Terror in the Air
As I drove to the Knesset on Sunday, I noticed that the streets seemed emptier than usual. The typical traffic congestion was gone; Kiryat Hamemshalah was deserted. On Friday, I also noticed that traffic seemed to be flowing more smoothly than ever in Yerushalayim; the streets were relatively deserted. Or was I merely imagining it?
On the road leading to the Knesset, checkpoints had been set up that forced every car approaching the building to slow down significantly. This is a very rare phenomenon. The guard manning the first checkpoint recognized me and pressed the button to lift the barrier, motioning me to pass through. However, I lowered my window and asked, “Are you worried about a terror attack?”
He did not reply, but I didn’t need to hear his answer. I knew exactly what was happening.
Inside the building, I struck up a conversation with a member of the Knesset Guard. At some point, he acknowledged that they had raised their alertness to Level 5. I don’t really know the technical differences between the various levels, but I realized that they were certainly on high alert.
There is fear in the streets, and there is good reason for it. Prime Minister Bennett has repeatedly announced that there are many terror attacks in store; how could we not be afraid? Each attack has been followed by another, and according to the security forces, every incident inspires copycat attacks. Should we not feel fear? This is exactly what happened during the rash of car ramming attacks; each one seemed to spawn further acts of violence, to the point that almost every bus stop has since been equipped with concrete barriers to prevent cars from jumping the curb and striking the waiting passengers. But there is very little that can be done to prevent a lone wolf terror attack altogether.
Pleading for Divine Mercy
Two hours later, I davened Mincha in the Knesset shul. The shul was packed with people. Apparently, everyone realized that we were in need of Heavenly mercy. The call of the hour was to beseech the Creator of the world to have mercy on us. After Mincha, we recited birkas ha’ilanos together. Many Knesset employees somehow managed to borrow yarmulkes and joined us. I have been reciting birkas ha’ilanos at the Knesset for years already, and this was the largest crowd I have ever seen.
We all made our way from the shul to the porch where we had davened during the period of the coronavirus, and a gate was opened for us to go down to the Knesset grounds. We were led toward some unfamiliar trees, until Uri Maklev pointed out that the brocha is recited specifically on fruit trees, and we needed to find a group of at least three such trees. We continued until we reached the almond trees. I knew the brocha by heart, but I wondered about the fact that the others had brought siddurim along with them. I soon discovered that the Sephardic version of the brocha is quite long and is accompanied by a series of supplications.
“There are many klipos in this building,” someone commented.
“At least one hundred and twenty,” someone else added.
The rov of the Knesset claimed that the Ashkenazic version of the brocha features the phrase “ilanos tovim,” in the masculine. However, I am not sure if he was correct. In nusach Sephard and other versions of the brocha, the phrase appears as “ilanos tovos,” in the feminine form. According to the Sephardic liturgy, the brocha is accompanied by a tefillah for all the gilgulim that were reincarnated in the form of trees to be cleansed, and for the sparks of kedushah in the plant life to be revealed. After the brocha, the Sephardim daven for the trees and for Klal Yisroel as well. When we reached that portion of the tefillah, I heard a large number of voices swelling in unison as they cried out, “Melech rachaman, racheim aleinu—Merciful King, have mercy on us….”
Israeli Courts Encourage Terror
Before we could recover from the terror attacks in Beer Sheva, Chadera, and Bnei Brak (where the families are still sitting shiva) there was another blow—a terror attack in Gush Etzion. A passenger on a bus was stabbed at the Neve Daniel intersection in Gush Etzion. The 28-year-old victim was severely wounded and was rushed to Shaare Zedek hospital. The terrorist, a 34-year-old man from Tarkumiya, was eliminated by two armed civilians who were traveling on the bus. MDA paramedic Lior Shasha reported, “When we arrived, the victim was sitting outside the bus, conscious and suffering from stab wounds to the body. We provided initial first aid, including stopping the bleeding and administering medication, and then we evacuated hm to Shaare Zedek Hospital. He was fully conscious and stable while he was transported, and when he arrived at the hospital he was sedated and intubated.”
This attack revived an old controversy as to whether Arabs and Jews should be traveling on the same buses. In the past, there was a demand in Gush Etzion for Arabs to be barred from the buses that transport the local residents. The fear of a terrorist boarding a bus has always been present. The measure was struck down by the Supreme Court, on the grounds that it was discriminatory and illegal. It should therefore come as no surprise that the residents of Gush Etzion are furious with the judges of the Israeli courts.
