Terrorism has reared its head again in Judea and Samaria.and in Jerusalem. We are not yet witnessing a full-scale terrorism war on the scale of what was happening here 10 years ago. Far from it. The atmosphere is peaceful and people travel regularly and comfortably throughout the area. But some of the recent events have forced us all to stop and catch our breath, trying to absorb the tragedies and make sense of it all.
A few months ago, we all grieved over the tragic death of Shalom Yochai Sharki. He was 25 years old and had just recently started dating a young woman. He had actually told his brother how excited he was about her and his family and friends were all hoping that he had found “the right one.” But an Arab terrorist put an end to all hope. As he drove his car through the streets of Jerusalem, the terrorist suddenly plowed right into a young couple standing at a bus stop, just near the Hebrew University. Shalom Yochai Sharki was killed on the spot and his girlfriend was seriously wounded.
Two weeks ago, a 25 year old man named Danny Gonen was murdered in Samaria, as he and a friend enjoyed a swim and a relaxing Friday afternoon at a natural spring near Dolev. There are many such streams in Judea and Samaria and in recent years, they have become popular spots for young people, who enjoy the hike to these shady and cool spots in the hot summer months. As they drove up from the spring, having enjoyed a good dip in the cool water, an Arab approached the young men, indicating that he wanted to ask them a question They rolled down their window and he asked them if there was water in the spring. The stuff of peaceful coexistence. At least that is what Danny and his friend thought. When they responded that yes, the water was great, they were shot at point-blank range. Danny was killed his friend was injured.
Just last week, tragedy struck again. Malachi Rosenfeld was on his way home to Kochav HaShachar, in a car with friends after a basketball game in a nearby community. Terrorists opened fire and Malachi was seriously injured and later died from his wounds. The others in the car were injured as well but are recovering.
There have been other attacks, against military or police officers and attempted attacks that have been stopped by the army or security personnel. And since the start of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting and celebration, there has been a definite escalation in actual and attempted attacks. But these three attacks, these three stories of young men cut down in their prime, hit me where it hurts. Maybe because I can relate to these young men so personally. Maybe because I have sons the same age, who do the same sort of things and maybe if but for the grace of G-d, it could have been my sons?
But there is a part of me that does not want to deal with these terrible attacks. It is not just the personal tragedy. It is the interruption of our peaceful lives. We had such a terrible time when the Second Intifada raged. Nearly every day, there was a terrorist attack. You were always phoning your loved ones to make sure they were alright. Every day, there were funerals on television and in nearly every attack, there was someone I knew who was somehow affected — they were injured, they knew someone who had been injured or killed, they had just missed being injured because they had missed the bus. We found ourselves wrapped up in death and mourning, injuries and pain, every single day for years.
I don’t want to go back to that time or to that sort of reality. Thank G-d, the atmosphere has totally changed. Whereas 10 years ago, people were frightened to come and visit us, today our roads are full of tourist buses and ordinary Israelis, driving around and visiting the sites and people of the Biblical Heartland. New housing is being built in so many communities and we cannot keep up with the demand. At a time when the cities are becoming more crowded and less personal, our communities are like a breath of fresh air — a place where you know your neighbors and where you share a common ideology and very often a common faith.
Over the years, I have been asked repeatedly what the answer is to the ongoing conflict between Arabs and Jews in Israel. There is no doubt in my mind that the entire Land of Israel belongs to the Jewish people and that we have the right to settle anywhere in that land. There is no doubt in my mind as well that we must respect the dignity and property rights of our Arab neighbors and for that reason, all Jewish building takes place on land that does not belong to Arabs but is public land or land that was sold by Arabs to Jews.
In addition, after years of experimenting with land withdrawals, the Palestinian Authority, Hamas and all sorts of temporary arrangements between Arabs and Jews in the Land of Israel, I am convinced that the Arabs themselves do better under Israeli rule. Especially in light of what we have witnessed in the past 4 years, as civil war and unrest sweep the region and minorities are being massacred, and as Sunni and Shiite Muslims slaughter each other, the safest place for an Arab in the Middle East today is in Israel. And the same is true for the Christians, Druze and other minority groups in the area.
I have to believe there is a rational element somewhere in the Muslim communities that live among us that recognizes this. Perhaps they still cling to their dream of sovereignty, but I have to believe that they understand themselves that their leadership is incapable of creating a just and democratic society. That fanaticism and violence rule all Muslim societies and the more moderate Muslim is frightened to express himself honesty for fear of retribution. The problem is finding that rational element.
For years we have said in Israel that the day the Arabs are more protective of their children than they are interested in murdering Israeli children is the day the wars will stop. But the problem is, the decision-makers on the Palestinian side are not interested in peace with Israel nor are they interested in the welfare of their people. And there is not, as of yet, a serious movement in Palestinian society that is willing to stand up against the terrorism and seek real paths towards co-existence. At this point in time, there isn’t even a Palestinian voice that is willing to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, let alone to acknowledge that the Jews in Judea and Samaria are here to stay.
There are some 385,000 Jews living in Judea and Samaria today and an additional 300,000 living in the areas of Jerusalem beyond the pre-67 lines. We are not going anywhere. One day, the Arabs will realize that we are here to stay and will begin the process of reconciliation. Until then, we will have no choice but to live by the sword so that we can protect our people and continue to live life to the fullest in our land. This summer we mark 10 years to the expulsion from Gush Katif and one year to the deadly Gaza campaign last summer. Had we not left Gush Katif 10 years ago, last summer’s war would never have happened. Or to put it another way — the Arabs surely have not benefited from Arab rule in Gaza.
Director, Israel Office
P.S. This is one very brave soul that expresses the “rational element” that I am so eager to find within the Arab population that surrounds us. May G-d give the courage to more Arabs of this sort to express themselves honestly and publicly.
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