I’ve hesitated to write this for some time because every time I think there might be a lull in the plague of terror attacks to which Israel has been subjected these past several months, there’s another attack. This past week alone there was a stabbing, an attempted stabbing, a “successful” car ramming, car stoned with a mother and three kids, a shooting at Israelis from across the border with Gaza, and something else. I forget.
Israel has been suffering an ongoing plague of terrorist attacks – shootings, stabbings, stoning and car rammings (for which we have a unique word in Hebrew that doesn’t quite translate). Israelis are typically addicted to news and it’s common to see people turning up the volume on their radios at the top of the hour to keep up with the latest news, and hope that if there’s anything bad to report by way of terror attacks to report, or God forbid casualties, that it’s not too close to home, or that a friend or loved one were involved.
Sometimes there’s a respite and the relative quiet of lack of reporting such incidents is glaring. During this time, some of our leaders laud the relative quiet, as if they can take credit for it. And when that happens, it’s the political leaders saying that there’s been a lull in the violence that makes the news. I always feel that when I hear such statements, it’s not only a bit premature, but in and of itself could be the catalyst for an aspiring terrorist to take action.
No news of such attacks is certainly good news. Invariably however, a day or two or maybe three may pass with no such bad news, leading us into a false sense of security that maybe the worst is over, that the plague of terror attacks might be ending, that if peace is not breaking out, maybe we’ll at least have quiet. But sometimes these attacks take place at a rate that it’s hard to keep straight which happened where and when and who the casualties are.
Israelis have suffered from terrorism for decades and, as such have unique solidarity with victims in Paris, Belgium and San Bernardino. Israel is the only country outside the US to have a memorial listing all the names of all the victims of 9/11. We get it. Too much. On a proportional per capita basis Israelis still suffer these attacks at a much higher rate, yet the paradox is that Israelis are generally happy and feel safe. This week we observe Memorial Day which, unlike the US “observance” marked by a long holiday weekend and sales, is a solemn day that impacts us all, either directly or once removed. Even frivolous entertainment on TV goes dark.
On successive “quiet” days recently when there were no reports of any major terror attack, or only “minor” terrorist attacks, I was struck at how listening to the news I was relieved. Rather than a relatively major incident with lots of casualties or death, these minor incidents are mentioned only later in the news or in the inner pages of the daily newspaper. But I also felt a level of sadness because I became aware of some headlines making news were in fact quite bad. But relative to the horrors suffered as a result of a terrorist attack, these were still light. And from a perverse perspective, these were even uplifting. The good news is that there wasn’t worse news.
Some of the things that made headlines in recent days that were sad, frustrating and embarrassing even on a good day were:
“Israel brushes off German report of reassessing ties.” Yes, based on reports that Germany, which had turned from the murder capital of the world targeting Jews during the holocaust to one of Israel’s most reliable allies reassessing ties, the Director General of the Foreign Ministry flew to Berlin for urgent meetings.
“UK Labour Party launches anti-Semitism inquiry.” On the eve of Holocaust Memorial Day, a spate of offensive anti-Semitic comments came out from a wide range of sources in the UK Labour party, resulting in an inquiry, and party members suspended. But not the head of the Labour party refuses to repudiate his direct ties with terrorist organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah.
“Rivlin denies rumors of likely pardon for Katsav.” As if the embarrassment of former president Katsav having been arrested and sentenced years ago on rape and other offenses, rumors of his appeal to Israel’s current president Rivlin to commute his sentence adds insult to injury, and flies in the face of justice and especially the importance of reporting and prosecuting sex crimes.
And among the worst bad news/good news items that don’t involve Arabs trying to kill us, “Abu Khdeir murderer sentenced to life plus 20 years.” This incident is noteworthy because of how infrequent it is to see crimes like this committed by Jews against Arabs, and how horrific the July 20, 2014 murder of Muhammed Abu Khdeir was. Despite the notion of “revenge” as a result of the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens the month before, Israel was shocked and repelled by the crime. The good news albeit in this bad news/good news item is that our justice system worked swiftly to bring the Israeli murderer to court and sentence him.
In the early days of our statehood, Golda Meir, Israel’s iconic former Prime Minister, once famously quipped that Israel would be a real country when we had our own prostitutes and criminals. I am sure she was not advocating for this, but recognition that every country has its social problems, and Israel would not be spared. Despite being God’s Chosen People, we are not perfect because we are people. So we have our ills and vices like anywhere.
And it’s not like we want these headlines replaced by those of more terror attacks, nor that we are not sad for and embarrassed by these and others like them. But it is a paradox how even bad news items like these can be a refreshing respite at a time when the daily threat of terror pervades.