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A tough weekend

 


It was possible to hope that this wave of violence was winding down. Soon after Friday prayers at the mosques, there was not much more excitement than routine stone throwing at a light rail train as it passed by an Arab neighborhood. For some time now, the management of the rail line has coated the windows with material that prevents serious damage.

Then began an event that has occupied Israel’s media more than anything earlier. It also revealed some of the complexities that suggest the conflict is endless, with ups and downs in outbreaks.

A gunman fired into a bar in the center of Tel Aviv during a busy Friday afternoon, when it was crowded with the city’s Yuppies. The toll was two dead, several severely wounded, and lots of panic. Radio and television followed the story to the exclusion of any other news well into the evening, and again after the end of the Sabbath. The shooter managed to escape. The police learned who he was, but haven’t located him as of this writing.

One of the men killed had been interviewed recently. A TV clip was re-broadcast along with news of his death. It showed a good looking and articulate young man, a recent law school graduate about to do an apprenticeship with one of the country’s most prestigious firms, describing his view of the good life.

Early on the media showed pictures of the shooter from store security cameras close to the event. It didn’t take long for the man’s father to identify him. Dad appears to be a good citizen, and a volunteer policeman. The family lives in one of the Arab towns of the Galilee. The police report that the killer served a term in prison, and may have been motivated by the police killing a cousin, after the stealing of a motor vehicle.

Much of the country huddled inside over the weekend, not out of fear but in an effort to keep warm and dry. A winter storm sat over the country for several days, with cold, lots of rain, and snow in the north. The snow did not come to Jerusalem as had been forecast, but we received 12 cm of rain (close to 5 inches) on our balcony.

Police and other Israelis have sought, with limited success, to define the traits of a typical terrorist. Most are Palestinians from the West Bank or East Jerusalem, between the ages of 18 and the mid-20s. However, there have been several pre-teens, and at least one old grandmother. While a number of the terrorists have had personal problems and shaky positions on the edge of their families, some have appeared normal and well adjusted until the day they sought to kill Jews.

The latest terrorist, if his identity is confirmed, will also be unusual in being an Israeli Arab. Coming from a family with a father being a police volunteer may also be unusual, but it’s not the first time that one family member is extreme while others appear to be good citizens. The Knesset Member who may qualify for the most extreme anti-State expressions and behaviors--Hanin Zoabi--has one close relative who volunteered for the IDF, and others who avoided controversy while in high municipal and national government positions.

The day after the recent rampage, his father apologized to the families of those killed, wished the injured a speedy recovery, and said that he had not raised his boy to do such things. Other family members said that the young man was unstable, and urged him, in Arabic and Hebrew, to turn himself in. Along with these statements of sorrow and cooperation, the police searched the family home, and took away another son for questioning. Claims of mental illness and instability don’t square with the man’s coolness of action and his success in evading capture from sophisticated security services.

The police have yet to decide if the Tel Aviv episode should be defined as an act of terror. Among the problems is the failure of the perpetrator to kill more people when he had the opportunity. He has also shown more skill than others in evading capture, as well as luck that he did not encounter an Israeli with a weapon to bring the shooting spree and the shooter’s life to a quick end.

The police received a court order allowing them to keep their inquiry secret. As usual, it hasn’t kept a range of media personalities from massaging the details available, and interviewing a number of individuals retired from the police and other security services. Israelis could write any number of thrillers on the basis of information and speculation provided about an attacker who chose one of the neighborhoods favored by the country’s most photogenic people.

A few days before this event, the Israeli government approved a major increase in funding for various programs in the Arab sector. Advocates said that the multi-year program should narrow gaps in the quality of education, job opportunities in the public sector, housing, and municipal services.

It isn’t easy for Israel to tempt Arabs toward good behavior with the carrot of improved benefits. To reach agreement on the details, and then to implement them, officials need the cooperation of Arab politicians. The relevant people in Knesset and municipalities are always looking over their shoulder, concerned of being charged with selling out to the Jews.

The stick is never far from governmental hands. Security personnel continue nightly raids into areas of the West Bank, with morning reports of how many have been added to those held for interrogation.

After the end of Sabbath, the Prime Minister visited the site of the killings, and spoke forcefully against Israeli Arabs who incite violence. He spoke also about Arabs who promote co-existence with Jews, but the tone of his comments was harsh. He spoke against Arabs who benefit from living in Israel yet feel loyalty toward Palestine. He demanded that Arab Members of Knesset condemn terror, and promised a renewed emphasis on law enforcement within the Arab sector.

The next day the Ha’aretz web site featured a commentary that accused the Prime Minister of cheap politics. MK Ahmed Tibi said that he needed no lectures from the Prime Minister about the condemnation of murder.

We hear that Hamas operatives are seeking candidates in the West Bank for training as suicide bombers. Palestinians and Israeli Arabs have been attracted to the Islamic State. Some have gone to fight for the cause in Syria. Those surviving and returning home have been arrested on the charge of aiding the enemy. Others have sought to develop a cadre of the Islamic State that can operate close to home.

There’s been occasional exchanges of missile firings and air force attacks with Gaza, with no reports of casualties.

Israeli experts are priding themselves in being able to spot efforts at serious mayhem before they can put plans into operation. A combination of human and electronic intelligence may pick up indications of anything elaborate, but is less able to identify in advance an individual, operating alone, with knife, firearm, or a car to be driven into a group of people alongside the road.

Optimists expect Israel to muddle through another difficult period, and compare the country favorably to places less desirable. Among the candidates are the chaos in Syria and Iraq, warfare between Saudi Arabia and Iran, European critics of Israeli imperfections now wrestling with mass migration, and Americans, always sure of their superiority, having to ponder a presidency of Donald Trump.

Comments welcome. Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus), Department of Political Science, Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus), Department of Political Science, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, irashark@gmail.com.

 

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