The killing of four rabbis and a policeman in a crowded Jerusalem synagogue is an unimaginable horror. It follows weeks and months in which Palestinian extremists have launched a series of attacks on Israeli civilians, leaving the country grief-stricken and reeling. Now the New York Times reports that the unrest could grow worse:
Once again, the assailants were believed to have acted alone, a deep new challenge to Israeli intelligence services. Once again, they were Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem, with Israeli identification cards that allowed them to move freely, and a host of grievances about their treatment in a restive patch of fiercely disputed turf.
And once again, Israel announced a crackdown, promising to demolish attackers’ homes, blocking roads to some Palestinian neighborhoods, stepping up arrests of stone-throwing youths and bolstering police patrols.
Even Israelis who saw these security measures as necessary worried they could incite a backlash among a population that has been teeming with outrage since summer’s start. Analysts on both sides worried that the cycle of violence and mutual dehumanization would be compounded by the growing focus on the holy site, where the ancient temples once stood and where Muslims have worshiped for centuries and now fear a Jewish takeover.
Israelis are correct to believe that the peace process fairy is not going to land on the Temple Mount bearing a comprehensive and sustainable peace between Israelis and Palestinians any time soon. But while we do not presume to give cheap advice from a comfortable armchair thousands of miles from Jerusalem’s streets, Israel nonetheless has nothing to gain from another bout of communal conflict. The reality that for some time to come Israel will live in the midst of conflict and contention makes striving towards peace more important, not less. It’s essential to seek rapprochement when possible, and for Israel to work as much as it can with Palestinian leaders, however imperfect, who offer prospects for peaceful coexistence. Though Hamas held celebrations in the streets after the murders, Mahmoud Abbas condemned the atrocity (if reluctantly).The permanent critics of Israel rarely ask themselves whether other nations could do much better in a similar situation, and Israel gets a lot of unfair criticism. The country has a hard line to walk, and no one could do it perfectly. Seeking peace requires a certain Israeli forbearance on sometimes difficult issues, even as the underlying conflict requires that Israel stay strong and keep its enemies in fear of its armed forces. But Israel needs to walk that line as steadily as possible for the sake of its own vital interests. Even at times like this, when Israeli emotions are running justifiably high, it is important for the Israelis not to lose sight of the bigger picture. That is, that Israel’s overriding interest is to prevent conflict and to seek a way to live quietly among its neighbors.Here at TAI we wish the best to both peoples caught up in this intractable conflict, and recognize that both Israeli and Palestinian leaders bear a difficult burden and operate within real limits. We hope they can find a mutually acceptable way out of the current crisis and that public opinion on both sides will give them the room they need for the wise choices that will enable ordinary people to get on with the important business of life.