Terror in Jerusalem

Last week in Israel we awoke to the horrific news that four Jews were mercilessly hacked to death while at prayer in a Jerusalem synagogue. They were killed by terrorists wielding meat cleavers, knives, guns, and axes. A fifth Israeli Jew, a policeman who responded to the scene, was later pronounced dead. Three of the four worshippers were American citizens.

There is an old familiar feeling of trepidation in the steps we take, here; a quick glance  over the shoulders  when we feel someone is following us; a suspicion that I don’t like in myself, creeping up within me, when the Arab worker in a neighborhood store helps me out.

A friend of mine, whose parents were Holocaust survivors, confided in me, “If in a synagogue yesterday, who knows where next? In a neighborhood grocery store? In a kindergarten with children at play? …This is like a pogrom in our own nation”

Disgust is also an all too familiar feeling here.  There is disgust with CNN who mislabeled the attack on Jewish worshippers in a synagogue as “An Attack in a Jerusalem Mosque”.

There is disgust with the stale, canned statements of leaders who for years, when Israelis are killed, have issued statements of moral equivalency, such as the assertion made yesterday by President Obama, that “too many Palestinians have died”, as well as Israelis. “At this difficult time”, he continued, “I think it’s important for both Palestinians and Israelis to try to work together to lower tensions and reject violence.”

Statements such as these fail to recognize the distinction between the arsonist and the firefighter. By President Obama’s failure to recognize this act for what it is: a pure, unadulterated act of evil, these sorts of statements only serve to reinforce the already growing feeling of triumphalism of the jihadist in his bloodthirsty quest for Islamic hegemony.

There is a disgust at the decades-old sentiment that that there is some sort of vast distinction between the jihadists that attack Jews at worship or babies riding on a Jerusalem train with their parents, and acts of Islamic terrorism throughout the globe.  Who can be so naïve as to believe that the ISIS fighter in Syria and Iraq does not delight over the news of dead Jews in Jerusalem?

Yet, many policymakers in the U.S. stubbornly refuse to recognize that there is no distinction between the terrorists that attack Jews at prayer in Jerusalem and terrorists who bomb runners in a marathon in Boston or passengers boarding a train in London, or children at school in Russia.

A great part of the problem lies with a fundamental lack of intellectual honesty and moral integrity of our own policymakers in Washington.  For years and years they have given leaders like Abu Mazen and Yassir Arafat a pass, while either they, themselves, or their close advisors glorify such vile acts.

For example, according to Palestinian Media Watch, Palestinian Authority Chairman Abbas' advisor Sultan Abu Al-Einein immediately praised the attack as a "heroic operation" on his Facebook page. He posted graphic images showing pools of blood and dead Jews in prayer shawls, as well as a photo of the dead terrorists with a bloody butcher's knife on the ground next to them. Al-Einein referred to them as "Martyrs." 

Members of the P.A. also took to the streets, as they usually do after such heinous attacks, passing out candy in jubilant celebration. This time, Mahmoud Abbas, on the bequest of Secretary of State Kerry, issued a lukewarm statement of condemnation of the attack, while in his usual contradictory manner, continued to blame the attack on the ludicrous recent blood libel of Jewish “desecration of the Al Aksa Mosque”.”

Just last week, official Palestinian Authority television praised an attempt on Rabbi Yehuda Glick’s life, for believing in freedom of access for all religions, Muslim, Christian, and Jew, on the Temple Mount, with the command that “Jerusalem needs blood to purify itself as Jews.”

The fact that for once, Secretary Kerry has demanded a condemnation from Mahmoud Abbas is somewhat refreshing. For decades our State Department has been dismissive of the horrific incitement to hate and to kill, the glorification of terrorists as heroes, and the disgusting characterization of Jews in P.A. media, replete with anti-Semitic stereotypes, so vile that they look like they came straight  out of the pages of Der Sturmer

It is the accumulation of years and years of such incitement that has led to these acts. Yet, for decades I have witnessed our own U.S. officials become apologists for the PA, saying, “They have to say that in order to survive on the street.”

In 2004, when Dennis Ross came out with his book, The Missing Peace, I asked him and former Secretary of State Madeline Albright, at a book event at a Washington think tank, about the continuous diet of incitement that the Palestinan leaders are exposing their people to that the State Department seems to ignore and why, if they are aware of it, there has been no official  word of condemnation about  this

Dennis Ross responded with “This is perhaps my one, greatest regret of the years I had spent with the Clinton administration, the fact that we weren’t paying attention to what was being said on the ground.” And Madeline Albright chimed in with, “We tended to give much of the Arab world a pass in those days.”

Yet, the incitement and our government’s failure to act on it, has continued unabated to this day,

Part of the problem is that our policymakers have exhibited a profound failure of imagination when it comes to the problems in the Middle East. For years, they have seen the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as the lynchpin to solving all other disputes in the Middle East, as though, if there were peace between Israelis and Palestinians, Sunnis, and Shiites throughout the region would sit down together and sing “Kumbaya”.

They have simply lacked the intellectual integrity to examine the premise of the paradigm of “land for peace”, and to see whether or not such a foreign policy paradigm actually works in the Middle East. Perhaps it might work in the West with neighbors such as Canada or Mexico, but in the Middle East it has proven to be a colossal failure, as demonstrated by the Gaza withdrawal and the onslaught of more than 10,000 missiles launched from that area.

Finally, I am disgusted at our American government for the fact that ever since the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993,  there have been scores of American citizens who have been killed and injured in acts of terror at the hands of Palestinian terrorists. I have personally spent many years of my life, working on this issue, and I have seen, first hand, the horrific pain that family members of the victims have had to endure. This has only been compounded by a lack of justice by our own government.

I had worked for years to pass an act, the Koby Mandell Act, named after the 13-year-old son of a friend of mine who was brutally killed in 2001 while taking a hike with his friend Joseph Ishran. The bill was passed and consequently, in May of 2005, the Office of Victims of Overseas Terrorism was opened in the Department of Justice. When it was opened, U.S.  Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said, “This new office guarantees a voice for victims and their families in the investigation and prosecution of terrorists who prey on Americans overseas.  Our commitment to these victims is as strong as our dedication to bringing their terrorist attackers to justice.”

Yet, over 80 Americans have been killed or injured in acts similar to the one that happened last week, and not one has been brought to justice on American shores, as U.S. law allows for. It is as though these victims are the invisible, disposable Americans.

That is not right. And by giving these terrorists a pass, we are inadvertently becoming the enablers of further acts of terrorism.

The reason I am in Israel is because my daughter, who lives here, recently gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. I look at her now, sleeping so peacefully next to me, so innocent and so new, so oblivious to the billions of people around her that despise her and want to eradicate her. Simply because she is a Jewish child living in the Jewish homeland. I pray that she, and every other Israeli child, will be able to fulfill her potential for why God put her on this earth, and to be able to live out a full, normal lifespan.

Sarah N. Stern is Founder and President of the Endowment for Middle East Truth, an unabashedly pro-Israel and pro-American think tank and policy shop in Washington, D.C.