The incident also focused attention on another long-running controversy: the debate over the practice of demolishing terrorists’ homes. The Supreme Court has been very strict on this subject, invariably siding with the terrorists’ families. The judges are opposed to collective punishment and refuse to allow any punitive measures that will harm the terrorists’ innocent family members. The security services, however, vehemently reject the court’s position. They argue that there is nothing that Arabs value more than their homes; they are willing to give up their lives for their homes, and if an Arab terrorist knows that his actions will cause his parents and siblings to lose the home where they lived together, he will be much more hesitant to carry out an attack.
Three Miracles in Bnei Brak
The terror attack in Bnei Brak really deserves to be the subject of a separate article. Two yungeleit were killed in the attack: Yaakov Shalom, a father of five, and Avishai Yechezkel, a father of a two-year-old child. Both of these men were local residents. Another victim was police officer Amir Khoury of Nof Hagalil, who was killed upon arriving at the scene of the attack. Either Khoury or his colleague was responsible for killing the terrorist, and many residents of Bnei Brak attended his funeral. The attack also claimed the lives of two Ukrainian workers who were employed in a nearby store.
Many other people were saved from death by outright miracles. There were several local residents who found themselves facing the muzzle of the terrorist’s gun, which repeatedly malfunctioned. He pressed the trigger, but no bullet emerged. At least three people revealed after the attack that their lives were spared by unmistakable miracles. Perhaps I will write about this at greater length in the future.
Three notable incidents were caught on video by the security cameras on the street. One video shows a man on a bicycle who rode directly in front of the terrorist. The gunman shot at him, but the gun did not fire and the bicycle rider managed to escape from the scene. A mother and three children also managed to escape from the terrorist after he aimed his gun at them. The third case, though, might be the most stunning of all: Menachem Englander, a paramedic for Magen Dovid Adom, emerged from his apartment building as soon as he heard the gunshots. As soon as he stepped out onto the street, however, he spotted the terrorist standing directly in front of him, no more than two or three meters away. The terrorist instantly tried to open fire at him; the footage from the building’s security camera shows him aiming his gun at Englander and firing, and the sound of the trigger clicking can be clearly heard. In this case, as well, the gun jammed and Englander’s life was saved. He hurried back home and locked the door, certain that the terrorist was pursuing him. His salvation has since become a hot topic of conversation throughout the country.
Peace Talks While Blood Flows in the Streets
You can see why fear is rampant in Israel. There is a general sense that the government is not doing its duty to protect the citizens. It was most disheartening to hear that Bennett’s message to the nation was that anyone who does not own a gun should apply for a license and buy a weapon, and that anyone who does own a weapon should carry it with him in the street. Last Sunday evening, Bennett ramped up the nation’s anxiety levels by announcing that terrorists are constantly hatching new plots and that the security forces are monitoring them at all times. In any event, the people certainly seem to have taken his advice; in the past few days, there was a 40-percent increase in the purchase of guns. I am not sure how to translate that into an exact number of firearms, but it certainly shows that the situation is dire. And as I mentioned, Bennett announced to the country this week that there are many terror attacks in store for us. May Hashem protect us all!
After the attempted murder on the bus in Gush Etzion, the political right called on Prime Minister Bennett and Defense Minister Benny Gantz to do something about the situation. “Prime Minister Naftoli Bennett, the matter is in your hands now,” a public statement declared, addressing the prime minister directly. “You must give the order to demolish the home of the terrorist who ‘only’ injured a Jew with a screwdriver. In order to truly prevent more murderous terror and the next bloodbath, you must take the recommendation of the Shabak, which has advised you to destroy the terrorist’s home in order to deter his family and future terrorists from carrying out attacks. It is in your hands, Prime Minister Naftoli Bennett and Defense Minister Benny Gantz, to destroy the terrorist’s home. Please prevent the next campaign of murder and terror, and make a forceful demand in the security cabinet for the house to be destroyed. We must point out that you, Prime Minister Naftoli Bennett, are the one who used to call from every possible platform for the destruction of the homes of terrorists who ‘only’ injured their victims, and that the attorney general’s instructions permit you to do that.”
You may remember Shlomo Neeman of the Gush Etzion Regional Council. I have interviewed him here in the past. In response to the terror attacks, he wrote, “Murderous terror must be met with a strong, determined hand. We should not confuse ourselves with peace conferences devoid of substance when Jewish blood is running in the streets. The attacks will continue as long as the Arabs who live in our midst do not understand that we are the masters of Eretz Yisroel. We will win this war of independence only when we remove every last question mark about the future of the land. On behalf of all the residents of the Gush, I would like to wish a complete and speedy recovery to the resident who was injured this morning in the terror attack, and I would like to give my encouragement to the resident who eliminated the terrorist. My dear fellow residents, I advise you to acquire your own personal weapons, to train with them and to carry them with you everywhere. Any enemy who raises his hand against our people should encounter our bullets immediately, wherever he is.”
