Today is the yartzeit, of Hadas Fogel, a three month old baby murdered on March 11, 2011 while she lay sleeping in her home in the West Bank Jewish community of Itamar. Hadas’ parents and two brothers, Yoav (age eleven) and Elad (age four), were also knifed and shot to death (the manner in which Hadas was killed is so heinous that I cannot bring myself to reprint it here). The perpetrators, two cousins from the nearby village of Awarta, had family members with ties to the PFLP, but they themselves were not card-carrying members of any terrorist organization. Shin Bet investigations later confirmed that the attack was not carried out with the backing of any Palestinian militant organizations.
In terrorism studies the cousins would be termed “loners”; individuals convinced by a “community of belief” in the justice of their cause and brought together by happenstance to concoct a spur-of-the-moment attack. These young men (one was only seventeen at the time; the other eighteen), fed by a steady diet of anti-Jewish hatred in their schools, their books, their TV shows, and their mosques, expressed no regret or remorse for their actions, believing them as justified for the Palestinian cause. President Mahmoud Abbas and the rest of the PLO roundly condemned the murders. But a subsequent opinion poll run jointly by Hebrew University’s Truman Institute and Khalil Shikaki’s Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research found that roughly a third of Palestinians supported the attack. Nearly one year later, the Palestinian Authority aired a program where family members of the assailants proudly praised them as heroes.
This month other bereaved Israeli families are also marking yartzeit for their young, killed too by another lone terrorist. Six years ago, on March 6, a Palestinian gunman from the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Jabel Mukaber, shot eight students to death at Mercaz HaRav, a religious school located in the western part of the city. Four of those murdered—Neria, Segev, Avraham, and Yehonatan—were children under the age of eighteen. Then too Mahmoud Abbas denounced the attack, even as the Palestinian Authority’s daily newspaper honored the killer as a martyr. And this time Shikaki was “shocked” by the result of his polls, which revealed that over 80 percent of Palestinians approved of the attack.
Living in our sheltered communities, largely free from anti-Semitism and anti-Zionist violence, we American Jews cannot begin to fathom the dangers Israelis face, year in and year out, day to day. During the second intifada, 1,083 Israelis lost their lives to terrorism, which seems like a small number, until you realize that this figure is the proportional equivalent to 50,000 murdered Americans. American Jews need to get a clue. I got mine that night back in March 2008. When the shooting started, I happened to be in my hotel room across the street from the yeshiva, getting over jet lag and preparing a conference paper for a Hebrew University seminar on, of all things, the impact of security threats on democratic states. It took me a few minutes to realize that I was not hearing cars backfiring in the traffic jams at the entrance to the city. That long night, from the safety of my balcony window, I listened for hours to the horrible screams coming from across the street, as teachers, students, family and friends found, and then found out about, the dead and dying.
We are told that such terrible nights are a thing of the past; that Palestinians have turned over a new page and now advocate for non-violent resistance. We are supposed to accept the boycott and sanctions campaign; the unilateral bids for statehood at the United Nations; and threats to bring suit against Israel in international courts because at least these strategies are “peaceful” and do not involve Palestinians blowing themselves up in buses, cafes, discos, and pizza parlors. To be sure, such terrorist violence has declined in recent years because Israel’s counter measures have proven effective. Targeted assassinations have disrupted terrorist cells, and the so-called illegal security barrier has saved countless lives by preventing terrorist infiltration. Security measures that the Palestinian Authority has undertaken, working in conjunction with the IDF, have also helped. But that doesn’t mean that Palestinians have developed a culture for peace, or that the Palestinian Authority now disavows violence.
Consider rock-throwing. According to the Israeli military, more than 4,000 stones were thrown at Israelis in 2012 alone. Since the days of the first intifada, when young boys confronted Israeli army tanks with rocks and slingshots, most Palestinians (and the international media and human rights organizations) see rock-throwing to be a legitimate and acceptable means of non-violent protest. Tell that to the parents of little Adele Biton, a three year old who was left severely brain damaged and is now confined to a wheelchair after a stone-throwing attack.
And then there is the relentless incitement to violence. In a series of reports that he has written for anyone willing to read them, and in testimony that he has offered to anyone willing to listen, David Pollock, a research fellow at the Washington Institute, has painstakingly documented the anti-Semitic hate speech and incitement to violence that permeates the Palestinian Authority’s official media, where Palestinian terrorists are deemed martyrs and where Jews are called “rats” and “animals.” Palestinian textbooks still describe Zionism as racism, and the Facebook pages of many West Bank schools display cartoons illustrating the hadith that Muslims must kill Jews before the Last Judgment. Israel has already made the ultimate compromise for peace—releasing imprisoned Palestinians, many of them with blood on their hands. Meanwhile, these Palestinian terrorists are greeted with a heroes’ welcome in Palestinian Authority-funded parties, showered with candies and congratulations, and embraced by President Abbas.
Maybe the issue of the Palestinian leadership’s continued incitement against Israel will come up when President Obama meets with Mahmoud Abbas next week. But I doubt it. Obama remains obsessed with Israel’s settlements, bizarrely viewing them as the main obstacle to peace. Never mind that the new construction is within the Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem and the Jewish settlement blocks in the West Bank that hug the Green line—areas that everyone knows will revert to Israel in territorial swaps. Incitement to violence also doesn’t rank high on Secretary of State Kerry’s priority list. He mentioned the problem almost as an afterthought in his remarks last week at the AIPAC conference, where he devoted only a couple of sentences to it at the tail end of his speech.
Both the President and the Secretary of State need to think again. Putting a stop to the Palestinian glorification of violence is more important now than ever because it will only take one terrorist attack to blow all their peacemaking efforts to bits. Obama and Kerry need to get a clue: it is only when Palestinian children are no longer inundated with messages of hatred that they will finally be able to recognize the legitimacy of the Jewish state—the sine qua non of a just and lasting peace.