Jerusalem is still reeling from the latest vehicular terrorist attack, which claimed the life of 26-year-old Shalom Yochai Cherki. The son of a prominent religious-Zionist teacher and rabbi, and counselor and friend to countless youths around the country, Shalom apparently used his last seconds of life to save that of fellow-victim Shira Klein, 20 – who is still in serious but stable condition.
This is the 4th lethal car-attack executed in less than a year along the same stretch of Jerusalem highway between the French Hill-Ramat Eshkol neighborhoods and Police Headquarters. These have claimed seven lives, including two Arabs. Yet another victim, a 25-year-old woman from Gush Etzion, was similarly murdered in a car attack south of Jerusalem.
Uncertainty followed the latest attack: Was it really murder, or just a simple accident? Finally, after three days, Police Chief Yochanan Danino announced that Shalom’s death was in fact the result of a premeditated Palestinian terrorist offensive against a random Jewish victim. “We can say with certainty,” Danino stated, “that the collision was actually terrorist attack.”
The top cop had little to say to allay the fears of the populace regarding the ease with which the terrorists carry out these attacks. He added only that which we already knew: “In the past few years we have seen incidents of this nature, in which a person takes his vehicle and turns it into a tool of murder.”
With interesting timing, the Jerusalem District Court sentenced today, the day after Danino’s admission, two Palestinian terrorists from eastern Jerusalem to 10 and 8 years in prison, respectively, for conspiring to plant a bomb in a crowded mall in downtown Jerusalem.
The latest attack took place on the eve of Holocaust Day, just a week before Israel’s 67th Independence Day. Rabbi Cherki, eulogizing his son at the funeral, said that Shalom had been very aware of both these aspects of modern Jewish history, and added, “But we returned to this Land not in order to be murdered, or uprooted. We came here to be replanted! [Shalom’s] murder was a great desecration of G-d’s Name.”
In fact, as both Independence Day and Jerusalem Reunification Day approach – the latter commemorates the liberation of Yerushalayim during the Six Day War – it behooves us to recognize some of the miracles that took place during the fighting for the Holy City during both 1948 and 1967. Rabbi She’ar-Yashuv Cohen, Chief Rabbi of Haifa who fought in the Old City during the War of Independence, has written that the very fact of the declaration of the State, in the face of tremendous diplomatic and military pressures, was itself an amazing miracle.
In fact, when the State was declared even as the Arab siege against Old Jerusalem continued, the Hallel prayer was recited there just a few hours later during the Friday night prayer services, together with the traditional blessing, and “on this, all the rabbis were of one mind” – even those who were not considered members of the Zionist movement.
Furthermore, Rabbi Cohen wrote, the defenders of the Old City were able to hold out against unimaginable odds – even though “the promised reinforcements [from West Jerusalem] never seemed to turn up when we most needed them… Perhaps West Jerusalem did not quite grasp the miracle that enabled us to hold our positions…”
But the miracles that enabled the actual capture of the Old City of Yerushalayim during the Six Day War were more apparent. These included the fact that Israel pleaded with Jordan – to no avail – not to enter the war; the key victory of the few over the many at Ammunition Hill; the difficult decision not to suffice with neutralizing the Jordanian military threat but to actually capture the Old City as well, despite the feared international repercussions; and many smaller-scale wonders. As a not-religious journalist wrote at the time:
“It’s impossible these days to write anything without involving the Holy One, blessed be He, or without at least relying on miracles. The status of the Heavens has risen in these Six Days. Heretics have become believers, and even atheists give thanks to G-d.” And the editor of the Labor-associated newspaper Davar wrote, “The heart now believes that everything, everything written [in the Torah], all of it, is true.”
But, from yesterday’s miracles, to today’s problems… Regarding the terrorist car attacks, we must ask: Is there any municipal or nation-wide plan to fight this new, easily-accessible and terrorist-friendly weapon? No strategy other than “increased vigilance” and possibly barricades at bus stops has been advanced. However, calls for intensified after-the-fact responses have been heard.
Col. (res.) Meir Indor, Chairman of the Almagor Terror Victims Association, has long called for the death penalty for terrorist murderers: “We expect the politicians to… understand that it is time to stop this farce and put into the coalition agreements demands such as the death penalty for terrorists, as well as provisions against the release of terrorists… Everyone knows, including the terrorist, that a life sentence is not a life sentence, and is enforceable only until the next terrorist-exchange deal. We must turn a ‘life sentence’ into the death penalty to re-establish deterrence.”
Ironically, Hamas chieftain Khaled Mashaal said over this past weekend that if Israel wants Hamas to return the bodies of two IDF soldiers killed in Gaza last year, it would have to release even more terrorists than previously thought. Mashaal said Israel must “fulfill its earlier commitments [which Israel maintains are no longer valid – HF] regarding the release of prisoners,” and must also free all terrorists released in exchange for Gilad Shalit who have since been re-arrested.
Let us end on a positive note: The numbers show that Jerusalem and Israel are thriving with dynamism. Among the many special events in the capital this month were a historic commemoration of the Passover Omer harvest and Temple offering of the new barley crop, the opening of a new nature park/reserve amidst Jerusalem highways, and tens of thousands of tourists visiting the city. Some 50,000 people filled the Western Wall (Kotel) Plaza on Monday of Passover for the Priestly Blessing, and the holiday spirit filled the streets.
Next Year in Jerusalem!