Israel was shaken today by the news that last night what is believed to be a group of Jewish terrorists conducted an arson attack in the West Bank village of Duma that left an 18-month-old child dead and his four-year-old brother gravely injured. This atrocity has been roundly condemned by the Israeli government and authorities have promised that those responsible will be caught and punished to the full extent of the law. Yet the likely fate of these terrorists is not the most important issue at the moment. For many the crime calls into question what is believed to be a lenient attitude on the part of Israeli authorities to violent extremists living in West Bank settlements thought to be behind the attack. While the situation in the settlements is far more complex than that conclusion, Palestinians are already branding the Israeli government as being somehow responsible for the murder, a stance that will no doubt be echoed by Israel-haters around the world. But while such charges are rooted more in prejudice against Israel than the facts, the Jewish state must seize this moment to engage in more than just the routine soul searching that occurs anytime an Israeli does something awful.
The arson murder came at the end of a week when a dispute over the status of illegally built structures in the West Bank settlement of Beit El threatened to escalate from verbal violence to something far worse. Fortunately, that standoff between settlers and the army was settled with a political compromise though that solution did little to enhance the credibility of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government that depends on supporters of the settlements for its narrow majority.
Only yesterday, Israelis were disturbed by the way residents of the community and some of their political supporters abused soldiers sent to the place to enforce the law and keep the peace. Many were shocked when one member of the Knesset threatened to “raze the Supreme Court” in retaliation for the destruction of a few buildings that had been erected without proper legal permission. Netanyahu assuaged the settlers with promises to build elsewhere in Beit El, something that highlighted the fact that his narrow majority rests on right-wing support. That all of this took place in the days after Tisha B’Av — the annual commemoration of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans that is attributed by Jewish tradition to disunity and senseless hatred — heightened the divisive nature of the incident. As the Times of Israel’s David Horovitz wrote, the willingness of some Jews to demonize their fellow citizens in uniform who defend them was outrageous. Indeed, at moments like this, the divisions within Israeli society seem as great as those that separate it from its Arab and Muslim foes.
But the attack on the Arab village made plain an even greater problem. Though the overwhelming majority of those Jews who live in the West Bank are peaceful and condemn violence against both Jews and Arabs, a minority of extremists also exists. They were the ones inciting hate and violence at Beit El earlier this week and it is likely from their ranks that the even smaller group of Jews who are prepared to act on those beliefs can be found.
Is the government of Israel at fault here?
To the extent that the authorities failed to sufficiently monitor and stop potential killers before they acted, there is probably plenty of blame to pass around. But it is wrong to say that the government has not acted against settler extremists where their actions escalated from mere rhetoric to actual terrorism. Indeed, if you listen to many settlers, they believe that the Israel Defense Forces are more interested in stopping Jews from attacking Arabs than in protecting settlers from Arab terror.
But the problem here goes deeper than one of law enforcement. The situation that led to the tragedy in Duma is one in which those in the West Bank live under constant threat of terrorism. As even the New York Times noted today, the village where the arson murder took place was close to the site of an attack where a Jew was fatally shot by Arab terrorists when he was driving home from a basketball game. Indeed, terror attacks on Jews in the West Bank are so commonplace that they are rarely covered at all by the Western press.
For some settlers, the crimes committed against them rationalize if not justify similar violence directed at Arabs. That is a position that is rightly rejected by the overwhelming majority of Israelis as well as their government. But at this point, as was the case after the heinous 1994 mass killing of Arab worshippers at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron by a settler, more than lip service is needed for the effort to combat Jewish extremism. The settler movement, as well as its political supporters, must come to grips with the virus of Jewish terror and thoroughly wipe it out. Tolerance for those who might justify such horrible acts — especially the radical minority that do so in the name of Judaism — must come to an end.
But even as those who care about Israel condemn Jewish violence and applaud efforts to ensure that the extremists are isolated and, where necessary, prosecuted, we should not lose sight of the fact that much of what is being said about the crime in Duma from Palestinian and anti-Israeli sources is deeply hypocritical.
Unlike the Palestinian Authority and Hamas, the Israeli government does not applaud terrorists; it seeks to prosecute them. There will be no parks or sports teams named after those who killed a child in Duma as there are for Palestinians who kill Jews. Nor will there be programs on Israeli television and radio extolling the deeds of the killers.
It is little consolation to either the Arab victims or dismayed Israeli onlookers to note that the culture of hate among Jewish extremists is a minority phenomenon while the one that prevails among Palestinians embraces a wide consensus of opinion and, indeed, is integral to their national identity. But it should not escape the notice of the world that the reaction of Israelis and their government to the death of an Arab child is shame while Palestinians routinely cheer the many instances where Jewish children are slain by Arabs. The three-fingered social media meme among Palestinians last year that mocked the plight of the three Israeli teenagers that were kidnaped and murdered by Hamas last summer was an indication of the moral chasm that divides these two societies.
The attack on Duma does also raise troubling questions about how peace might ever be attained. For some critics of Israel and many Jewish left-wingers, the answer is easy: get rid of the settlements and separate the two peoples. But even if Israel were to do so, the history of the past 20 years of attempts to make peace shows that this wouldn’t solve the problem.
Ten years ago Israel removed every single soldier, settler, and settlement from Gaza in the hope that that the separation would end the violence if not foster peace. But instead Israelis watched Gaza become a launching pad for terror attacks via rockets and tunnels. Far from fostering peace, the withdrawal seemed to encourage Palestinians to continue their war on Israel’s existence. If the overwhelming majority of Israelis consider such a withdrawal from the far more strategic West Bank to be unimaginable it is because they know that it would likely lead to the creation of another and even more dangerous terror base on their doorstep, not mutual coexistence. Even the so-called “moderates” among the Palestinians reject the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter its borders are drawn. So long as Palestinians view their national identity as inextricably linked to a violent war on Zionism, terror will continue and peace will be impossible.
But the events of the last week show that it isn’t good enough for Jews to merely condemn an Arab and Muslim political culture that will not allow peace to happen. It is also incumbent on Israelis and their friends to acknowledge that horrors such as those that occurred at Duma only serve to justify Arab hatred and serve the cause of the Islamist haters that are gaining ground throughout the Middle East. Just as we are right to ask Muslims to police their extremists, so, too, must Jews also act against their haters.
There should be zero tolerance for hate and terror among both Arabs and Jews. Unfortunately, there seems little chance that Palestinians will isolate and reject Fatah-linked terrorists, Hamas and Islamic Jihad the way Israelis are condemning the Duma killers. Indeed, the calls for more terror attacks on Jews in response to Duma from the government of the independent Palestinian state in all but name in Gaza have already begun. But the answer begins with appropriate action against the terrorists and those who support them by the Israeli government.