What set off the explosive terror in Israel

I live 15 minutes from where a Palestinian armed man opened fire on Israeli civilians in Tel Aviv on Thursday night, killing three and wounding several. But this does not make me special. We are a tiny country, and as a result, all Israelis live close to terror.

We have learned a few things from this, one of them is that terrorism works to a certain extent – it’s scary, and you have to accept that and try to get on with life. I have sometimes told people that when it is good, Israel is the largest country in the world; when it’s bad, yes, it’s hard. We’re in a tough moment right now. The best we can do is put our trust in the security services, be vigilant and try not to jump every time we hear a loud bang or something that sounds like an air strike or a police siren.

Three reasons

Why we are in a tough moment is a harder question. The arrival of Ramadan naturally brings with it increased tensions. But with more than a dozen Israelis dying in terrorist attacks over the past few weeks, the situation feels more serious than usual. Something else is going on. Let’s hope it’s something that can be held back.

There are probably three main reasons for the current wave of violence.

The mourner carries the coffin to Eytam Magini, one of the three Israelis killed in the shooting, during his funeral in Kfar Saba, Israel, on Sunday, April 10, 2022.
AP / Ariel Schalit

First, it may ironically be caused by peace. The Abrahamic Treaty and the growing official and unofficial acceptance of Israel by many Arab states have undoubtedly changed the face of the region. But they are certainly not for everyone’s taste. There are powerful forces – Iran not least among them – who do not want to see Israel accepted because it would mean that Israel is permanent. And they do not want to see Arab nations cooperate with Israel because they see it as treason.

Launching a wave of violence, even one disorganized and spontaneous, is a way to keep tensions high, register discontent and place Israel’s new Arab allies in a difficult position should Israel be forced to take retaliatory action.

Secondly, there is the desire of the Palestinians to somehow bring themselves back into the game. One of my neighbors recently told me that because of the Abrahamic agreement, “the Palestinians understand that they are becoming irrelevant.” This probably had the opposite effect of what he intended, because my first thought was that it was very unlikely that the Palestinians would allow themselves to become irrelevant without a fight.

Although this wave of terrorism seems loosely organized at best, it seems to be driven by a desire to push the anti-Israel cause back to the front of the line, in order to assert relevance through barbarism.

Members of Saraya al-Quds, the military wing of the Islamic Jihad movement in Palestine, are participating in a demonstration after Friday prayers outside the main mosque in Khan Younis City, to celebrate the shelling in Israel.
Members of Saraya al-Quds, the military wing of the Islamic Jihad movement in Palestine, are participating in a demonstration after Friday prayers outside the main mosque in Khan Younis City, to celebrate the shelling in Israel.
Abed Rahim Khatib / Avalon

Thirdly, there is the dilemma of the current political stalemate. A few months ago, a former top Israeli security official said that today’s Palestinian youth represent a “lost generation” and warned that this could lead to unfortunate consequences. He’s not mistaken. The Palestinians currently have little or no political horizon. The peace process has been frozen for years, and the Israeli government – which may be on the verge of collapse – is too weak to take any significant action on the issue. The “status quo” shows no signs of changing for the time being.

Nihilistic violence

Much of this is, ironically, the fault of the Palestinians themselves. Had they accepted Ehud Barak’s peace offer in 2000, they would have already had a state for 22 years. Instead, they chose a campaign of terrorist atrocities that fatally wounded the peace process.

Two decades of low-intensity conflict, missile fire, and periodic chaos have not changed this. Israelis today are, if anything, even less likely to give up the small strategic depth they have in hopes of peace with an enemy they do not trust. Nevertheless, in the face of such a stalemate, an outbreak of nihilistic violence is morally reprehensible, but not necessarily surprising.

An Orthodox Jewish man responds while Israeli security forces search for shooters following a suspected terrorist attack on Dizengoff Street in central Tel Aviv.
An Orthodox Jewish man responds while Israeli security forces search for shooters following a suspected terrorist attack on Dizengoff Street in central Tel Aviv.
Ilia Yefimovich / Avalon

How long this outbreak will last, and how bad it can get, is currently unknown – let’s hope not much longer and not much worse. But I’m not sorry I’m traveling to the US two days after the recent attack for a longer vacation, and I’m wondering if I should really allow my mother to visit me in Tel Aviv at the end of the month. It’s a tough moment right now.

Benjamin Kerstein is Israel correspondent for Algemeiner. He lives in Tel Aviv.

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