Rabbi Avi Weiss

By Larry Gordon

Rabbi Avi Weiss
Rabbi Avi Weiss

Guns and knives kill. They have no place in the hands of criminals or even those with suspicious pasts–in any community. That is clearly understood on all levels. But what about words? No one needs a license or much training when it comes to uttering the most vile and hateful sentiments. Those ideas seem to come naturally to so many. They seem to spill out of Palestinian Arab and Muslim leaders in an instinctive fashion, not unlike the rhythmic way they breathe, and no one can prevail on them to stop the rhetoric.
But it is not just the United Nations and the governments of the world that look the other way as hateful anti-Jewish ideas are spewed. One of the not-so-brilliant aspects of the Oslo Accords signed on the White House lawn 21 years ago by Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin and archterrorist Yasser Arafat was to declare peace while the war went on.
The idea may have been that if we conduct ourselves as if there is peace between us, then perhaps some kind of manageable peace would, at some point, actually evolve. The problem with that formula, we now know, is that Israel bought into the deal while the Palestinians laughed their way to the next bus bombing. Israel thought there was hope to turn the hateful Arab disdain for Jews around to some kind of cooperative-living, side-by-side effort.
Those hopes have long been dashed. But there has been unbearable pressure brought on Israel’s leaders to at least make believe that peace could be achieved. So intense was that pressure that Prime Minister Netanyahu had to defy his own instincts and articulate a belief in a two-state solution as a formula to end the conflict. He knew it was impossible, that Abbas was not a peace partner, but he was coaxed into pretending.
On Tuesday morning, four men innocently stood in fervent prayer in their shul in Jerusalem. Each wore his tallis and tefillin. It was going to be another beautiful day that would begin with early-morning avodas Hashem–service of G‑d–to bless the new day. They lived in a quiet, residential, religious area of Jerusalem. They had no reason to be concerned; this wasn’t considered a dangerous area. One of the bloodthirsty killers worked down the street from the shul in a makolet, or grocery store. He had already spent 11 years in an Israel prison for terrorist activities. They knew enough to wait until the minyan was standing still in the tefillah of Shemoneh Esreih to start shooting and then stabbing those who were already wounded and disabled by the bullets.
You’ve seen the pictures; it was a gruesome scene. It was an attack on a shul in Jerusalem, but it was an attack that targeted us all. It didn’t matter who or where we were.
So what should our reaction be here? Rabbi Avi Weiss of AMCHA and the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale announced an immediate protest and prayer vigil outside the PLO offices in New York. “We have to ‘shry gevald’; it’s important for the neshamot as well as for us, for Am Yisrael, and for the world,” Rabbi Weiss told me as we talked on the phone a few hours after the news broke. “The PLO is Hamas and they have no place amongst us here in New York,” he said.
He added that it is not so farfetched that a similar thing could indeed happen here. To that end, New York City Police went into heightened alert around synagogues and yeshivas on Tuesday. On Long Island, the Nassau County Police Department also intensified existing patrols in areas with large Jewish populations.
In Israel, as well as the world over, people were stunned at the depraved killings that seem to stem from an increase in hate speech that spills out of Muslim leaders like Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran, the Hamas killers of men, women, and children, and from the leadership of the Palestinian Authority itself and its leader Mahmoud Abbas, who is still being promoted as Israel’s true partner for peace.
On Tuesday night, Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke to the nation. In the speech, he said he had ordered the immediate demolition of the family homes of the terrorists. Part of the home of the terrorist in the light-rail station attack in which a three-month baby was killed has already been destroyed. While such demolition orders reflect Israel’s frustration at the last spate of attacks, it usually takes a long time for them to be carried out, if they ever are. There is pressure on the prime minister to demolish the homes, but there is an element in government that is concerned that doing so is a violation of human rights.
Likud MK Danny Danon, Israel’s former deputy defense minister, said he had advised the prime minister not to be concerned about legal appeals from the families about the demolitions. “It’s important to bulldoze these homes today,” Danon said over the phone from Jerusalem. He added that if down the road the court finds that we have to pay any of them compensation, we can deal with it at that point. Apparently Netanyahu demurred and prefers to go through the legal process before taking any action.
