The Knives of Jerusalem

Review & Outlook

Wall Street Journal

October 15, 2015

For every chapter in the history of Palestinian violence against Israelis, there has been an emblematic image. For the 1972 massacre of Israeli Olympians in Munich, the masked gunman on the balcony. In the first intifada of the late 1980s, the boys hurling rocks. In the second intifada of the early 2000s, the suicide bomber.

It’s too soon to say whether the current wave of Palestinian attacks amounts to a third intifada, or uprising. But the defining picture has already been set: the terrorist brandishing a knife. In the past two weeks Palestinian assailants have attacked more than 50 Jews, killing eight. Among the wounded: a 2-year-old toddler, a 13-year-old boy riding his bike, a 70-year-old woman boarding a bus.

This is terrorism in its most exact and repulsive form, a potential danger for anyone who steps out the front door. It also poses extraordinary challenges for the Israeli government, which must deploy thousands of security personnel, each on hair-trigger alert, while trying to minimize mistakes, prevent Israeli vigilantism and not resort to collective forms of punishment. If Israel’s perennial critics in the West think they could do better under similar circumstances, they ought to explain how.

Unlike previous rounds of terror, the current wave seems to have little formal organization. There are no terror cells for Israeli intelligence to monitor and apprehend, no shipments of weapons to seize on the high seas. There are only young (and relatively secular) Palestinian men and women who, as if on the spur of the moment, take a kitchen knife or meat cleaver and try to stick it into a Jewish neck.

More clear is that the taste for violence emerges from a deep-seated culture of hate, nurtured by Palestinian leaders over many years in mosques, schools, newspapers, TV channels and social media. The most vivid current example is a video clip, translated byMemri, of Gaza cleric Abu Rajab wielding a knife and urging Palestinians in the West Bank to “stab the myth about the Temple in [Jews’] hearts.” He doesn’t mean that allegorically.

Equally to blame is Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who has been spreading the rumor that Israel would soon change the religious status quo atop Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, site of the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa Mosque, despite adamant Israeli denials. Mr. Abbas has also been peddling the lie that Israelis “execute our children in cold blood,” citing a boy named Ahmed Mansara. Young Ahmed, who was wounded after stabbing an Israeli child, is alive and being treated in an Israeli hospital.

Such reckless talk should end Western illusions that Mr. Abbas is a reliable peace partner for Israel. It wouldn’t hurt if the Obama Administration, which for fiscal year 2015 appropriated $441 million in economic assistance to the Palestinian Authority, spoke up about it. Instead, Secretary of State John Kerry insisted he is “not going to point fingers [at the culprits] from afar,” reminding Israelis that this Administration’s moral abdications in the Middle East match its strategic ones.

That abdication won’t be lost on Palestinians, and it could induce them to encourage attacks in hopes of scoring propaganda victories. In the same sermon in which Abu Rajab called for more stabbings, he also laid out a strategy. “The first phase of the operation,” he said, “requires stabbing in order to bring about a curfew.” In other words, goad Israelis into an overreaction that will be condemned internationally and further radicalize Palestinians.

That’s an argument for Israel to be prudent about how it meets the terror challenge—though it will have to consider how to deal with preachers of hate. Promoting mass murder in the age of social-media jihad is more than a thought crime. Recall that President Obama ordered a strike on terrorist-inciting Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen in 2011.

Israelis should also beware of arguments calling for “an end to the occupation,” as its critics (and some of its friends) endlessly preach. The last time Israelis tried that, with the complete withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, the result was more Palestinian terrorism. Israel doesn’t need a replay of that fiasco in the West Bank, especially when it already has to contend with Islamic State on its Syrian border and Hezbollah in Lebanon.

So Israelis will have to ride out another storm of terror. There isn’t an endless supply of Palestinians willing to meet a quick death in order to stab Israelis, and most Arab residents or citizens of Israel would rather live in a 21st-century startup nation run by Israelis than a 12th-century theocracy run by Hamas.

Israelis have proved before that they have the tactical ingenuity and moral will to defeat their enemies. The sooner they impress on Palestinians that they will never bow to knives or bend to terror, the sooner the stabbings will end.