tactical stop-gaps, with limited lasting effect, before they are rescinded under pressure from the international community.
In the wake of Tuesday’s massacre, there have been talk shows galore with endless successions of security experts giving their opinions on what practical steps should be taken to address the situation. Setting aside the mindless mantra that we must resume talking to Mahmoud Abbas, nearly all the focus was on the practical measures Expert X or ex-Expert Y recommended.
Few if any dealt with the shift in mindset that is necessary before the emerging danger can be dealt with. To salvage the viability of Jewish national sovereignty from the combined assault from domestic and foreign sources, it is imperative to abandon the Oslo-compliant mindset, and its corollary land-for-peace doctrine, that has been imposed on the political discourse over the last two decades.
Unless an alternative rationale is articulated, the measures suggested to deal with the current violence will appear nothing more than unjustified brutality and gross violations of human rights.
Democratic governance not a suicide pact
The first step that needs to be taken along this path is to reject the mindless drivel that effective steps needed to curtail Arab violence, on both sides of the Green Line, necessarily violate the principles of democratic governance. Nothing could be further from the truth. Indeed, if the gory record of the “Arab Spring” has taught us anything, it is that if Israel is to remain democratic it must remain Jewish – and any challenge to its Jewishness is a challenge to its democratic nature.
It should be clear that the only way that liberal-democratic values such as gender equality, religious tolerance, social diversity (including gay rights) can be preserved in this neck of the woods is by preserving Jewish sovereignty over the land.
However, commitment to the principles of democratic governance is not a suicide pact – and coercive measures required to sustain it are at times essential, even if it involves temporarily curtailing certain individual liberties in order.
Only if this mindset is firmly internalized in formulating policy to deal with potential domestic insurrection – and assertively and unapologetically conveyed to the international community – can any lasting efficacy be hoped for.
Symbiosis across the Green Line
The second step required for the formulation of the required alternative policy rationale is to realize that there exists a symbiotic relationship between Israel’s attitude toward the Palestinian Arabs on either side of the Green Line.
As long as Israel acknowledges that the Palestinian Arabs’ national claims to statehood in Judea-Samaria are authentic and legitimate, Israel can never be secure externally, or internally.
For complying with those claims will make the country indefensible over time against threats that emanate beyond the Green Line, and ensure that the embers of incipient domestic revolt within it will continue to glow menacingly, capable of bursting into flames at any moment in response to legitimate actions taken to deal with those threats.
For the Jews to prevail in the war the Arabs have launched against them, it is essential that they rebuff the claims of the Palestinian Arabs to statehood and reject all challenges to Jewish sovereignty in the land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River.
I have of course left several important questions glaringly open. I hope – subject to breaking news – that I will be able to elaborate on these in next week’s column. I hope to include a more detailed to-do list; reject the threat of a religious war; and explain why “international pressure” is more of an excuse, than a reason for the government to avoid what is required of it.
Until then – be safe
Martin Sherman (www.martinsherman.org) is the founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies.