Jose recalls the experience: “The shooting went on for quite a while, and it was nonstop. It wasn’t like here and there it was ongoing all the time. You could smell the gunpowder, and it was very loud. We heard kids screaming, “It’s a terrorist attack,” a lot of wounded. You could hear screams from time to time—the image I have, although certainly it was not as bad as it would have been at the time of the Holocaust, but the only thing that was going to save us was the Allied Forces that would come and free us. Otherwise this guy was really prepared to mow everybody down.”
The men with Jose make phone calls to the police, to emergency services, to family. Jose’s wife Sara receives a call. It’s not her husband, but her son. He has just seen multiple police cars fly past him on a downtown Jerusalem road as well as Zaka Search and Rescue, a volunteer group that performs first aid and recovers human remains for burial. Sara checks the Internet and eventually sees that a shooting attack has taken place at the yeshivah her husband attends for a pre-rabbinic ordination class. Believing him to have already finished his class and left, she phones him back to check. Still in the room as the terrorist attack is going on, Jose answers his cell phone and describes the situation to his wife.
Remembering the night, Sara says she got “a little anxious” at that point. “Then I actually got very panicky.” Nonetheless, she has a feeling that her husband is safe and attempts to be calm in talking to her two younger daughters via Skype on the computer. She guesses now that part of her didn’t accept at the time that Jose was really safe, so she phones Jose again to be sure. He is safe. The terrorist has been shot and killed, the Israeli SWAT team has come to get them, and Jose can talk only briefly. He walks out of the classroom, and he sees firsthand what has happened. “As we went out, we saw this horrific carnage. We saw the bodies of two teenagers riddled with bullets. The library door was open, and we could also see there was blood everywhere.”
In all, eight students, seven of them teenagers, were gunned down by the terrorist, an Israeli Arab from an Arab area in Jerusalem. Initial police investigations led them to believe the man acted on his own, rather than as an agent of a terrorist group. Nonetheless, though he may not have been a member of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, or another terror agency, and though he was not even Palestinian, the event displayed a tragic irony to the events of the day before. Roughly 24 hours prior, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice wrapped up a tense, but successful effort to rejuvenate the fragile peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. This severe contrast of ongoing violence and attempts at peace was nothing new, however.
Actions Speak Louder than Peaceful Words
Despite peace efforts, Israel has been attacked consistently by Hamas from the Gaza Strip. Hamas isn’t a party to the peace talks, and they do not support them, giving an extra motivation for the attacks. Between the months of November 2007 and March 2008―which roughly includes the four weeks prior to the Annapolis Summit that reenergized the peace talks―Hamas did their best to undermine peace efforts by firing 872 rockets at Israel, according to the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Web site.
Those rockets, most of them short-range Kassams, have reportedly led to hundreds of Israelis suffering from shock and physical injury, as well as the death of a father of four. At one point, Hamas took the attacks to a new level, firing repeatedly for the first time at the city of Ashkelon with longer-range Grad rockets. Ashkelon, a city of more than 100,000 residents, was a line in the sand for Israel, who responded with significant military force, resulting in a number of civilian casualties as collateral damage.
This is where the peace negotiations became a problem for the Israelis. Shortly after beginning an effort to halt Hamas rockets, the international community strongly criticized Israel, and Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) decided to suspend peace talks. The Israelis could endure international criticism and threaten the peace process or continue in their intense efforts to protect their southern cities. With Secretary of State Rice soon to be on her way to the region―on that same trip that shortly preceded the yeshivah attack―Israel ended their heavy Gaza incursion. The official reason given was that the military effort had completed its usefulness.
While such a decision was likely a calculated risk and appears to be an admirable attempt at peace, Dani Dayan, chairman of the Yesha Council (representatives of the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria), believes concessions to the Palestinians and a failure to halt the southern rocket fire leads to more violence. “When they see the concessions that the government of Israel is making, offering to establish a Palestinian state in the heartland of Israel, in Judea and Samaria, when they see that there is no real reaction to the rockets being fired on a daily basis on the southern parts of Israel, that encourages them and gives them hope that they can, God forbid, annihilate the State of Israel, or make it flee from Judea and Samaria, the first step towards that,” said Dayan. “And that gives them, of course, more and more motivation to launch more and more vicious attacks against civilians in Israel.”
