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As I am in Israel this week visiting family, I have had an opportunity to get a feel for the political and cultural atmosphere of the Middle East. Granted, this “feel” is very superficial and subjective, but it is nonetheless instructive, as I am viewing the situation not as a resident but as an outsider who always favors freedom and justice in any political conflict.
Anyway, my sense of the situation here comes from two immediate sources, one cultural and the second personal. First the cultural.
The Jerusalem Post is a liberal-leaning English Israeli newspaper. Its weekly Friday edition is somewhat akin to the Sunday newspapers in the U.S., larger with sections covering the past week’s events and the next week’s entertainment. Thus, my brother buys it each week to provide a printed update of the news that the family can read over the Saturday Sabbath.
So, below is a list of the headlines for the front page stories for this Friday edition. I think this front page will give you a fair idea of the conflict here, as well as who is for peace and who is for war.
- Top story: Police brace for unrest as Hamas calls for “Day of Rage” Subtitle: Arabs riot, block road in captial neighborhood; Cops seize large arms shipment headed for east Jerusalem; Hundreds volunteer for Civil Guard.
- Second story: IDf indicts three for plot to kill Foreign Minister. Subtitle: Palestinians charged with planning RPG attack on Liberman
- Below the fold: Parents Association: Families are afraid to send their kids to preschools
- Below the fold: Sisi: We won’t allow terror from Egypt toward Israel
- Below the fold: Politicians blast firing of Ashkelon Arab workers. Subtitle: Netanyahu: Don’t discriminate against all because of violence of few; Arab NGO says will sue city’s mayor over stop-work order
The last two stories are maybe the most interesting. The first describes how the Egyptian President, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, has clearly signaled his country’s lack of support for the effort by Hamas to instigate violence and rioting in the West Bank and Jerusalem. Instead, Egypt will stand with Israel and the rule of law, even as it works hard to improve the situation for the Palestinians.
The other story describes how the Israeli mayor of Ashkelon had fired all the Arab workers renovating bomb shelters in his town merely because they were Arab. The response from across the entire Israeli political spectrum was condemnation. The Arabs are Israeli citizens and have rights. You can’t fire them just because they are Arab. The mayor thus not only faces a lawsuit from the Arabs, he might also face criminal charges from the Israeli government for violating anti-discrimination laws.
What this front page tells me is that the only ones instigating violence and murder are agents of Hamas or their proxies. If Hamas isn’t calling for rioting it is trying to import bombs and weapons to kill Israelis. Meanwhile, the Israelis appear to be struggling mightily to maintain civilized law and order, and that they even have the support of some Arab leadership in that effort, and that struggle also includes defending the rights of Arabs.
Whose side would you want to choose, based on this information?
My second source of information is the impression I have gotten talking to the people who actually live here. This includes my relatives, their neighbors, and their friends.
Some friends who live in the West Bank near Hebron were going to come and see me, but decided not to do so because of the heightened tensions there. Others noted that they ironically felt safer here in Alon Shvut than in Jerusalem. Alon Shvut is in the area called Gush Etzion and is a West Bank settlement where just outside several violent and significant incidents have recently occurred. The Hamas kidnapping of the three Israeli teenagers that instigated the recent Gaza conflict took place at a bus stop just outside Alon Shvut. Recently there was a terrorist knife attack of a young girl just outside this settlement as well.
Still, no one locks their doors here. As I noted in my first visit here in 2013, this is a very ordinary-looking suburban-like gated community, not unlike an American Home Owners Association (HOA). The conflict with Hamas and the Arabs in Jerusalem has raised tensions, but it hasn’t significantly raised the dangers. People still hitchhike routinely.
Tensions and fear however have increased. As one of the news articles above noted parents are more concerned for the safety of their kids. On my brother’s refrigerator was a notice describing the actions you must take when you hear different warning sirens. For example, if the siren’s pitch rises and falls it means a possible rocket attack.
And one of my brother’s son-in-laws was personally acquainted with one of the rabbi’s who was killed in the Jerusalem terrorist attack last week. That rabbi had been his teacher and mentor. He is now dead, merely because he was Jewish and he was praying.
Everyone here honestly admits that the situation for the Palestinians is no good. Their leadership is corrupt and hateful. They are trapped in their territories with limited rights. And their future is limited as well, as the corruption, hate and limited legal rights squelches their freedom.
At the same time, the Israelis are in no mood to bow down to Hamas and the world. They will not be cowed. They will defend themselves and their families. (Liberal relatives of mine who in the past were strong supporters of gun control are now talking about learning to use a gun and carrying one. Talk about pigs flying!) And they will live here in Israel, as is their choice.
If Arabs want to live here as well, in peace, as full citizens, no one has any problems with this. If they instead want war, an option that Hamas very plainly appears to eagerly favor, than the Israelis will give them war, maybe more war than they care to have.
Once again I ask, whose side do you want to choose?