According to MK Danon, it seems as if Bibi, for some reason, does not want to eliminate the terrorist scourge. He says there is a great deal of pressure that can be brought to bear on Palestinian leadership, but the government just seems reluctant to do any of it. Amongst his recommendations to Netanyahu was prohibiting the Arab families to conduct funerals for the terrorists, which can turn into violent protests. Danon also suggested deporting the terrorist families and confiscating the VIP cards of Palestinian officials that allow them unrestricted access to all areas in Israel. So far the prime minister has refused to do that. Danon notes, “The Arabs need to be afraid; but I’m sorry to say that they are not afraid anymore.”
That is not the way it used to be done in Israel. It is this weakened approach that encourages more brazen violence from the Arabs.
Arieh King is a Jerusalem city councilman and the founder of the Israel Land Fund. On Tuesday evening, from his home in Maale Zeitim, which stands in the shadow of Har HaBayit, King said that we can continue to expect this kind of violence so long as the Israeli government is not definitively committed to asserting control and sovereignty over all of Jerusalem.
King says that this is not just a Jerusalem issue. He says the type of massacre that the terrorists perpetrated Tuesday morning can happen anywhere in Israel. And he adds it is not a matter that is exclusive to Israel. He points out that just over the last few months, similar crimes were committed in Canada, England, and the U.S., and more than just a few times by ISIS in Syria.
I asked King about the security situation in Jerusalem in the aftermath of these horrible murders and whether there was a greater police and military presence visible in the streets of the capital. “We don’t need more police, and anyway, the government is tying the hands of the police and not allowing them to look for or confiscate weapons.” He explained that guns flow freely in Arab areas of Jerusalem. The other night, he said, there was a wedding in the Arab neighborhood of Shuafat with gunfire penetrating the usual late-night silence. Residents of the nearby French Hill neighborhood of Jerusalem called police to report the gunfire. The police, King said, laughed off the matter, telling the callers that there was a wedding taking place and that this was the way they celebrate.
An attack like this and the death of innocents is always tragic. Tuesday’s vicious attack was particularly shocking considering that it was against Torah scholars and religious men who do not serve in the military and do not carry weapons. They were pious, G‑d-fearing men who collectively leave behind their wives and over 24 children and an equal number of grandchildren. The police officer who succumbed to his injuries Tuesday night was a Druze Christian whose family said they were proud of his service to the state.
This latest terror outburst has not occurred in a vacuum, yet there seems to be an international apprehension to wholly condemn the terrorists. There is no terror emanating from the Israeli side, but you wouldn’t know it by the careful condemnations that are issued from around the world. Even President Obama could not emphatically condemn this week’s slaughter without saying that “too many Israelis and too many Palestinians have lost their lives.” Someone needs to tell Mr. Obama that there is no equivalence between the way Jews were massacred in Jerusalem this week and the way the police and IDF deal with Palestinians. It’s as if in the aftermath of an ISIS beheading of an American citizen, a European leader would urge both sides to reduce tensions. If there were no terror attacks, there would be no Palestinian deaths. It’s pitiful that these words have to be written and this notion explained.
And the media is just as complicit. In the hours following the attack, CNN reported the event: “Police Shoot Two Palestinians.” Later the headline was revised to: “Four Israelis, Two Palestinians Dead.” There it is again–that sickening and obsessive political correctness that is crafted so as not to offend those who perpetrate evil. CNN later issued an apology. The damage, though, had already been done. Those words do awful damage. They are words that kill.
On Tuesday night at the Young Israel of Woodmere, there was a prayer service in memory of those sacrificed with additional tefillos for the recovery of the injured. The featured speaker of the evening was Ori Yifrach, the father of Eyal Yifrach, one the three teens kidnapped and wantonly murdered by Hamas terrorists this past July. Mr. Yifrach read an excerpt from his son’s diary that the young man usually carried home with him. On the night of the kidnapping and murder, he left the diary back in school. In the section read the other night, Eyal writes about not being afraid of the future. He says that he knows that so long as he applies his best effort to whatever he does, even if he fails, he can always try again.
“Even if I fall a thousand times, at least I will know that I will have the ability to pick myself up and try again.” O, how the mighty and righteous have fallen this week on Agassi Street in Jerusalem. Now we need to pick ourselves up once again.
Comments for Larry Gordon are welcome at editor@5tjt.com.

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