Tuesday, September 24, 2013
"Moadim L'Simcha" (times of joy) is the traditional greeting for the intermediate days of Sukkot. And, yes, I've heard it many time these past few days. Personally, I have been finding it to be an especially lovely Sukkot -- with family gathered in the sukkah amidst laughter and singing. And not one, but two visits to the Kotel.
But each time within the last week that I have turned away from the holiday celebrations to familiarize myself with the latest news, all joy has fled, replaced by a sense of horror and immeasurable weariness.
Emotional dissonance: To balance the disparate emotional responses (somehow) requires the skill of an emotional gymnast -- a skill I seem to be lacking.
During this Sukkot, we have lost two soldiers to terrorism within as many days.
First, Sgt. Tomer Hazan, age 20, who was serving in the Air Force.
The terrorist, Nedal Amar, a Palestinian Arab who worked in Israel without papers, was someone Hazan knew; they held jobs in the same Bat Yam restaurant and reportedly had become friendly.
On Friday, Amar lured an unsuspecting Hazan into Samaria, to an open area not far from his village of Saniria, killed him with a blunt weapon, and hid his body in a well.
After Hazan was reported missing, a team consisting of Shin Bet, IDF and police began a search. Ultimately this brought them to Amar. He confessed -- citing as his motivation the intention of trading Hazan (whose death would not yet have been revealed) or, alternately, Hazan's body, for the release of his brother, Nur al-Din Amar, a member of the terrorist group Tazanim (Fatah). Nur al-Din Amar has been in Israeli prison for some years for a variety of terror-related offenses.
This particular attack, on Hazan, has touched many nerves in our nation, and raises a host of significant issues.
The most pertinent involves the propriety of releasing terrorists from Israeli prison for political reasons before their sentences are complete. It's been done to free Israelis held hostage, and to allow Israeli bodies to be brought home. And it's being done now as a "good will" gesture, in a very questionable and widely opposed deal that the Israeli government agreed to under duress in order to bring the Palestinian Arabs to the negotiating table.
What this does is foster a Palestinian Arab mindset that sees it as possible to secure the release of additional prisoners by taking Israel soldiers as hostages. The number of such attempts has doubled in the past few months. Hey! It can be done: they see that Israel is willing to strike such deals.
What is more, potential terrorists are emboldened by the hope and expectation that if they are caught and sentenced to Israeli imprisonment, there will be some deal that will get them out.
All of this works to the detriment of Israeli security goals and Israeli deterrence.
The deal for bringing our "negotiating partners" to the table was the release, in four stages, of some 104 prisoners. (I am still a tad dubious about the final number.) The first group of 26 was let go last month, and the second group is scheduled to be released soon; according to Arab reports, it will be 250 prisoners this time.
According to Israeli sources, when this deal was struck, the release of additional prisoners beyond the first 26 would depend upon good progress in the talks (however that is defined), while the Arabs have been saying that release would follow no matter the progress of talks.
Now, with the abduction and murder of Hazan, there has been an outcry and protest that no further prisoners should be released. Key among those in the government taking a vociferous stand against further releases is Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett (head of Habayit Hayehudi).
He has joined with six other ministers in sending a letter to Prime Minister Netanyahu asking that he reconsider the release of additional prisoners as part of the "peace process."
Yesterday, he said (at the funeral of the second soldier to be killed -- see below) that:
"We must stop giving our enemies the impression that Jewish blood has become the cheapest commodity in the Middle East. Make no mistake about us. We will not lay down our weapons. We will not blink."
"The answer to terror must be a war on the murderers, and not dialogue with those who encourage them." (Emphasis added)
Another issue that evokes heightened Jewish emotions here is the matter of whether one can trust Arabs. I would never say -- as a blanket statement -- that Arabs cannot be trusted. Certainly there are those who can be. (If you disagree with me and would like to see me make a blanket statement, please save your time and energy, for I will not.)
The problem is that those who are trustworthy cannot be readily identified because of a readiness the Arabs have to be deceptive for what they consider their larger goals.
The fact that Hazan knew Amar and considered him a friend served him nothing in the end. And this is hardly an isolated instance -- other Arabs who were employed by or accepted as the friends or business associates of Jews have then killed those same Jews.
In particular, it is necessary for Israeli soldiers to be on guard, as there are Arabs plotting to abduct them and murder them.
But let me turn to the second soldier we have lost this week: Gavriel Kobi, 20.
