Israel Report

June 2001         

Restraint Under Siege

June, 08 2001

The mass demonstration in Jerusalem on Wednesday night, orchestrated by the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria, and the Gaza Strip, was but the latest indicator of mounting dissatisfaction with the government's policy of restraint among various sectors of the Israeli public.

The tens of thousands of protesters, carrying signs such as "Cease-fire: We Cease, Arafat Fires," as well as the large prayer gathering held at the Western Wall earlier in the day, were the first major right-wing rallies to be held since Ariel Sharon assumed the premiership. Though the message at the heart of the rally was that "Arafat must be defeated," the event was clearly intended to send a message to the government that the patience of many of its supporters is beginning to wear thin.

The frustration felt by many of the Jewish residents of Judea, Samaria, and Gaza is eminently understandable. Since the start of the Palestinian campaign of terror last September, it is the settlers who have borne the brunt of the daily, ongoing violence.

According to figures compiled by the IDF, there was a total of 5,289 Palestinian bombing and shooting attacks against Israeli civilian and military targets in the territories in the eight months from September 29, 2000 to May 31, 2001. In addition, according to the Israel Police, there have been 2,227 reported incidents of Palestinian stoning against Israeli residents of Judea and Samaria during the period of January-April 2001.

That is a tremendous amount of violence, one which the settlers have endured with an impressive mix of courage and restraint. Though the roadside shootings and stone-throwing incidents have continued unabated, there has been no mass flight of Jews from the territories, nor have settlers abandoned their homes in droves to escape the tension. Indeed, if the Palestinian violence was intended to break the spirit of the settlers, the plan seems to have backfired.

As Efrat resident and activist Eve Harrow, whose great-nephew Yehuda Shoham was critically wounded by Palestinian stone-throwers earlier this week, told The Jerusalem Post, "People are being killed every day. It is not about settlements, but about the right of Jews to live in Israel. Whatever the other side may think, we are determined more than ever to remain."

With just a handful of exceptions, including a clash between settlers and Palestinians earlier this week after the wounding of five-month-old Shoham, the settlers have largely channeled their anger and disappointment through entirely legitimate democratic means, such as the rally in Jerusalem.

In the few incidents where Israelis have crossed the line and broken the law, the response of the authorities has been swift, and the perpetrators have been quickly found and brought to justice. Israeli society as a whole does not condone vigilante violence, nor can it tolerate a situation in which people feel free to take the law into their own hands.

It is worth recalling that this state of affairs stands in marked contrast with the attitude evinced by the Palestinian Authority, whose leadership and media glorify acts of terror against Israel and idolize suicide bombers as heroes. Indeed, an opinion poll conducted by the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion released on Sunday found that over 76% of Palestinians support suicide attacks against Israelis. Likewise, there has been no outcry against terror by Palestinian intellectuals, religious leaders, or academics, nor have Palestinian opinion-makers shown any inclination to denounce such atrocities.

Of course, apologists for the Palestinians will argue that they are a population in distress, hence they are striking back with the only means available to them. But such arguments are neither moral nor convincing, if only for the simple reason that the world is full of angry, embittered, and even disenfranchised people who do not resort to barbaric violence as a means of achieving their objectives.

Throughout the Third World, millions live in dire straits, their lives under siege by crushing poverty and communicable diseases. Nevertheless, they do not go around blowing up discos full of children, an act that would be sharply condemned for its inhumanity and roundly denounced as evil. Thus, there can be no justification for the support that much of Palestinian society seems to give to the terrorists in its midst.

With efforts under way to cement the cease-fire and implement the findings of the Mitchell Report, those involved would do well to bear this in mind. Though Israel, and particularly Jewish settlers, have unfortunately been demonized over the years as violence-prone and trigger-happy, they have thus far proven themselves to be far more peaceful and rational than their attackers. The discipline and restraint that the settlers have shown until now are a testament to the power of a democracy, even one that is under siege by its neighbors.

One can only hope that the Palestinians will one day learn from Israel's example, and come to realize that a society that cheers on murderers and terrorists is a society in danger of moral collapse.

©2001 - Jerusalem Post

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