The current wave of Palestinian terrorism that has targeted Jewish Israelis across the country, particularly in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria but also in central Israel, has taken Israelis by surprise. Starting on April 15, 2015 with a car ramming that killed Shalom Yohai Sherki (age 25) at a bus stop at the French Hill intersection in Jerusalem and critically wounded a young woman, and then picking up steam with the murder of Eitam and Naama Henkin on Oct. 1, the wave—that has largely taken the form of knifing attacks but also includes car rammings, rock and Molotov-cocktail throwing against moving vehicles and drive-by shootings—has left 15 Israelis dead and some 150 wounded. In addition, wide-scale rioting on Temple Mount and at Judea and Samaria friction-points, and also for a time in Israeli Arab towns, have caused deep apprehension among Israelis and have forced changes to their daily and leisure activities. Still, even in Jerusalem, I can attest that at least when I have been out and about during day and night, Israelis are not hiding at home. Millions are taking public transport to work and school, restaurants are still relatively full and cultural events continue unabated. And in our particular reality, where Jews and Arabs mix widely at work, at school and in the public sphere, it was not particularly surprising that the chief surgeon who saved the life of a 13-year old Jewish boy knifed by two teenage Palestinian terrorists on Oct. 12 was Professor Ahmed Eid.
Taking April 15 or any other date as the kick-off point for this wave of terrorism—or the “Third Intifada” as some prefer to call it—is arbitrary and only serves to point to our short collective memories; 1,282 Israelis have been murdered since Sept. 2000 (the “Second Intifada”) in terrorist attacks, among them suicide bombings that took the lives and injured dozens at a time. And only five months before Sherki’s murder, five rabbis at prayer and one traffic policeman who came to their rescue were shot and butchered in the Kehilat Bnei Zion synagogue—the last victim, Rabbi Haim (Howie) Rothman, succumbing to his wounds only last week.
Standing in the front line of defense, Israel Police and Border Police have to be credited for responding quickly and assertively to the changing landscape posed by the new form of terrorism—no longer organized attacks that utilize material and infrastructure that could be detected and thwarted by Israeli intelligence assets in Judea and Samaria (rebuilt since Israel’s "Defensive Shield” operation of 2002 launched in reaction to the Second Intifada when the IDF was at a disadvantage after these assets were abandoned under the Oslo Accords) but impulsive “lone wolf” attacks on Israel’s roads, streets and bus stops with little or no intelligence signature. The officers’ increased presence and quick reaction in neutralizing the terrorists, along with the heroism of many bystanders, have saved lives. At the same time, some say that the government response was not as quick as needed in adopting and implementing more general policies aimed at taking the battle to the opponent’s territory to deter future attacks, such as house demolitions, curfews, travel restrictions and other means that are being widely advocated by concerned Israelis. Government spokesmen have explained that such measures could have the opposite affect and lead to frustration by the bulk of Palestinian population that has not yet participated in riots or violence. A similar dispute arose this week between Minister of Defense Moshe Yaalon and Minister of Internal Security Gilad Erdan, with Erdan arguing against relinquishing the bodies of killed terrorists to their families for burial—funerals that inevitably turn into anti-Israel hate fests and opportunities for promoting further radicalization—and Yaalon insisting that retaining the bodies in the hope that they can be used in future swaps serves no purpose and only enrages the masses.
Local Arab rejection of Zionism and the reestablishment of a Jewish homeland in the Land of Israel can be traced back to the first large-scale Arab riots of 1920, led by none other than the notorious Haj Amin el-Husseini. Then, as today, the immediate trigger for the violence was incitement by the local Arab leadership that “al-Aqsa is in danger.” In pre-state Israel it was el-Husseini (who despite his conviction for fomenting the riots that left six Jews dead and 200 injured, was released and appointed Grand Mufti the following year by the British authorities) who inspired and organized Arab pogroms. Today the Palestinian Authority, Hamas, Jihad Islami and an assortment of other terrorist organizations who lionize him do the same, utilizing mass media and social media to carry graphic images extoling martyrdom to every Arab household and cell phone, overheating religious fervor and driving individuals to violence. This extreme anti-Israel and anti-Semitic indoctrination pervades Palestinian society already aroused by the tragic fallout of the Arab Spring and by the atrocities of ISIS.
Although the recent attacks have been undertaken mainly by “lone wolves,” the instigators cannot be acquitted of responsibility for both the Jewish and Arab deaths in the current wave of violence. As detailed in a recent report by the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, a research institute with close ties to Israel’s intelligence community, Palestinian politicians and media commentators continue to exploit the events to promote Palestinian national objectives, with the PA favoring continued violence and terrorism based on the concept of "wise popular resistance" – the kind that can be maintained over time with increasing and decreasing levels of intensity, on the assumption that eventually the Palestinians will exhaust Israel and force it to make political concessions; and Hamas that calls for turning the "popular arising" into an "armed intifada" in which shooting attacks, abducting IDF soldiers as bargaining chips and suicide bombing would be combined with military-type terrorist attacks to launch the “Third Intifada.”
