When Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman was in the opposition, he knew exactly how to fight terrorism. He spoke confidently of renewing targeted assassinations of terror chiefs, halting the transfer of funds to the Palestinian Authority — which were being used to pay exorbitant salaries to terrorists in Israeli jails — and of imposing emergency law “everywhere it is necessary” to eradicate terrorism.
“I remind the prime minister and Cabinet members: Words do not stop terrorists. Security is gained through an iron fist,” he said.
What a difference a few weeks — and the responsibility of having to implement the iron fist, not just talk about it — can make. The chilling terror attack in a Tel Aviv restaurant last week, in which two well-dressed terrorists who looked like European tourists stood up and opened fire on diners, killing four Israelis, Hy”d, and injuring at least five others, brought the same kind of military response that we saw before Liberman took control of defense. A few hundred more soldiers were dispatched to Yehudah and Shomron. That’s all.
When then-Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon did the same thing, Liberman was the first to call his approach, and that of his boss, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, “catastrophic.”
To be fair, Liberman isn’t the first politician to be embarrassed by his electioneering bombast. He promised to bring security with his no-nonsense approach to terrorism, only to discover that it isn’t so simple. What else is new? But it teaches the public — which understandably pines for a comprehensive solution to terrorism — that the situation is complex and can’t be resolved in a zbeng-v’gamarnu, quick-fix manner.
The operative conclusion of Liberman’s appointment and the “more of the same” response of the defense establishment is that there is no magic pill that cures terrorism. We need to recognize our limitations, and do sincere soul-searching along with tefillah and proper hishtadlus to deal with these challenges.
Desperate ideas include those of Infrastructure Minister Chaim Katz, of the Likud, who called for “extraordinary measures” against the village of Yatta, home to the two terrorists, Khalid and Muhammad Musa Mehamara, and other terrorists (including relatives of the two).
“The village from which these terrorists originated needs to be treated down to its roots, a deterrent [so harsh] that will go down in the village’s history, and it [the village] needs to be in quarantine for a long time,” he said, adding that, “If the terrorists would know that their extended family would be expelled, they would think twice before attacking.”
But Israel’s High Court of Justice bans the practice as “collective punishment.” The same court that put the lives of soldiers at risk over Palestinian civilians upon entering suspect buildings, and that put the lives of civilians at risk by overruling the IDF on the route of the security barrier, will not allow the government to expel the families of terrorists, even though the entire security establishment believes it would save Jewish lives.
So until the Knesset legislates laws allowing it to overrule the courts, or the members of the court either come to their senses or are replaced by people who have sense, it is not a realistic solution.
What is realistic, and has been shown to be effective, is to demolish the homes of terrorists, but the deterrence effect depends on the proximity between the terror attack and the demolition. In the past, the bureaucracy and the courts created delays; today, the time has been cut dramatically, but it needs further improvement.
There are other, non-military solutions, that don’t require court approval, and therefore can and should be implemented.
One, the incitement in Palestinian schools, mosques and media is intolerable. Children from the age of kindergarten are taught to kill Jews. Indeed, candies were distributed in the streets of PA-controlled areas in Yehudah and Shomron to celebrate the killings in Tel Aviv. Pressure must be brought to bear on PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas to ban anti-Semitic school texts, media broadcasts and mosque sermons. It isn’t enough for Israel to make the demand; it must come from Washington and the European capitals that treat him as a statesman and offer him assistance. If he wants the Palestinian Authority to be treated as a respected member of the international community, he must see to it that the PA acts accordingly.
Second, the terrorists knew the layout of the restaurant, and that it had no security guards checking for weapons, because they’d worked in Israel, illegally, like thousands of others. Who hires these workers? Israeli builders and others, who are willing to jeopardize the lives of others to save a few shekels. The Knesset must legislate stiff fines and imprisonment for anyone who is caught employing an illegal Palestinian migrant.
Third, it is time to show zero-tolerance for those who are tolerant of terrorism, including those in the media. When CNN can headline its “Tel Aviv Shooting Update” as follows: “Shots fired at outdoor market, At least 3 dead, 2 ‘terrorists’ captured” — that should evoke outrage. Is there any doubt as to whether men who open fire at civilians in a restaurant are terrorists? This immoral attempt to appear unbiased sends a message to the Palestinians that the world accepts such actions as justifiable due to the “occupation.”
Even more outrageous was the report of MSNBC which blamed the shootings on Israel’s “most right-wing government ever.” (One of the two MSNBC presenters was Ayman Mohyeldin, who was caught lying last year after attempting to portray a knife-wielding terrorist as an unarmed man shot by Israeli police simply for cutting in line at a checkpoint).
May the families of the four who were killed be comforted among the mourners of Zion, and maybe the wounded have a full and speedy recovery among the cholim of Klal Yisrael.