Israel’s sense of fear by Guest Writer Aisha Ali-Khan.
Over the past 9 or so weeks now, Israel citizens have been under constant attack with no sign of stoppage in the foreseeable future. No one is safe, no matter if you are a policeman at a checkpoint or a civilian at a bus stop.
An honest debate is needed on the conflict – we all know that Israel is guilty of using disproportionate military responses in recent years but this current wave of stabbing/car rammings is making things more difficult for everyone in the region. Anti Palestinian sentiments and suspicion of Muslims will only lead to a more hardline approach by the Israeli authorities who are not used to not being able to defeat the Palestinians by military means.
The premise is quite simple in its execution. All that is required of a would-be stabber is a sharp object, preferably a knife, an Israeli citizen, and a desire to be arrested or worse, shot on the spot. The rest is of course dependent on opportunity and timing.
The majority of those who have been shot and killed in the various attacks against armed police and soldiers have been teenagers and young men and women. There have been 90 stabbing attacks, 14 cases of people being rammed by cars, several shootings, and dozens of fire bombings.
I believe the knife attacks should be treated as ‘suicide by stabbing’ and a possible bid for martyrdom.
Why else would you attack with knives (or scissors) when your intended victim is armed with the latest top of the range firearms and the best armour money can buy?
Social media is being blamed for not only promoting these attacks, but even anticipating that they may lead to a ‘third intifada.’
The effect of these attacks have been quite profound. Schools have had to close early so as to ensure children get home to their worried parents before dark and businesses have been deeply affected because everyone is abiding by a self-imposed curfew.
As a student, I recall a time when my local community was under attack by a hammer wielding madman. His victims were lone women. We were warned not to go out after hours, and to be extra vigilant if we were unfortunate to find ourselves out in the dark. In those days we did not have the internet or even mobile phone (it was pre-2000) I remember we had to queue up outside the phone booths situated outside the college and call home to let our families know that we had finished our classes and to expect us home at a certain time. My elder brother was told to change his shift so that he could pick me up and we would end up giving lifts to many of my friends.
The sense of fear that gripped the community was profound and it is something I still remember as clear as day nearly twenty years on. My mother was beside herself with worry, and would insist I take either a packed lunch or eat at the college refectory so as not to have to leave the college campus and put myself at further risk. The attacker was caught a few weeks later and life returned to normal; many people forgot what it was like to live with the fear of being maimed at any given moment by an individual whose sole mission was to cause pain and suffering to innocent people. Now imagine the same situation magnified a great many times over, and we can perhaps come close to understanding the kind of emotions currently being felt in Israel today.
Having read the news reports and also spoken to various Israelis and Palestinians, it’s clear that the stabbings have caused an entire country to be gripped by fear and mistrust. More than 100 Palestinians have been killed since the stabbing attacks began, with the fatality record standing over 20 for Israeli deaths.
This is not how Israel has conducted business in the not so distant past. The cycle of provocations-retaliations-further provocations-further retaliations always seemed to end in Israel flexing its far more superior military muscles. For a country that has survived nearly 60 years surrounded by a sea of hostility, feeling under attack should have become second nature by now. These attacks, however, seem to show that Israel is very much feeling out of its comfort zone. The sense of fear is pervading everything in Israeli society, from the father who will not risk taking his young sons to a local football match to the mother who now will not allow her young daughters to travel on public transport. It is not so much for individual security but rather a fear for the safety of loved ones, especially for young children, that is at the forefront of many thoughts right now.
This brings us to a startling conclusion of what Israelis fear the most, and that is living with a fear that they cannot do anything about, a fear that they cannot control or obliterate. A fear that permeates and suffocates everyday life.
The latest violence is another chapter in the bloody and violent history shared by both Palestinians and Israelis since the birth of the Jewish state in 1948, and the situation in this tiny corner of the world is often used by extremists on both side of the conflict to justify their sense of victimhood and need for bloodshed. These attacks will only serve the interests of those who want to pursue a more hawkish strategy against a possible peace in the divided country.
We are perhaps seeing a new dawn in this already arduous conflict, but sadly not one of hope or promise. For each stab wound, whether inflicted against innocent Israelis or Palestinians, will cause nothing but a lasting legacy of fear and paranoia that drowns out common sense and rationale, and allows the current blanket of fear to become even more entrenched.
Aisha Ali-Khan is a human rights activist.