Is a Palestinian State a Solution?
Perhaps the most stunning example of violence since the Annapolis summit was the aforementioned yeshivah shooting. Though police were under the assumption the terrorist worked alone, the shooting nonetheless highlighted some problems with keeping Israel secure in the peace process. The main concern is that the shooter originated from an Arab region of Jerusalem. His access to the city center was generally free due to his possessing the proper permit. In a peace deal that divides Jerusalem, such Arab areas could be under Palestinian control. Though the residents there would not likely be granted permits to access Israeli Jerusalem, dividing the capital with a border and crossing controls sufficient to keep out terrorists would be difficult. Thus, another terrorist from the then-created state of Palestine could find it relatively easy to cross into the Jewish half of the city.
Theoretically, such attacks would be thwarted by a Palestinian government committed to Israel’s security. However, based on results so far, that is a reality off in the distance. In the Palestinian-controlled West Bank (Judea and Samaria)―where the PA influence is admittedly limited by the Israelis who want to keep security in their hands for now―multiple, minor terror attacks found their origins. In fact, Hamas even claimed the Dimona shopping center suicide bombers came from Hebron in the West Bank (on March 31, 2008). Furthermore, according to Ynetnews.com, two members of Fatah’s security forces who were on the PA’s payroll, part of the force that is supposed to be preventing crime, actually carried out a shooting attack that killed two off-duty Israeli Defense Forces soldiers who were reportedly hiking. This occurred roughly a month after the Annapolis peace summit kick-started the new round of talks.
Not that Israel fails to understand the complicated issue. Even the peace-negotiating Israeli government realizes the talks are a process that will take a while to be implemented. Mark Regev, spokesman for the Prime Minister’s Office, said that they are working on a framework agreement, but that the actual carrying out of the deal, the actual forming of a sovereign Palestinian state, will not occur until the guidelines in the US Road Map Peace Plan are achieved, including combating terror. As to how the Palestinians are doing with regard to the Road Map as of early April, Regev was unsatisfied. “I’ve seen some progress, but not enough, I’m afraid.”
Can Concessions Lead to Peace?
So Israel is presented with a quandary: Do they maintain the status quo, which has not ended the violence; venture into the unknown and try an alternate peace effort, such as an economic-focused one; or pursue a peace deal and make concessions, hoping the efforts will finally bear fruit? Part of the concessions Israel is attempting is to remove checkpoints and roadblocks in an effort to ease the daily lives of the Palestinians. In theory, such gestures reduce the amount of frustration and reason for hate, while also making Palestinian lives more comfortable and hopeful, thereby decreasing the likelihood of violence.
However, Dayan has a grim reminder of the last time one of the checkpoints was removed. “It was removed in 2002, and only two or three weeks after it was removed, a Jewish woman, a mother of seven children, was shot and murdered there by Arab terrorists,” said Dayan. “[This time] we got some assurances from the army that a permanent monitoring position will be placed nearby, and I hope this promise will be kept, because, otherwise, I am very pessimistic. I fear that what happened could, God forbid, happen again and innocent lives will be taken.”
Since that attack in 2002, the Palestinian leadership has changed, and the PA appears to be making more efforts at cracking down on terror groups. The violence of today is mostly outside of the PA’s control, such as in Gaza or Israel-controlled Jerusalem. However, as the yeshivah shooting showed, a lack of PA culpability does not change the fact that terrorism can continue despite a peace deal. The PA’s limited control, if anything, serves as a warning that peace with the Palestinian government may not mean complete peace for Israel.
For Jose, the yeshivah shooting was the closest he had been to warfare, but he could have been much closer. Their prayer service that evening was delayed, meaning Jose and the other men were in the classroom longer than they should have been. Said Jose, “If we would have finished two or three minutes earlier, we would have all been shot and killed probably.” A few minutes likely prevented even more bloodshed. Too bad the same cannot yet be said about the peace process.
By Joshua Spurlock, Correspondent, BFP Israel Mosaic Radio
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