The sheer scope of Arab demonization of Israel has led Ambassador Alan Baker, director of the Institute for Contemporary Affairs at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and former Israeli ambassador to Canada, to conclude in a recent article that “Arab anti-Semitism is not only a matter of government manipulation, Islamist demagogy, organized propaganda, social backwardness, or raw, primitive hatred – though all of these elements are indeed present. It has cultural and intellectual legitimacy. Moreover, the ubiquity of the hate and prejudice exemplified by this hard-core anti-Semitism undoubtedly exceeds the demonization of earlier historical periods – whether the Christian Middle Ages, the Spanish Inquisition, the Dreyfus Affair in France, or Tsarist Russia. The only comparable example would be that of Nazi Germany, in which we can also speak of an ‘eliminationist anti-Semitism’ of genocidal dimensions, which ultimately culminated in the Holocaust.”
As Israel marks 20 years since the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, the current wave of violence has reinforced the deep confusion and cognizant dissonance felt by all Israelis, except for the most ideological committed on the Left and Right, about the future prospects for peace and security as the country also faces looming threats from ISIS, Hezbollah and Hamas along its borders. A recorded message from President Obama and a live appearance from former president Bill Clinton at Saturday night’s rally marking two decades since the assassination—both of whom seemed, to many, to place the onus for the stalemate in Israeli-Palestinian peace making on the Israeli government—rang particularly hollow in the face of continued Palestinian rejection of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s offer for condition-free negotiations and their failure to build on successive Israeli concessions to develop a trajectory for peaceful coexistence. Rabin’s parting, and therefore principal, legacy, the Oslo Accords with Palestine Liberation Organization chief Yasser Arafat -remain a point of deep contention within the country and seem particularly valueless in the prevention of incitement, noted repeatedly in the Accords and subsequent agreements as an essential element to achieving any peaceful resolution to the conflict.
One of the more recent examples came on official Palestinian television on Oct. 23 when PA Chairman Mahmud Abbas' advisor on Islamic Affairs and Supreme Shari'ah Judge Mahmoud Al-Habbash demonized Jews and Israel in a sermon using classic anti-Semitic hate speech, presenting Jews as "evil" and Israel as "Satan's project." According to the reliable Palestinian Media Watch, Al-Habbash described the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians as an expression of "the historic conflict" between "good and evil, between two projects: Allah's project vs. Satan's project."
It is hard to envision how any progress can be made until a different kind of discourse prevails or is enforced.
Anyone with an interest in connecting to their heritage through the arts owes a debt of gratitude to the Milken Family Foundation’s Milken Archive of Jewish Music, established in 1990 to support the recording of over 50 CDs, surveying the music of the American Jewish experience, in all diverse aspects. These 50 themed recordings include well-known, rarified and rediscovered repertory ranging from sacred prayers and chants to raucous numbers popularized in Yiddish musicals. Conceived as a virtual textbook, the Foundation’s website is a place where visitors can educate themselves by accessing extensive essays, podcasts and videos in which the works are described and contextualized, and by reading about the composers, as well as the musical groups and soloists featured on the recordings. The website also provides the opportunity to hear excerpts from all of the music, which can either be purchased in its entirety on CD, or played free of charge on Spotify.
Available now is the recently released A Garden Eastward: Sephardi Inspiration, an album of orchestral and chamber pieces and settings of prayers, folk songs and liturgical texts for chorus and soloists by modern composers who both revere and breathe new life into the centuries-old musical traditions associated with Jewish life in Spain and the Middle East.
Variously performed by Jascha Heifitz, guitarist Eliot Fisk, the New York Virtuoso Singers and the Barcelona Symphony/National Orchestra of Catalonia, selections written by Italian émigré Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco, contemporary composers Simon Sargon and Bruce Adolphe, the Israeli-born Ofer Ben-Amots, and others make use of the same sources, but each demonstrates a stylistic aesthetic which is original, and often, unique.
(Photo courtesy of Jewish Lives Biography Series, Yale University Press)
Underwritten by the Leon D. Black Foundation, Jewish Lives Series, published by Yale University Press, is also raising the bar on the study of Jewish culture for the general reader by producing high quality biographies of men and women who have all impacted the course of literature, sports, science, religion and numerous other fields, from biblical times to the present day. In 2014, the Jewish Book Council recognized the initiative by honoring the series as a whole with its Jewish Book of the Year Award.
Since 2010, Jewish Lives has garnered praise for its studies of King Solomon, Albert Einstein, Emma Goldman, Primo Levi, Hank Greenberg, and other eminent Jews. Newer entries include books focusing on the accomplishments of two Frenchmen: historian and sociologist Pierre Birnbaum’s work on Leon Blum, the now almost-forgotten but important socialist leader and Zionist noted for his successful effort to improve the lives of the working class as his country’s prime minister during the 1930s and 1940s, and Marcel Proust, by critic Benjamin Taylor, who analyzes the rarified atmosphere of Remembrance of Things Past in the light of the great 19th century novelist’s affinity with his mother’s Jewish background, and the intensity of his reaction to the Dreyfus Affair, when he actively campaigned for the captain’s acquittal.
Readers can look forward to future additions by the late British biographer David Cesarani (Benjamin Disrael)i, to be published in spring, 2016, and author and journalist David Rieff’s Robert Oppenheimer.
(Photo courtesy of Jewish Lives Biography Series, Yale University Press)
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