“Mom freaked me out this morning!” said my 16-year-old son Ari. “I was leaving for school, half-asleep as usual, and Mom was just coming home after her morning run. Suddenly she yelled, “Ari, look out!” I jumped out of my skin, thinking a terrorist with a knife was in our doorway… then I realized it was just my little sister’s cat trying to sneak into the house…”
My friend Shmulik told me on Shabbat, “Yesterday I reviewed the techniques you taught us in karate class to defend myself against a knife attack, after rocks were thrown on the street in Haifa where my office is…”
Near the cafeteria at the Yezreel Valley College I met R, an Israeli-Arab employee from a small village near Afula. I asked, “What do you think is going to happen?” With a concerned look he said, “Walla, I don’t know. Our village is as supportive of coexistence as you could imagine. We serve in the IDF (R himself was in the Golani Brigade), we’re integrated and we feel part of the fabric of Israeli society. But now we’re scared some Jews from Afula will attack us in revenge for the two stabbing attacks by Arabs because they won’t distinguish between good people and evil…“
Right now the nerves of Israelis are stretched to their limit. In every town, on every corner, young Arabs are attacking Jews. Mostly with knives, but also with firebombs and guns, and the violence is liable to escalate.
Again a cycle of violence. Again the question: Is this the 3rd intifada? Again, pressure on the government and army to find new means to suppress the terror attacks. Again, everyone knows those means are just a temporary Band-Aid on a deep, festering wound and not a true solution.
At times like these it is easy to slip into extremism, whether despair and fantasies of immigrating to the Promised City of Berlin, or primal fear, or hatred, or illusions of panaceas.
There is a solution, although not simple and not quick. It can be expressed in the Hebrew words Oz (power) and Shalom (peace).
Oz – both physical and ethical. Military and civil power. Unity of our people. Preventing Israel from splitting into “tribes” (“settlers,” “Tel-Avivians,” “leftists,” “haredim” (ultra-orthodox)…). Supporting those who are on the front lines of the struggle. Determination to face the hardships associated with Israel’s existence in the Middle East and willingness to pay a high price when necessary.
Shalom – Maintaining our Jewish and universal ethical values, even when the other side does not. Continuing to extend the hand of peace (while the other hand holds a loaded gun), even when we are not certain there is anyone who will grasp it. A brave, unflinching look in the mirror to remind ourselves who we are, why we are here, and how we want to see ourselves. Managing to overcome the tension between the two commandments, “Remember what Amalek did to you” (Deuteronomy 25) and “The stranger who dwells with you… love him as yourself, because you were strangers in the Land of Egypt” (Leviticus 19).
The combination of Oz and Shalom is imperative even in the case of Asraa Zidan Tawfik Abed, a 30-year-old mother of three, who on October 9, 2015 brandished a large knife and tried to stab a Jewish soldier at the Central Bus Station in Afula.
It was an act of Oz to stop her, to shoot her in the legs and prevent her implementing her plot. At the same time, we also need an approach of Shalom: to feel sorrow and pity that we have reached a situation in which an Arab mother of three leaves her children in order to stab a Jew; to wonder whether there was another way to neutralize the threat she presented; to refrain from hate and fear toward Arabs just for being Arabs; and to continue to strive for peace with our neighbors.
Sagi Melamed lives with his family in the community of Hoshaya in the Galilee. He serves as Vice President of External Relations and Development at the Max Stern Yezreel Valley College. Sagi received his Masters degree from Harvard University in Middle Eastern Studies with a specialty in Conflict Resolution. His book “Son of My Land” was published in 2013. Sagi can be contacted at: email@example.com.
This essay first appeared in The Canadian Jewish News.