Terror Attack Thwarted in Jenin
Before we could recover from the shock of the attack in Gush Etzion, there was another unsettling development during an IDF operation in Jenin, the place of origin of the terrorist in Bnei Brak.
It is not easy for Israeli soldiers to enter Jenin, which is a hostile city within Palestinian territory, but there was no choice in this case. The Shabak had been warned about a ticking time bomb, so to speak—a terror cell that was about to carry out an attack within Israel. After the terrorists were captured by the army, it became clear that there were three would-be murderers who were in possession of a huge arsenal of weapons.
The Shabak acquired this information through its network of informants. The Shabak has dozens of collaborators within the Arab populace. There are several reasons that these informants agree to betray other Arabs. Most are motivated by monetary gain, while others do it in exchange for various favors. (For instance, if an Arab has a brother in an Israeli prison, he will often become an informant in exchange for favors or better conditions for his brother.) In some cases, Arabs are pressed into service as informants through blackmail and threats. And some of them act out of opposition to the murder of Jews. But regardless of their motivations, it is these informants who are responsible for most of the Shabak’s successes at averting terror attacks. That is why it is especially problematic when an attack is planned by a lone terrorist who has no connections to a terror organization or some other group, and especially when the attack is carried out on the spur of the moment. The informants have no way of knowing about such attacks, and they certainly cannot warn the Israeli security services about the terrorists’ intentions.
In this case, though, the Shabak was tipped off about the terror cell in Jenin, and the intelligence service worked together with the IDF and the police (including some special units within the Border Guard) to enter Jenin and stop the terrorists in their tracks. As soon as the Shabak became aware that the terrorists had already set out to perpetrate their attack, they had no choice but to act. The hunt for the terrorists began in Jenin and ended in Tulkarem, where the soldiers identified the terrorists’ car. A fierce firefight broke out, and four operatives of the Yamam (the special anti-terror unit) were wounded. One of the victims was a decorated superintendent who was seriously injured in the course of the operation. The three terrorists in the car, all of them members of Islamic Jihad who had been listed as wanted criminals, were eliminated. Two of them had served time in Israeli prisons in the past.
In the terrorists’ car, the Israeli forces found guns, grenades, and a last will and testament. The security services believe that the terrorists had been on their way to perpetrate an attack at that very moment. It is believed that the elimination of these three terrorists averted a massive terror attack. A few hours later, the Duvdevan unit completed the job by arresting a colleague of the three terrorists who had been planning to join them. The army was aware of the fourth terrorist’s existence and feared that he would try to carry out an attack on his own after his comrades were eliminated. In fact, he was captured while armed with an M16 machine gun, the same type of weapon used by the terrorist in Bnei Brak during his murderous rampage.
The Government Cannot Cope
The fear in the streets is heightened by the sense that the government does not know how to deal with this type of wave of terror. There is a general sense that Prime Minister Bennett is not qualified to handle the situation. This is certainly true of Foreign Minister Lapid as well, and even Defense Minister Benny Gantz seems to be at a loss. These men have no experience leading a country under any circumstances, certainly not when it is confronted by a wave of terror. Even Benny Gantz, who previously served as chief of staff of the IDF, has turned out to be a failure as the country’s defense minister. The only thing the government has done is order police officers and soldiers to patrol the streets. But it is doubtful that this will make much of a difference.
The government’s incompetence should not come as a surprise to anyone. It has been repeatedly demonstrated that former generals make the worst possible politicians and government ministers. For instance, Omer Bar-Lev was the commander of the elite Sayeret Matkal unit in the IDF from 1984 through 1987. Today, he holds the position of public security minister. As I reported to you last week, Bar-Lev became a laughingstock when he boldly announced at the funeral of a victim of the Beer Sheva terror attack that Israel will not rest until the terrorist is imprisoned. This was patently absurd, since the terrorist was killed on the spot by a Jewish civilian.
After the operation in Jenin, Bar-Lev embarrassed himself once again by releasing the following message: “Let us honor the fighters of the Yamam for eliminating the terrorists tonight. We applaud the Shabak for gathering information in real time. This is the third incident this week in which the Israel Police Force and its various branches—the Border Guard, the Yasam, and now the Yamam—has placed its officers and combatants at risk to prevent terror from reaching the citizens of Israel and has overcome the terrorists. The Israel Police Force deserves our respect. My thoughts are with the families of the fallen, and I wish a speedy recovery to the wounded.”
