Yet Another Terror Attack

By Thursday, January 12, 2017

I write these words on a sunny, happy morning in northern Israel and save this file to my computer under the name “terror attack.” It strikes me how inefficient this is. As if this is a singular, one-off event. I wonder if I should just call it “terror attack_1” so as to distinguish it from inevitable terror attacks to come that will be called “terror attack_2” and then “terror attack_3.” I refuse to do this.

The footage is the stuff of nightmares – the kind that replay themselves over and over. When you know what’s about to happen, but you are powerless to do anything that might change what’s to come.

Just a week ago, a group of young Israeli soldiers stood together in the middle of a popular pedestrian mall in a residential area of Jerusalem, ready for a day of culture and learning in the city. But their plans were not to be.

It is a particular shock to the system to watch a truck drive into a group of people. Your immediate visceral reaction is that it is impossible; it must of course be an accident. Because it goes against every rule and expectation.

But that truck quickly reversed and turned around for another deadly plunge into the crowd. Back into the bodies of Shir and Yael, Erez and Shira. All under the age of 22.

The victims of Sunday’s bus attack in Jerusalem.

To make sure that they were very, very dead. Because this was no accident. This was done because of their crime of being Jews in their ancestral homeland. For doing their duty to protect their fellow citizens through military service. For the sin of their parent or grandparent who left life as a persecuted minority elsewhere to build a safe national home for their people.

These beautiful young men and women and their smiles, their energy and their sheer vitality haunt me. Because they are simply no more – wiped out by the hand of evil.

I went to Jerusalem the day after the attack. An American friend asked me why on earth I would come to the city at such a time. I didn’t even understand the question. As I explained to him, this kind of thing is just part of our lives here. It’s always present – sometimes in the background and sometimes in the foreground.

Last March, Elor Azaria, a medic in the Israeli Defense Forces, fatally shot a disarmed terrorist who lay incapacitated on the ground. One week ago, just days before the terror attack in Jerusalem, a military court convicted Azaria of manslaughter. That conviction opened a storm of controversy about military ethics and heroism, threat and responsibility. Many were concerned that this conviction of Azaria – who seemed to have believed that the Palestinian terrorist still posed a threat – would send the wrong message and lead soldiers to hesitate in the face of danger.

And then, days after Azaria’s conviction, came this terrible fatal terror attack in Jerusalem.

Some Israeli commentators rushed to connect what appears (from the footage) like soldiers running away from the scene of the attack with the conviction of Azaria so recently handed down.

What connects them is simply this unpleasant fact: Israelis are actually quite vulnerable. Hundreds of Israelis were injured or murdered during the past year; this included soldiers, yes, but also a mother in her kitchen, police officers, families doing their grocery shopping, old men riding the bus, and a teenage girl sleeping in her bed.

And so we might say that the connection between the two events runs in the other direction: It is not that the soldiers under attack hesitated to shoot because of the Azaria conviction, but rather that Azaria shot because of the soldiers under attack. Because even though the Jerusalem truck terror attack happened more than nine months after Azaria shot a disarmed terrorist on the ground, Azaria had seen this far too many times before.

Unfortunately, the world has understood this process backward.

There can be no real progress toward peace so long as we fear for our children’s ability to go on a school field trip or ride a public bus. There can be no real peace as long as our entire Jewish presence here is in question.

It is not that peace will bring security. Rather that peace requires security.

Faydra Shapiro

Dr. Faydra Shapiro is the Executive Director at the Israel Center for Jewish-Christian Relations.