Sadness and self defense
There is sadness along with satisfaction in recent stories of Palestinians captured or killed as a result of their attacks against Jews.
A 13-year-old girl was shot to death as she charged, with knife raised, against a security guard on the border between a Palestinian town and Jerusalem.
Subsequent pictures showed where she had lived in a cluster of Bedouin tents and shacks alongside the buildings of Anata. It could not have been comfortable during winter cold and rain, without decent heat, running water, electricity and toilets. We hear that she had an argument with a sister, took a knife and ran from the home saying that she wanted to become a martyr. Her father went after her. By the time he arrived at the scene, she had achieved her goal.
He is accusing Israeli personnel of a nonjudicial execution. An Arab Knesset Member of Meretz has made the same charge. However, a security video shows the girl in attack mode, running with her arm raised and knife poised, with the guard initially running away, then turning and shooting when she was only a few steps away. At that point, one can justify aiming for the upper body rather than the churning legs, for the purpose of having the surest target most likely to save one’s life.
It only took security personnel a couple of days to locate the killer of the religious mother of six in a West Bank settlement. He’s a 15-year-old boy, taken out of his bed and brought to Israel. He explained his actions by what he saw on Palestinian television.
These stories provide insight into much of what has happened here in recent months, or more correctly what has been the situation in occasional waves of violence since the 1920s, or decades earlier with the onset of modern Jewish migration. It also resembles in its small proportions what has been occurring with much larger numbers in Muslim countries since the onset of Arab Winter. Or maybe since 9-11. Or maybe since Ronald Reagan set in motion the recruitment of Muslims to fight Russians in Afghanistan. It’s a fuzzy science to conclude when any of this began.
It’s also a fuzzy science deciding how much of this ought to be laid at the door of Islam. Fuzziness is not a reason to abandon the charge, but it is a reason to be careful. Most Muslims are not jihadists, seeking to impose a severe view of their faith on the rest of us, with sword, knife, gun, or rampaging automobile. However, there are Muslims who preach hatred, and believers who move across countries or find targets close to home, and take up the handiest weapon to advance the cause, likely at the cost of their own lives, perhaps with expectations of heavenly rewards.
What’s been happening among Palestinian kids isn’t all that different from the recruitment of others, elsewhere, to the ranks of what is casually lumped into the Islamic State. It’s a label that fighters use for themselves in Syria, Iraq, Libya, Sinai, and several other places, without a cohesive and central leadership for their movement.
Individuals with a background in military intelligence or an academic specialty in the Middle East parse the differences and similarities between the Islamic State, al Qaeda, Boko Haram, Jabhat al-Nusra, Hamas, Hezbollah, Muslim Brotherhood, and a variety of other jihadist movements, as well as the underlying tensions between Sunnis, Shiites, and those calling themselves Salafis. Their analyses add to an understanding of warfare between the sects as well as their generalized opposition to non-Muslim westerners.
Other experts overlook what they see as subtle differences between these movements, and claim that it is more efficient to emphasize their common antagonism to non-Muslims or the wrong kind of Muslims, and their extreme violence.
They have charismatic preachers and local commanders or warlords, and web sites in a number of languages promoting hatred and recruiting newcomers.
Some recruits act locally, largely on their own. In this cluster we may put most young Palestinians who have acted recently, along with those of San Bernardino and the major at Ft Hood. Others take off in the direction of Turkey for the purpose of getting into Syria, with the Turks occasionally stopping them and occasionally letting them through. Reports getting to families from Syria and Iraq indicate a high incidence of fatalities among those fighting or providing other services. Again, the information is fuzzy, but it’s a dangerous activity.
It is no easier summing up the opposition to the violence. There is considerable dissonance in reports about cooperation and competition between the US and its European allies, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar, other Gulf Emirates and Iran with respect to which cadres they are attacking in Syria and Iraq, as well as their care in avoiding attacks against civilians.
No doubt the hopeless economic prospects of young people throughout Muslim societies makes its contribution to the recruitment of violent cadres. Whether it is Palestine or any other Muslim regime, there is widespread corruption of officials, and lesser likelihood of decent public services than incitement against Jews, Israel, the US or some other enemy. Outsiders can’t hope to do much to relieve the misery on the other side of this cultural divide.
European and American governments pour aid into the Palestine Authority, without seeing that it ends incitement in schools or the media.
Ban Ki-Moon’s speech to the U.N. Security Council that places the blame for Palestinian frustration and violence on Israeli occupation is as evil as it is intellectually limited. It overlooks several Israeli efforts to reach an agreement, the extremism and corruption of the Palestinian leadership, as well as the murky legal history of the West Bank. It is evil in showing the leadership of the U.N. firmly in the hands of those so opposed to Israel as to suggest the label of anti-Semitism.
The recruitment that occurs via the mosques and web sites in Muslim communities located in western countries occurs alongside a reluctance of outsiders to interfere in Muslim religious matters, and the shyness of moderate Muslims with respect to extremists.
Outsiders, whether near to or far from the actual violence, can worry about the tragedies of millions made homeless, or children guided to an early death by their sacrifice for an ephemeral cause.
However, all the sadness that might be appropriate should not deter us from self defense. It’s us toward whom the knife is pointed, and it’s our decent if imperfect regimes that are targeted for destruction. If our protectors kill, it’s us they are protecting.
Comments welcome.Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus), Department of Political Science, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, firstname.lastname@example.org.