The recent terror attacks in Judea and Samaria have once again proved that confronting us are extremists whose ultimate goal is to destroy the State of Israel. They are driven by incitement that starts in the Palestinian education system, continues in the social media platforms and culminates with the celebratory cheers of friends, neighbors and relatives of the murderer, even if he has been killed and even if he has just murdered an innocent little girl asleep in her bed.
Our natural response to such shocking terror attack is to withdraw into ourselves and become hypervigilant. Our suspicions are alerted towards any car overtaking us on the road or laborer coming to work inside a settlement. However, the true challenge facing us in these times is to overcome our fears and concerns and see how we can create a better reality.
I recently had the opportunity to talk with sheikhs and other community leaders living near Efrat, where I live. I was pleased to discover that there are still quite a few Palestinians who condemn these terror attacks. Moreover, the first passersby to extend assistance and first aid to the late Rabbi Michael Mark and his family following the recent murderous shooting attack on their car were Palestinians.
Truth be told, most Palestinians simply want to live in peace. The horrific terror attacks, they emphasize, are perpetrated by extremists. The problem is that these condemnations are murmured in confidence, whispered rather than publicly proclaimed. They too are terrified of the extremists who today attack us, but who tomorrow may strike out against their own leaders should they condemn them.
In order to illustrate just how great the fear that these extremists inspire is, I have to go back to a few months ago, when I approached the leaders of the villages surrounding Efrat with a fairly simple yet very relevant proposal to improve their situation: that they hook up their sewage pipes to Efrat’s wastewater purification plant. My aim in connecting the Arab villages to our plant was to prevent the continued pollution of the groundwater and springs in the Gush Etzion area. The village leaders were of course thrilled at the proposal since it was clearly a win-win situation. However, just a few days later, they came back and told me that they were no longer interested in connecting their system to our urban wastewater purification plant. To my amazement, they reported that they had been threatened by extremists who “would not allow Arab wastewater to flow next to Jewish wastewater.”
Our challenge as leaders of the Jewish communities is to provide everyone living here with security. In truth, everyone realizes that there is no difference in the level of danger posed to Israelis, whether they live in Efrat, Otniel, Ofra, Psagot or Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and Kfar Saba.
Two weeks ago, the foreign ministers of the European Union adopted the French peace initiative. It is a one-sided initiative that is bad for Israel from every respect. Unfortunately, the international community has not yet learned that peace initiatives and solutions to the regional chaos cannot be proffered under the neon lights of Paris or Brussels. The role of the international community and the State of Israel is to adopt a comprehensive view, to strengthen the moderates on both sides and to try to harm the extremists who repeatedly push us towards the abyss.
For my part, I will continue to talk to our neighbors. What is needed now is to build bridges of trust rather than yet more fences that only create fear and alienation. Fences, we believe, send a message of weakness and do not provide security, as we sadly saw with the gruesome murder of Hallel Yaffa Ariel. The French initiative is yet another example of such a fence.
I believe that there are those among our neighbors who still believe that a sustainable peace can be achieved. Some say so in confidence, adding that they support our right to demand security and punish those who harm us. Perhaps we do not have a partner on the other side where the national questions are concerned. But until a partner is found to discuss the weighty issues, we do have interlocutors for the day-to-day topics. The majority wants to live in peace and we need to find the way to build bridges.