The Israeli Army bulldozed an illegal settler “outpost” – a small collection of shacks put up to claim squatters’ rights to Palestinian land, so the Jewish settlers set fire to a mosque. It was the second mosque fire in two days. The first was an unused mosque in Jerusalem. The second fire, which was started shortly before morning prayers took place in Burqa, near the Palestinian “capital” of Ramallah. Both mosques were covered in anti-Muslim grafitti, “Death to the Arabs,” “War,” and “Mitzpe Yitzhar,” the name of the outpost.
These attacks brought to eight the number of West Bank mosques burned by settlers in the past two years, and not one arrest or indictment has occurred.
Attacking the mosques was less risky than attacking any Israeli military posts again. The Tuesday attack on a military base and demonstration in a military zone near the Jordanian border had resulted in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announcing that any Israeli Jew caught committing these acts would be treated exactly the way Palestinians are – military arrest and indefinite detention without trial. Israel recently exchanged 450 of these “administrative arrest” prisoners for captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, and will be releasing another 550 this Sunday. The announcement from Netanyahu marks the first time any Israeli administration has chosen to treat Israeli terrorists the way they treat Palestinian terrorist. Netahyahu is taking the position that terror is terror, no matter who is committing it. It marks a radical change in a policy that has previously protected Israelis who randomly attack Palestinians.
Israeli President Shimon Peres condemned the attacks and characterized them as “pouring oil on the flames” in a very volatile Middle East. Dictatorships stay in power in part by having a viable outside enemy. The very existence of Israel provided that for decades. When Egypt and Jordan refused to allow the Palestinian refugees from the creation of Israel to spread out and assimilate, they put the Palestinians in “refugee camps” that became training grounds for terrorists. The entire West Bank was such a camp. After the 1967 War, when Israel occupied the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and Syria’s Golan Heights, the focus of the hate mongering turned to the treatment of Palestinians within those occupied lands. Every Islamist terrorism group uses the West Bank and Gaza as recruiting and rallying tools, even those like al Qaida who have nothing to do with the Palestinians. It was easier for Osama bin Laden to use the Palestinians to gather his followers than to use his real enemies, the royal family of Saudi Arabia.
The Arab Spring has made Israel very nervous, and rightly so. No one can guarantee what will happen in Egypt if the Muslim Brotherhood takes control of the interim parliament. Though the Brotherhood in Egypt has disavowed violence, they are judged by their history, not by their rhetoric. The Brotherhood is seen as the father and mother of all Islamist terrorism.
The only thing Israel can do to lessen the ability of its neighbors to use it as a raison d’être for continued dictatorships and the target of terrorists is to start living up to its obligation to treat the safety of the Palestinians as their responsibility. Well, they could agree to a two-state solution which would totally undermine people like al-Assad in Syria and Ahmadinejad in Iran, but that’s not going to happen any time soon. Lessening the target aspect is probably a large part of President Obama’s recent call for a two-state solution. No matter what the Bush administration tried to snow us into believing, we were not attacked on 9-11 because of our lifestyle, but because of our support of Israel. It is syptomatic of our attitudes in parts of America that Fox News referred to the arsonists as “vandals” instead of terrorists.
How Netanyahu handles the swelling problems with his settlers will determine how the rest of the region reacts to Israel as they sort through the process of building new governments and choosing the paths of their countries.