Yoav Schwartz: Are the random acts of terror about changing the borders of Israel or about the nation's very existence?
He asks: Where are the Palestinian leaders saying with clarity that this behavior is not just barbaric, it is counter-productive?
Editor’s Note: Yoav Schwartz is the CEO of whodoyou.com, a technology company based in Tel Aviv. Follow him on Twitter @yoavschw The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely his.
The scene in the closed circuit video could not be more mundane. A quiet bus stop in a sleepy residential town. A few people mill around, looking at their phones, holding their shopping bags, unaware of a young man who seems to casually walk up to the bus stop as well. But, the calm is shattered as this young Palestinian man takes out a knife and plunges it into the neck of an unwitting Jewish bus rider.
It’s incomprehensible. Yet it hits home for me because it’s in my home town. At my son’s bus stop, across the street from the local high school. As I watch, I can’t help but wonder what was going through his mind before this murderous, terrorist act. Indeed, what was in his heart?
The question may sound odd, but it’s at the center of virtually every discussion in Israel today, for one simple reason. Israelis want to know, what do Palestinians want? Any time there is a wave of terrorism, it makes people step back and ask the key question: Is this Arab Israeli conflict about the war of 1967, that is, resolving the border and territorial issues of the West Bank? Or is it about 1948, a fight over the existence of a Jewish state?
Let me be clear. There is no justification for terror. The Western world’s most familiar mantra – we don’t negotiate with terrorists – is seared into our consciousness because we know that to consider a terrorist’s demands is to encourage future acts of violence.
Just more than two short years ago when the Boston Marathon bombers struck, that city was paralyzed with fear for days, and virtually shut down as the Tsarnaev brothers went on their final, murderous rampage. Not so different from the way things felt here in Israel this week.
Right after such a traumatic event it would have been inconceivable to ask whether the terrorists had a legitimate motive. Watching the chilling video of those young men, seemingly fully integrated into society, walk calmly down the streets with backpacks full of death was indescribably painful.
But I think we can ask, what was in their hearts? What drove them to these terrible acts? We have a need to make sense of it, and to want to fix it. Yet most of my friends in Boston, where I lived for more than a decade, had no good answer. There was nothing to change, nothing to do. It was simply a horrendous act.
Here in Israel, we ask the same questions. After the latest string of terrorist attacks we naturally gravitate back to the fundamental questions, because we seek answers. We need to know if we can fix this. Can we stop living under a constant threat of attack?
Can we do something to extricate ourselves from this ongoing crisis? What have we done? Israel has made numerous errors of policy, and tactics, over the years. I for one do not support building across the green line in areas we have conceded to hand over in previous peace offers. I also don’t agree with the policy of bulldozing terrorists’ homes; it is a form of collective punishment I find unethical, and ineffective.
But for many of us, it comes back to *that* question again. Do the Palestinians want all the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, or will they accept something less?
Phrasing the question in this way may be uncomfortable to some. After all, who are “The Palestinians”? Surely they are a heterogeneous people, with a wide range of viewpoints. Palestinians are no less or more monolithic in their opinions than are Israelis. But we really need to know, because this is either a problem we can solve (1967), or one that we cannot (1948).
We already live together, work together, walk past each other on the street every day. How can we be working toward resolution, toward peace, if we fear the next passerby may just pull out a knife? We want to believe you have co-existence in your heart.
We need to believe that you accept the basic concept of sharing this land. But weeks like this shake that foundational belief. We’ve seen too many ordinary people – a municipal worker, an employee at the phone company – perpetrate incomprehensible acts.
Which is why we have to look at what’s in the heart, what are the aspirations. We strain to hear condemnations, rejections of inhuman behavior, but they are few and far between. Where are the voices of regular people, mothers and fathers, sisters and cousins, calling out to their family to stop? Where are the Palestinian leaders saying with clarity that this behavior is not just barbaric, it is counterproductive?
Where are the people saying clearly – we’re not going to resolve the territorial conflict and achieve our goal of statehood if we embrace these acts? Instead, the parents of terrorists are congratulated and stipends provided to their families.
Perhaps the greatest tragedy in this latest wave of attacks is the extent to which it pushes us further away, rather than closer to, a solution. And with all that, we are unwilling to give up hope. We can’t. We have to believe there is a solution. But as time marches on, it gets harder to accept, so I have to ask my Palestinian brothers and sisters, what’s really in your heart, 1948 or 1967?