Opinion | Opinion

How to respond to terrorism (and how not to respond)

We are still reeling from the horrible terrorist attack on a Jerusalem synagogue in which five people were killed during morning prayers, leaving four widows and 24 fatherless children on a single street in the neighborhood of Har Nof.

What is the correct response to such an outrage, and to the wave of violence, hatred and incitement sweeping Jerusalem? There is a proper way – and an improper way.

The proper way was demonstrated by the residents of Har Nof itself, who did not join calls for revenge. Riot police streamed to the neighborhood but the streets remained peaceful and they soon left. “They brought us here because usually, after a terror attack, there are extremists and violence. But not here. It’s quiet here, sad and quiet,” said one police officer.

“We are not a vengeful people. We are not a culture of blood for blood. We are faithful Jews. Our answer to such events is to strengthen our faith and our religious practice,” a resident told the Jerusalem Post.

Another example was movingly articulated at the funeral of Zidan Saif, the Druze police officer who was killed in a gunfight with the terrorists while trying to protect the worshippers. Druze leader Mouafiq Tarif delivered a eulogy calling for an end to “incitement and extremism.”

“You must do everything to lower the flames in the Holy City,” he said, addressing President Rivlin, Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch, and Israel Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino by name. “Both we and you are paying a heavy price in the form of the blood of our sons. Incitement and extremism must not prevail over common sense and tolerance.”

Then there is the improper way to respond, most dramatically illustrated by the Israeli government decision to return to a policy suspended in 2005 of demolishing the homes of terrorists’ family members.

Israeli police showed up after midnight at the home of the Palestinian man who plowed his car into pedestrians last month, killing a baby and a young woman. They expelled around 50 people and demolished the five-story structure. Prime Minister Netanyahu said, “You need a means of deterrence against the next suicide attacker. When he knows that his house, the house in which his family lives, will be demolished, this will have an impact.”

The exact opposite will happen. Such acts only provoke the next attack, as the Israeli Commission that investigated the practice found in 2005. This practice is a serious human rights violation; it is collective punishment enacted without due process against individuals who have committed no crime.

Such moves will not make Jerusalemites safer. What will make them safer is an end to the conflict. And let’s remember, while there were negotiations under the auspices of Secretary of State Kerry, violence in Jerusalem and the West Bank remained at a low level most of the time. Take away hope of peace and you open the door to extremists on both sides. That’s what’s happening now. And Israeli settlement building continues apace – another stick in the eye of the Palestinian leadership and moderates.

We need responsible leadership from the United States, the international community and most importantly from Israel and the Palestinian Authority, that will calm emotions and get us back to negotiations. Absent that, militants, extremists, haters, racists and terrorists will set the agenda.

Netanyahu has steadfastly blamed President Abbas for inciting terrorist attacks – and it is true that Abbas and other Palestinian officials have not always acted firmly enough to condemn all terrorism and calm tensions. In some cases, official Palestinian websites have sought to justify murder, which is repugnant and disgusting. They have also displayed hateful anti-Semitic images. But Abbas is not inciting these attacks, as was stated clearly by Shin Bet Director Yoram Cohen.

“Abu Mazen [Abbas] is not interested in terror, and is not leading his people to terror,” he told a Knesset committee. “Nor is he doing so ‘under the table.’” And yet, day after day, Netanyahu tells his people the opposite.

There are provocations on both sides. Irresponsible leaders are whipping up emotions particularly surrounding the Temple Mount which, is holy to both Jews and Muslims. This is especially dangerous for obvious reasons.

In these tough times, we need leaders who speak for sanity, reason and tolerance, taking their cue from the residents of Har Nof and the Druze leaders who showed us that even in the depths of tragedy, human compassion can prevail.

(Alan Elsner is vice president of communications for J Street.)