3/15/2016 Six Months of Attacks, False Alarm Spooks City
I was walking home from the bank, when suddenly an unmarked police car made a U-turn right in front of me, putting on its siren and speeding down the road. It was clear something had happened. Within a few minutes I received a text message reporting an attempted stabbing had taken place in the Northern part of the city. Shortly, reports clarified the attack was an attempt to stab a soldier, on the same street I was walking, just a half a mile North. People I knew with whom I shared the news mostly shrugged, and asked whether the terrorist had been caught. The calm most Tel Avivans showed did not extend to people in the neighborhood who have children in neighborhood schools. Word of the apparent attack spread immediately through school’s What Apps groups. As a result, many parents rushed off to pick up their kids from school. Schools in the neighborhood were told to keep their students in their building, unless parents arrive to pick them up. An hour later schools received the signal – “all clear”. In the end it turned out that it was not a terrorist attack at all, just it seems a drunken citizen who spookfed an unarmed soldiers
This week marks six months since the start of the latest round of Israeli-Palestinian violence. The violence began surrounding rumors Israel was going to change the status quo on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, home of the Al Aqsa Mosque. The first victim was Alexander Levlovich, a 64-year-old Jewish-Israeli, whose car was stoned, causing him to lose control and die. Since that day 34 Israelis have been killed in terrorist attacks and 404 people have been injured.
Over the course of the last half year there have been 202 stabbings and attempted stabbing attacks, 83 shootings, and 42 vehicular (ramming) attacks. During this time, a much larger number of people on the Palestinian side have died; with many of the Palestinian deaths seeming to be a cruel version of ‘suicide by police’ – in these cases, ‘suicide by soldier’. The outcome of an encounter between a heavily armed, well trained soldier and any man, woman, or teenager with a knife is preordained.
Most of the attacks have taken place in the West Bank (occupied by Israel since 1967), or in East Jerusalem; with a smattering of assaults taking place in other Israeli cities with four attacks including the one last week that took the life of US Army veteran who was here as tourist, in Tel Aviv. Israelis have, by-and-large, taken these attacks very much in stride. The average resident of Tel Aviv has not changed their routine in any significant way. They are more alert than usual, and of course, news of a terrorist on the loose sends parents immediately into action. Cafes in Tel Aviv remain crowded. Most of the time residents of this city seem much more interested in the next start-up to be purchased for an obscene sum, or for that matter, the latest news from the U.S. Presidential election campaign, which often leads the nightly broadcasts, the news of terror attacks.
For many, the only surprise is how little six months of violence appears to have impacted the popularity of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government; a government elected on the promise of providing ‘security’; a promise they have been proven unable to deliver. The government has been at a total loss as to how to end these uncoordinated, but steady attacks on Israelis. Of course, the very fact that these assaults are seemingly uncoordinated has resulted in a situation where the Israeli security establishment, (which has been very successful in the past stopping attacks – even before they happen), recently admitted they have had no prior warning on any of these recent attacks. The government itself, hobbled by a rigid coalition, seems unable to take any action that goes beyond condemnation of the attacks and blaming Palestinian incitement for provoking the violence.
The opposition has been trying to gain traction, without much success. The Zionist Union, led by MK Yitzhak Herzog proposed a plan of Israeli-Palestinian separation; while the Yesh Atid party, led by MK Yair Lapid attacked the government for not having a foreign policy, thereby leading Israel into greater isolation on the world stage.
The turmoil that surrounds Israel in the Middle East has convinced the average Israeli that its best to keep one’s head down and hope for better times. For the majority of Israelis who do not live in the West Bank, the recent string of attacks have been no more than a wave of crime – i.e. something to be dealt with by exercising perseverance (the way New Yorkers dealt with crime in the 80’s and 90’s.) However, for those people with army age children the fears are very real (since it’s their sons and daughters who have repeatedly been the targets of attackers.) For one short and frightful moment the situation seemed it might be spinning out of control; when an Arab Israeli, Nashat Milhem perpetrated his terror attack in Tel Aviv, escaping capture for an entire week. The clear fear remains that Arab Israelis will be truly radicalized, with a significant number of them becoming followers of the Islamic State. To date, that nightmare has failed to materialize.
As the short Tel Aviv winter starts coming to a close, the gyms are beginning to fill with residents worrying how they will look when the beach opens again. The local branch of “WeWork,” (one of the many high tech hubs in Tel Aviv) is about to more than double its rentable space. The violence has persisted for six months. When this wave of assaults first began, people regularly changed their plans to match the perceived risks. Six months in, and the situation's impact has dulled Israelis, especially residents of Tel Aviv, who have learned to take the possibility of an attack in stride. If 20 months ago it was missiles, today it’s knives; next year it could be something else. It’s just another one of the risks of living here. But as Israelis look out at the world beyond, with rising anti-semitism, and the occasional mega-terrorist attack, most conclude that there is but one choice, to stand firm and persevere.