On March 23 a bus stop was bombed in Jerusalem killing one Israeli and injuring dozens of others, recalling some of the worst of the Palestinian terror campaign against Israel when public transport was a frequent target.
The attack came in the wake of one of the most heinous terror attacks in recent memory at Itamar, in the West Bank, on March 11. Together with Hamas’ revived and unremitting war from Gaza, these ugly acts constitute a grim reminder that the culture of violence and extremism represents the main obstacle to possible progress in any peace process.
At Itamar, a Palestinian terrorist or terrorists entered a private home at night and brutally murdered five members of the Fogel family in their sleep. Slaughtered in the stabbing attack were both parents and three of their children – aged 11, 4 and 3-months.
The al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, the armed wing of Fatah, immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, saying the “heroic operation” was “carried out successfully thanks to Allah”. Residents in Gaza took to the street to celebrate, handing out candy and sweets.
In the wake of such an event, one must ask, who could perpetrate such a barbaric act? Or condone, let alone, celebrate it?
It is abundantly clear that incidents like the massacre of the Fogel family do not occur in a vacuum. Such an act of pitiless slaughter – unfortunately neither unique nor unprecedented – can only be the product of a pervasive infrastructure indoctrinating hate, inciting violence and instilling a worldview justifying and extolling even the murder of babies!
The Itamar massacre highlighted that, for far too long, the international community has ignored or downplayed the ongoing and systematic contributions to this infrastructure of incitement by the official organs of the Palestinian Authority (PA). Outside governments and NGOs have always seemed disinterested in paying more than occasional lip service to the need to curtail this incitement, notwithstanding that it is a clear violation of both the Oslo Accords and the Roadmap for Peace, and the most profound of barriers to creating an atmosphere of mutual respect and compromise.
Even during the peak of the Oslo diplomatic process, the PA maintained a consistent track record of encouraging and then glorifying terrorists as heroes and ‘martyrs’.
In the past 12 months alone for example, the PA has: Awarded a US$2,000 grant to the family of Palestinian terrorist, Khaldoun Samoudi, who was killed while trying to detonate two bombs against IDF soldiers in January this year; named public squares in honour of infamous terrorists (including outside President Mahmoud Abbas’ presidential compound); sponsored a soccer tournament in honour of Abu Jihad, Palestinian terrorist and former aide to Arafat, responsible for the deaths of dozens of Israelis in numerous terror attacks; and through its official newspaper, al-Hayat al-Jadida, reported that Israel aspires to destroy the al-Aqsa Mosque in order to build the Third Temple on its ruins.
Similarly, in the week just prior to the Itamar massacre, the PA announced a plan to hold a football tournament named after Wafa Idris, the first Palestinian female suicide bomber.
Then on March 12, as thousands gathered in Jerusalem to mourn and bury the Fogels, Fatah’s youth movement gathered to celebrate the naming of a square in El-Bireh in honour of Dalal Mughrabi. In 1978, Mughrabi was the commander of the single most deadly terror attack in Israel, which claimed the lives of 38 people, including several children. PA Minister of Culture Saham al-Barghouti insisted that “it is our right to honour our martyrs”.
In another cruel irony, in late February, barely three weeks before the Itamar massacre, a PA-run TV station ran a tribute to “martyrs”, which included Hasbash Hanani, a terrorist who killed three Israeli students in a high school in 2002 – the only previous terror attack in Itamar.
Such incitement not only contributes to the perpetuation of terrorism like the Itamar massacre, but it effectively makes peace all but impossible. As Arab-Israeli journalist Khaled Abu Toameh pointedly noted, directing his question at the PA: “If you keep inciting your people, then they ask ‘well, why are we then making peace with the Jews? We should be killing them as Hamas is saying’”.
There are signs that some international players, both governments and NGOs, are belatedly starting to understand that incitement is not simply a peripheral sideshow, but a crucially central issue. Immediately following the Itamar massacre, US House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen issued a statement, saying:
“It is not enough for the Palestinian Authority to merely condemn this act. The PA must finally take immediate and decisive action… including rooting out and condemning all those who preach violence against Israel and hatred of the Jewish people.”
President Barack Obama himself, in May last year, appealed directly to President Abbas to do “whatever he can” to prevent acts of incitement and delegitimisation of Israel.
In the wake of Itamar, it is time to move beyond mere pleas. Given the PA’s dependence on aid (largely funded by the US and EU), the international community must insist on Palestinian accountability and the immediate end to official Palestinian incitement, with severe financial penalties at stake for future backsliding.
The simple point is that you cannot make progress toward peace while incitement, hate and the glorification of terror permeate almost every institution of the PA; the schools, the mosques, the sporting and cultural events and the government-controlled media. If there is any silver lining possible in the horror of Itamar, it would be genuinely heightened awareness and action stemming from this essential fact.