Grieve, Respond with Measured Force, and Continue to Work Toward Peace

For anyone who may have read my entry posted early yesterday morning, my timing could not have been worse. I called for Israel to help the West Bank Palestinians, and even to ease movement and travel restrictions in the West Bank, about twelve hours before a lone Palestinian gunman from a town near East Jerusalem murdered eight young men, yeshiva bochers, while they were studying Torah at Mercaz Harav rabbinic college, arguably the greatest institution serving religious Zionism.

It is not clear how the gunman, who was a driver for the college, managed to get a weapon past the guards there, and there will no doubt be an investigation. Although it is also not clear that West Bank check points could have stopped him, it is obvious that this is no time to reduce travel restrictions for Palestinians anywhere. If there is a time and a season for every purpose under heaven, this is not the time for relaxing restrictions.

However, it is also not the time to suspend negotiations. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was quick to condemn the attack:

"President Mahmoud Abbas condemns the attack in Jerusalem that claimed the lives of many Israelis and he reiterated his condemnation of all attacks that target civilians, whether they are Palestinians or Israelis," said Abbas aide Saeb Erekat.

While he did not make it explicit, Abbas knows that the recent Israeli action in Gaza did not “target civilians,” although many civilians were tragically killed.

Hamas, in contrast, is thrilled with the massacre, and encouraged celebrations all over Gaza: “We bless the [Jerusalem] operation,” they officially said. “It will not be the last.” Of course, and it won’t be the last Israeli incursion into Gaza either, the difference being that Israel will target Hamas militants and terrorist leaders, not their teenage sons studying the Koran at the mosque.

But the action yesterday does have unfortunate echoes of the even larger massacre by Baruch Goldstein in a mosque in Hebron at Purim in 1994, where that Jewish doctor-soldier murdered thirty-nine worshippers at prayer. The current tendency among some extremist religious elements in Israel to try to revive this mass-murderer’s reputation is thoroughly disgusting and reprehensible. And it guarantees more of the same perpetrated against Jews.

But as Israel and its best friend the United States understand, neither Hamas terrorists nor Jewish fanatics can be allowed to derail the peace process. The future of Israel depends on that process as much as the future of the Palestinian people does.

For now, there will be continued efforts by the IDF to respond to terror, whether it comes in the form of murder in a yeshiva library in Jerusalem or rockets launched against homes in Sderot. If Hamas leaders think they can win this war, they are sadly mistaken—very sadly, for their people’s sake. The most elementary understanding of the history of the Jews and the history of Israel should tell them that such a goal is ridiculous.

But the present situation remains a historic opportunity for Israel. Hamas leaders cheer in the streets, while the real Palestinian leadership condemns the attack. Call it divide and conquer if you want, and think of it more as a political strategy than a moral imperative. But I think it is both. And there will not be a better time to isolate Hamas and Gaza and to befriend the moderate leadership in the Palestinian West Bank.

Let us grieve for the young men who were murdered, but let us as Jews encourage Israel to continue its progress toward peace with the main body of moderate Palestinians.

Shabbat shalom—and I do mean shalom.