The murderous attack on a Jewish family in Itamar has, once again, raised the question of what is the proper response on the part of a democracy to terrorism. Israelis are justifiably outraged by the horrifying slaughter of Udi Fogel, 36; Ruth Fogel, 35; and their children, Yoav, 11; Elad, 4; and Hadas, three months. But today’s decision by the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to respond to the killings by announcing that it would build hundreds of new apartment units inside the major West Bank settlement blocs is being dismissed by some critics of Israel as pointless revenge intended to assuage the anger of the settlers and a hindrance to the restarting of peace talks with the Palestinians.
The assumptions behind these criticisms hold that the purpose of such terrorist acts is to sabotage the peace talks and that building new Jewish homes in the territories — even in existing Jewish towns and neighborhoods that everyone from the Bush administration to the Palestinian Authority has conceded would be part of Israel in any peace agreement — will only foment more hatred and terrorism. According to this point of view, Jewish home-building is part of a cycle of violence that obstructs the path to peace. For peace process proponents, the proper way for Israel to respond to such attacks is to avoid antagonizing the Palestinians and to redouble efforts to entice them to make peace, which is to say to make more concessions.
But the history of Israel’s struggle with the Arabs contradicts these assumptions.
First, it is simply wrong to assume that Palestinian attacks on Jews are in some way “provoked” by Israeli actions, unless one is prepared to accept the idea that the mere presence of Jews in the country is so inherently humiliating to Palestinian Arabs (as some accounts of the Itamar massacre were worded) that a violent response is in some way justifiable or at least understandable. It is a simple but unfortunate fact that Palestinian political culture glorifies anti-Jewish terror in such a way as to make such acts not merely acceptable but the currency on which Palestinian political movements base their credibility. So long as such violence carries no political price, we can expect it to continue. While those actions that enhance the chances of peace are obviously in everyone’s best interests, passivity in the face of terror does not strengthen Palestinian moderates; it weakens them.
When attacked, any country, even the State of Israel, has a right and a duty to respond. Of course, the first response must be in terms of military action to interdict terrorists and to wipe out their bases. Building homes in established Jewish communities such as Gush Etzion won’t accomplish that. But it does make it clear to the Palestinians that every act of terror will have a price tag attached to it. Though Netanyahu’s decision won’t convince Hamas and its fellow travelers to lay down their arms, it will impress upon most Palestinians that a policy of violence is not going to convince Israel to give up the territories. Seen in that context, Netanyahu’s announcement may actually do more to bring the Palestinians to their senses and thus enhance the chances of peace than the Israel-bashing sessions at the United Nations and elsewhere.
Most of all, it should be understood that acts such as the murder of the Fogels do not occur in a Palestinian political vacuum. It should be noted that yesterday, while 20,000 Israelis attended the funeral of the Itamar victims, members of Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction celebrated the memory of the perpetrator of another such crime. Dalal Mughrabi, the leader of a 1978 bus hijacking on Israel’s coastal road in which 37 Israelis, including 13 children, were murdered in cold blood, was honored yesterday by the naming of the town square in the West Bank town of Al-Bireh, near Ramallah, in her memory. So long as the Palestinians continue to lionize those who murder Jews, atrocities are bound to follow.