Column: Terror Spree in Israel May Even Extend To New Jersey

Terror attacks in Israel are so alarming that the first fatal assault could well have inspired a copycat crime 5,400 miles west – in Lakewood, N.J.

Four people, all reportedly Orthodox Jews, were injured when a suspect embarked on a violent crime spree Friday in Lakewood and neighboring Jackson Township, according to media reports. One man was stabbed in the chest and two victims were rammed by a car. A fourth victim was assaulted when he was carjacked. All four were hospitalized.

Police arrested Dion Marsh, 27, Friday night at his home in a nearby township and charged him with three counts of attempted murder, carjacking, possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose, unlawful possession of a weapon and three counts of bias intimidation, The Asbury Park Press reported.

The Lakewood incident roughly follows the pattern of a March 22 attack in Beersheba, in southern Israel, where the attacker rammed and killed a cyclist and stabbed three others to death, according to The New York Times. The assailant was shot and later died of his wounds. A total of 14 people were murdered in Beersheba, Tel Aviv and two other places, plus others were injured, all within Israel’s sovereign pre-1967 borders.

Much has happened since Beersheba as various fronts in the conflict have emerged, least of which is the possible copycat crime in New Jersey. Most prominent is the Palestinian argument that the terrorists were likely frustrated by Israel’s “occupation” and beyond that growing relationships with Arab nations, the abrupt if not surprising shake-up of Israel’s governing coalition and media treatment of the conflict.

“For Israelis, the occupation is invisible,” but for Palestinians “it’s a dead end everywhere you look,” says Nour Odeh, a former spokeswoman for the Palestinian Authority, as quoted in The New York Times.

She minimizes improved conditions that Israel has authorized for Palestinians, saying, “Of course, Palestinians will welcome improvements to their standards of living. But they’re not going to forget they’re occupied.”

They will forget that their leaders could have ended Israel’s “occupation” nearly 22 years ago when then-Prime Minister Ehud Barak proposed an independent state that was automatically rejected by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, who subsequently launched or facilitated a bloody uprising. Giving the Palestinians 93 percent of the West Bank, all of Gaza and part of Jerusalem was insufficient.

By turning down the plan, Arafat ceded continued authority of the territories to Israel, leaving his people subject to Israeli policies. Whether Israel’s subsequent actions were right or wrong, I do not see how Israeli property owners could evict Palestinians in eastern Jerusalem or how the government could expand communities – a.k.a. settlements – in the West Bank if this land is under someone else’s jurisdiction.

It is their own darn fault. Since Arafat was unhappy with Barak’s plan, which was presented during a summit hosted by President Clinton, Arafat could have accepted it as an interim step and pressed for more later.

Rarely are these points made in news reports, including the Jewish media. The New York Times, which examined possible reasons for the current crisis in an article on Sunday, led with this paragraph: “The current surge in terrorist attacks in Israel has been framed by Palestinian parties and militant groups as a logical consequence of the entrenchment of Israel’s 55-year occupation of the West Bank, of Israel’s control over sensitive religious sites in Jerusalem and of the dwindling commitment from some key Arab leaders to the creation of a Palestinian state.”

The Times neglects to mention the summit or the hostilities that followed.

True, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has said he is against an independent Palestinian state and will not negotiate with the Palestinians during his tenure. If Palestinians ever took diplomacy seriously, they would have considered that rejection of Barak’s proposal might drive Israelis to elect more hardline governments, which is exactly what happened.

Two caveats: This is not to judge if recent Israeli governments have made the right or wrong choices, but to explain how one group’s move motivates the other’s reaction. I am also aware that Israeli plans are at times opposed within the pre-1967 borders, currently on a smaller scale by Bedouins in the Negev.

The Times article concludes that there is no firm conclusion as to why these assaults, which were carried out separately with different tactics, happened at this time. Two possibilities: The convergence of important holidays for the world’s three major religions that is expected to raise tensions, and the growth of Israel’s friendly relations with four Arab countries.

It turned out to be an “absolute humiliation” for Palestinians when Israeli and American officials met with four Arab foreign ministers in the Negev desert recently, near the grave of David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, Odel told the Times. “I don’t think anyone in Palestine didn’t see those images and get angry,” she said.

Why should they be angry? Or humiliated? Are these representatives from Israel and the Arab countries somehow obligated to the Palestinians? Is there a law that forbids neighboring countries from working together? Israel tried to negotiate with the Palestinians, and leaders of Arab countries have been patient. Arab leaders did not betray the Palestinians. It was the other way around.

On Wednesday last week, Israelis were threatened with another Knesset election – after four inconclusive elections in two years – because a right-wing member of the Knesset, Idit Silman, resigned from the governing coalition that was formed 10 months ago, depriving Benjamin Netanyahu of his long-standing status as prime minister. The coalition lost its one-seat majority because of her departure, putting it on an even keel with its conservative opposition.

What happens now with the government is unpredictable, but it begs a number of questions.

Did policies of the current government improve or impede relations with the Palestinians? Should the coalition be blamed at least partly for the recent terror spree? Will last week’s shake-up disrupt efforts to control Palestinian violence?

“I hope that we can keep the government…it is very hard to see where are we going to be next week,” Defense Minister Benny Gantz said during a virtual event on Monday with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, according to Jewish Insider. “We want to be with a functioning government, responsible government that serves the entire society of Israel.”

The night after Silman exited the coalition, a gun-wielding terrorist murdered three men in Tel Aviv. It felt like an omen of a new nightmare about to escalate. We hope not, of course.

About Bruce Ticker

Bruce S. Ticker, who writes from Philadelphia, also blogs for The San Diego Jewish World and Smirking Chimp and previously for the suspended Philadelphia Jewish Voice. He was previously a reporter and copy editor for daily newspapers in eastern Pennsylvania.

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