Reflections on a week of terror and violence

October 8, 2015

We are nearing the end of what has been an agonizingly long and frightening week for Israelis and Palestinians. At J Street, we have watched with concern and anguish as civilians have been victimized by violence.

In Jerusalem, in the West Bank, and now even in Tel Aviv, Israeli citizens have faced and continue to face a wave of murderous and seemingly relentless terror attacks. Arab citizens of Israel and residents of the West Bank have had to take refuge from mobs of Jewish extremists out in search of “revenge.” Israeli and Palestinian security forces have struggled to quell the violence. Clashes with the IDF have led to many Palestinian casualties. A pall of fear and uncertainty hangs over Israel and the Occupied Territory.

On Tuesday, J Street condemned the brutal murders of Eitam and Naama Henkin, ambushed with their children while driving in the West Bank, and Rabbis Aharon Bennett and Nehamia Lavi, stabbed while on their way to pray in the Old City. We expressed serious concern that, at a time when responsible leadership is needed to calm the situation, leaders on both sides were failing that test. We criticized Palestinian President Abbas for helping to whip up tensions while being far too slow to condemn the unacceptable attacks on civilians, and Prime Minister Netanyahu for escalating rhetoric with talk of “all-out war” to halt the attacks.

In the days since, the spate of horrifying lone-wolf stabbing attacks has continued, and extremists on both sides continue attempts to pour fuel on the fire and embrace ever-greater conflict. We have been encouraged by signs of responsibility, cooperation, and efforts to calm the situation. But much more can and must be done.

IDF intelligence believes that President Abbas is acting to tamp down violence, and that the Palestinian Authority security services are cooperating to prevent more terror. Prime Minister Netanyahu has today barred Ministers of his government and Members of Knesset from visiting the Temple Mount. Those who can never forget the outbreak of the Second Intifada know well that this is an extremely prudent and important decision.

Recent visits to the holy site by far-right Israeli politicians have contributed to the tension and escalation. We echo the sentiments of Opposition Leader Isaac Herzog, who condemned those earlier visits: “when it comes to the Temple Mount and places that are sensitive from a religious aspect, they should be handled sensitively, responsibly and judiciously.”

The White House has strongly condemned violence against civilians and urged the parties to restore the status quo ante at the Temple Mount. We continue to ask the US government to do everything in its power to calm tensions and bring both sides together. As Americans, it is our duty to do what we can to aid and comfort the victims and their families, while being careful not to advocate measures that might make the situation worse.

The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations has called on the administration to threaten a cut-off of US aid to the Palestinian Authority if President Abbas does not help to calm the violence. The IDF has since assessed that PA security forces are playing a huge role in halting further attacks. Steps in the direction of defunding the PA are therefore exactly the type of counterproductive measure that should be avoided. Depriving the Palestinian Authority of the very aid and training it is using to fight terror would be unconscionably irresponsible and harmful to the security of Israelis.

While hoping for a return of calm and an end to this violence, we must continue to recognize and loudly state that the only way to ultimately halt this horrifying cycle is through a negotiated two-state solution that guarantees Israeli security, ends the occupation, and settles the status of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount.

More severe crackdowns, threats, and retaliations only make the situation worse, and cannot substitute for genuine negotiation and compromise. The international community and the United States government need to insist on meaningful and substantive action and commitments from both sides that can put Israelis and Palestinians back on a path to peace.

There are always those who say that we cannot speak of the pursuit of peace in times of violence. They were wrong 20 years ago, when they said this during the tenure of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. And they are wrong now. As Rabin often said, “we must pursue peace as if there were no terrorism, and fight terrorism as if there were no peace process.”

Amidst our grief, we must continue to pursue a way forward.