As Rosh Hashanah began in Israel this week, the most ordinary of events occurred on a road in Jerusalem. Palestinians rained down rocks on what they thought was a car being driven by a Jew. In this case, it was a 64-year-old Jew returning home after a holiday dinner. The result was a fatal crash in which the Jew died. While fatalities from such incidents are not a daily occurrence, attacks on Jewish cars and pedestrians with rocks and fire bombs are so routine, as to be considered not particularly newsworthy even in Israel. But when Prime Minister Netanyahu responded to this and similar incidents by saying his government intended to wage a war on those who hurl such lethal projectiles, you can bet it will be interpreted as further evidence of Israeli belligerence rather than proof that the Palestinians don’t want peace. Like the similar provocations on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount where Muslim harassment of Jewish tourists to the site have gotten out of control, any Israeli effort to push back against terrorism is seen as being somehow the fault of the Jews while Palestinians committing crimes are seen as innocent youths performing what the New York Times described as a “rite of passage.” But it’s worth asking those Western observers who sympathize with or rationalize these attacks on Jews whether they would consider such attacks on their cars in the U.S. and Europe to be anything but attempted murder.
The supposed justification for the Palestinians using rocks and firebombs in this manner is that they don’t have tanks and jet aircraft to shoot at Jews. It is true that in any conflict, each side will always use whatever weapons are at their disposal. But even if we were to concede this point, the notion that, as the Times noted, Palestinians are using rocks and Molotov cocktails in this manner “in order to press for independence and to defend themselves against the Israelis,” is a gross distortion of the truth.
If “independence” were the goal of the Palestinian national movement, it could have achieved that 15 years ago when the Israelis offered the Palestinian Authority a state and sovereignty in almost all the West Bank, a share of Jerusalem and Gaza. The offer was sweetened in 2001 and then again in 2008 by a different Israeli government. Even the supposed “hard line” government of Netanyahu went to the talks promoted by Secretary of State John Kerry with the position that it was prepared to withdraw from territory in order to create a two-state solution only to have the Palestinians refuse to talk.
The goal of rock throwing, which has indeed become something of a national sport for Palestinians, is to injure and kill individual Jews. Like more spectacular forms of terrorism they have tried, like suicide bombings or rocket attacks on Israeli cities from Hamas-run Gaza, the point is not to bring to Palestinian suffering to the attention of the world but to shed Jewish blood. It is the tangible proof of the fact that Palestinian nationalism is still inextricably linked to a belief that the presence of Jewish sovereignty over any part of the country, whether across the 1967 line or inside them, is unacceptable. All Jews, such Alexander Levlovich, who was killed as the Jewish New Year began, or Adele Biton, the four-year-old Israeli girl who died in February as a result of injuries suffered in a similar incident, are considered fair game for Palestinians because their goal is to eradicate the Jewish state, not to pressure it to make territorial compromises that Israeli governments have already offered to no avail.
But there can be no little doubt that Israeli efforts to crack down on rock and firebomb throwing will be portrayed in the international press as more oppression of the Palestinians. Similarly, the Israeli government’s attempt to rid the Temple Mount of those who use it as a base for harassment of Jews is portrayed as Jewish aggression.
The Temple Mount is an example of how futile efforts to soothe delicate Palestinian sensibilities have been. Israeli governments have always allowed a Muslim Wakf or religious authority to govern the site and even have forbidden Jewish prayer though even though it is the most sacred spot in Judaism in order to prevent Arabs from falsely saying that their goal is to remove the mosques there. But those Jewish tourists who enter the site are still harassed by gangs of Muslims. Palestinians have used it to store rocks and firebombs for riots. But when Israel seeks to defend the status quo and allow free access to all faiths, the Palestinians claim Israel is committing aggression or conspiring against Muslim holy sites. But the international press that has not ceased bemoaning one incident of alleged Jewish terrorism is not interested in discussing the way the Palestinian Authority uses its media to incite terrorism.
At this point, Netanyahu has no choice but to deploy Israeli forces to stop terror and to keep calm in Jerusalem. Those who throw lethal rocks deserve to be punished no matter how old they are, just as would be the case in any American city. Even if you believe Israel should be generous in peace talks, the willingness of the PA to escalate this situation and to encourage further anti-Jewish terror renders criticism of Netanyahu moot.
If Palestinians want peace and a two-state solution, they know very well they can have it. But it will take a sea change in the culture of Palestinian politics before a willingness to embrace peace and coexistence is possible. Those who rationalize acts of terror such as the ones that injure and sometimes kill Israelis on a regular basis are not promoting peace. To the contrary, those who justify rock throwing are actually propping up the cause of endless war and bear as much responsibility for the blood that is shed as the Palestinian leaders who cheer the rock throwers.