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Game Changer In Israel

My wife Meirav’s family and I were sitting in a restaurant in the Tel Aviv area celebrating her father’s 90th birthday when a concerned quiet fell over the room. There is always someone checking news on their smartphone, and the word was passed quickly: “Pigu’a” -- attack. In Tel Aviv. On Dizengoff – the street that represents more than any other a kind of European normalcy –cafés, boutiques, kiosks, shops and malls. The good life.

Attacks happen. They are frequent in Jerusalem, containing East Jerusalem, which contains a couple hundred thousand mostly resentful Palestinians. The vast majority of them are not prepared to carry out terrorist attacks, but hostility is tangible. Down on the Gaza border, and far less frequently on the northern border, Hamas and Hizbolla remind Israelis that they are in a state of war, with shellings and cross border raids. But again, the incidents are infrequent.

From a statistical perspective, the virus of knife attacks is carried out by a tiny fraction of the Palestinian population. Nevertheless, when I was in Jerusalem last week, one could feel the difference. People looked around a lot more, eyes scouring the surroundings. More soldiers were around, and more people who looked like soldiers in civilian clothes. More civilians were carrying pistols in their belts.

Tel Aviv has felt exempt. Even during the last Gaza war, when rockets were landing in Tel Aviv, people knew that the enemy was in Gaza, and the rocket attacks would end when Hamas had been sufficiently battered. Tel Aviv itself, and Israel in general have been mostly free of late from a deeply feared phenomenon: the resentment of Israeli Arabs, who comprise 20% of Israel’s population turning into violence.

There were days years ago when Tel Aviv was the target. That period pushed Ehud Barak out of government and swept in Ariel Sharon. Areas of the West Bank that had been designated solely as a Palestinian Authority area were subjected again to Israeli military control. A network of road-blocks was established. A high wall was built in some places to ward off sniper fire. The game changed, and terrorist attacks plummeted.

It is hard to put in words, but a machine gun attack in Tel Aviv in broad daylight by an Israeli Arab from an ostensibly good family is felt to be a game changer. There is already a debate about more people carrying guns, such as veterans of combat units, a debate similar to the one in the United States, even though death by gun violence here in Israel is dramatically lower. The debate about Israeli Arabs is almost too difficult to contemplate.

Apparently there has been a low-level tolerance for guns being shot in the air at celebrations in isolated Arab villages, for example. Along with that, there are media sources of bitter incitement against Israel, in Hebrew and Arabic. Prime Minister Netanyahu came on the air after the attack and announced a firmness in his policy that seditious incitement would not be permitted, and that all gun ownership and use had to be legal. Measures would be taken to enforce both.

There is a bill before parliament for greater transparency in foreign funding of non-governmental organizations. That debate has become shrill. Those in favor fear that anti-Israel foreign governments are funding the verbal campaign of de-legitimatizing Israel and inciting violence. A professor against the proposed legislation announced that bill is just one more step in destroying what remains of democracy in Israel and such a bill is tantamount to a fascist takeover. Tempers are running high.

The tempers are high, especially I think because as of my writing this Wednesday morning here, the Tel Aviv shooting terrorist is still at large. In addition, the constant knife attacks are not subsiding, and just two days ago a Palestinian would be terrorist was able to get through Israel roadblocks and make it all the way to upscale Herzilya (where our daughter who lives in Tel Aviv goes to school) before he was caught.

Under the radar of most American readers is the fact that terrorist attacks are thwarted nearly daily here – just apprehended were two Israeli Arabs who were planning a terror attack in Eilat. What to do?

What can be done? There are those who say that giving Palestinians a state would solve it. The opponents show that when Palestinians were allowed self-government on their own contiguous landmass, Gaza, the area turned immediately into a launch pad for rockets to terrorize Israel. Who will guarantee that Hamas would not be elected as the government of a Palestine whose borders run right up against Jerusalem? Israelis are waiting to hear.

What is being done? After a few days of being rattled because the machine gun terrorist is still out there, life has returned to normal. The news reflects that the Israeli security establishment is ruefully but more strongly addressing the problem of terror incitement among Israel’s Arabs.

What can we do? The obvious answer for you is: come to Israel for vacation or study, and show support, help the economy. Many of the young people at Ohr HaTorah and others that we know have come to serve in the military. We are amazed and impressed by this devotion.

Meirav and I have no plans to tour the West Bank or distant Arab Villages, but otherwise, we have not changed our plans being in Tel Aviv or Herzeliya. Statistically, we are very safe.

We are coming home and will happily be in synagogue this Shabbat, but we are already missing Israel, and our family here.

Please note: I will be beginning my Monday night classes this Monday January 11th, and my Wednesday noon class Wednesday January 13th.

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