Just yesterday, he was stationed at a post near the Machpela (the Cave of the Patriarchs) in Hevron, when he was hit by a sniper shooting from a distance. He was brought to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead. The sniper is still being sought.
He will be found. The IDF presence in Hevron has been reinforced, and the search for the sniper is concentrated in the Jabal Johar neighborhood.
Kobi and many other soldiers were stationed on duty in Hevron to protect the tens of thousands of visitors who come during the Sukkot holiday.
Just prior to the shooting of Kobi, there was a riot of Palestinian Arabs at a location near where he was stationed. The Arabs had thrown stones and Molotov cocktails at the IDF personnel stationed there. As I write, I am aware of no direct link that has been identified between this riot and the sniper.
Just hours after Kobi was killed, Prime Minister Netanyahu made a decision about permitting Jews to move into a building practically adjacent to where the soldier was shot.
Last year, the Jewish community of Hevron purchased a building just across the street from the Machpela -- they called it Beit Machpela and, in March, they moved in. It's a modest, three-story structure, as you can see:
Within weeks they were evicted because of questions about the authenticity of their documents. By July of this year, an appeals court had validated the purchase, but the Jews were still not permitted to move in because the signature of the Defense Minister was missing.
Now Netanyahu has said:
"Those who attempt to uproot us from the city of our forefathers will achieve the opposite effect. We will continue on one hand to fight terror and to harm terrorists and on the other hand to strengthen settlements."
It is understood that, as his boss has spoken, the Defense Minister will now be signing...
The Jewish community of Hevron was rightfully pleased with this decision. And yet I am unsettled. Yes, I know that building, or settlement, is considered the Zionist approach to terrorism. But Jews had legally purchased this building prior to the terror attack on Kobi. They should have been allowed entry as soon as the court determination had been made. Instead, word did not come down from the boss, and so they could not use the building.
I think it's imperative to note the dynamic here: Jews prevented from exercising their proper legal rights in Judea and Samaria because of political considerations -- with the Arab position frequently the default. This is not an isolated case. Beit Hamachpela is on the periphery of the part of Hevron controlled by the PA, and Jewish residence there would have expanded -- now will expand -- Jewish presence in the city. Netanyahu apparently did not see this as a "politically correct" move. Until now.
It should be noted that ostensible PA president Mahmoud Abbas has not condemned the killing of Kobi, nor of Hazan. Our "peace partner."
It should also be noted that deputy political bureau chief Moussa Abu Marzouk has written on his Facebook page that:
"We are facing a political failure for the Palestinian Authority and the beginning of a new popular intifada against Israel."
The question that has to be asked is, How crazy are we?
In my next posting I want to take a closer look, with some concerns about what's coming down the road regarding the "peace negotiations" and Netanyahu's second Bar Ilan speech, scheduled for October 6th. That's when it is being said he will set new policy.
No, he has not shared with me what he expects to say, and I would be less than honest if I failed to admit to a certain unease -- although rumors are not facts and we don't have the facts.
But wait! Before October 6th, on the last day of this month, Netanyahu is going to Washington to confer with President Obama. I ask myself what our prime minister has to say to this man after Syria, and I don't like the answers.
Reportedly, the main topic of conversation will be Iran. But... but... Obama is buying the Iranian "charm offensive." There are thoughts circulating about what Obama might demand of Netanyahu with regard to the negotiations, in return for a somewhat tough stand on Iran (somewhat tough, as in, no reduction in the sanctions, not a military threat).
But wait again! Netanyahu is also going to the UN to warn the world about Iran. But Bibi, you've been there, done that. They didn't listen then, and now with the Iranian charm offensive they're surely not going to listen. The world is very eager to be deceived, and I fear that anyone who tries to unsettle the complacency that accompanies this mindset will be seen as a nag who always harps on the same issue.
The fact that Netanyahu is correct to warn about Iran is irrelevant. Golly gee, the permanent members of the UN Security Council are going to meet with representatives of Iran -- who are hinting about a reduction in sanctions in order to create a new environment. Is Netanyahu going to make this more difficult?
It boggles the mind to recognize that in all the world we see the situation the most clearly, refusing to be taken in by Iranian game-playing. Or perhaps there are others (such as the Saudis) who also see it clearly but remain mum. What occurs to me is that if we do hit Iran, the world will tell us that we've stirred up matters just when there was diplomatic achievement on the horizon. There will certainly be no thanks for what we will have done for the world.
So many concerns to select from -- so many issues to make the stomach knot.
Thank Heaven for Moadim l'Simcha.
© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by Arlene Kushner, functioning as an independent journalist. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.
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