While Bar-Lev expressed his sympathies for the families of the officers who were killed in the conflict, there wasn’t a single Israeli soldier or civilian who was killed in this incident—a fact that he certainly should have known. He also made another mistake that should be unthinkable for a public security minister: He referred to the Yasam and the Yamam as arms of the police force, which is not accurate. They are actually part of the Border Guard, which is itself a subsidiary of the police force. He also confused the Yasam with the Yamam, but perhaps he can be forgiven for that. But his reference to “the fallen” was the most egregious error of all. Bar-Lev tried to save face by claiming that he had been referring to the victims of previous terror attacks, but that did little to restore his image. Many have already begun raising doubts as to whether he is actually fit for his position.
In short, the State of Israel is facing a wave of terror, and the month of Ramadan is now beginning. The security services are warning us that danger lies ahead, which is quite frightening. And to make matters worse, as I wrote a couple of weeks ago, it is quite possible that Israel’s conciliatory attitude toward the king of Jordan (who recently met with Bennett, Lapid, Gantz, and then President Herzog) has caused nothing but damage.
Abba How Could You Leave Us
Within the chareidi community, there has been an increased sense of dread since the passing of Rav Chaim Kanievsky. At the levayah, Rav Chaim’s son, Rav Shlomo Kanievsky, seemed to capture the feelings of everyone present when he cried out, “Abba, how could you leave us?” We have all begun to fear that we have lost a defensive barrier. The gadol hador who protected us from harm has been taken to Shomayim, and we are afraid. Almost all the gedolei Yisroel who delivered hespedim for Rav Chaim mentioned the fact that he protected all of us. Today, everyone is haunted by the same fear. We have all been raised with a keen awareness that the gedolei Yisroel are our sources of protection and support, and we feel vulnerable now that Rav Chaim has been taken from us.
So many experienced the climb up that famous staircase outside Rav Chaim Kanievsky’s home. Some visitors came with intricate questions about various sugyos; others were desperately seeking cures to their illnesses or resolutions to other personal crises. Everyone pinned their hopes on Rav Chaim’s brachos; we all knew that when Rav Chaim said something, it would come to pass.
The novi Yirmiyohu states, “If you take the precious out of the vile, you will be like My mouth” (Yirmiyohu 15:19). Rashi explains, “‘You will be like My mouth’—for I will issue a decree and you will annul it.” Rav Chaim Kanievsky was the epitome of this concept. He “took the precious out of the vile” by squeezing spiritual growth out of every Jew, urging his visitors to undertake various kabbalos or to learn Torah. When wealthy people visited him, Rav Chaim would ask if they maintained learning sedorim. His son pointed out in his hesped that it was Rav Chaim who had called for yeshivos to remain open during the times when missile fire or the coronavirus struck fear into every heart. And then there were his numerous seforim and reams of teshuvos. With the power of his immense Torah, Rav Chaim had the ability to strike down a decree issued by Hashem Himself, so to speak. His brachos turned out to be wondrous, effecting salvations that transcended the laws of nature. I myself experienced two such miracles, although this is not the place for those stories. But everything that I have written here is common knowledge.
Rav Chaim was a father figure to Klal Yisroel. Here is just one of many stories: On the Thursday before Parshas Zachor, a yeshiva bochur visited Rav Chaim’s home. Rav Chaim was very weak at the time, but the bochur had come to discuss something that was troubling him deeply, and Rav Chaim’s family members allowed him to see the rov. The bochur explained that he was a talmid in Yeshivas Kiryat Malachi and that he was very successful in his learning, but he was desperate for his parents to be happy with the spiritual revolution that had occurred in his life. This bochur was one of the last people to receive a brocha from Rav Chaim Kanievsky during his lifetime.
Rav Chaim Kanievsky was the sar haTorah. Every part of the Torah was perpetually at his fingertips; he had plumbed its depths and mastered all of its secrets. Chazal tell us that a bas kol announces every day that the entire world is sustained “bishvil Chanina bni—for the sake of My son Chanina.” The Baal Shem Tov comments that the word “bishvil” can be understood as teaching us that a tzaddik is like a shvil—a conduit for vitality and blessing to descend to the entire world. Rav Chaim was the conduit who brought life itself to us from Shomayim. He was the pipeline for Heavenly brachos to reach us, and for emunah and Torah to fill our beings. What will we do now that he is gone? Is it any wonder that we are all trembling with fear? At the same time, we are maaminim, and we trust that Hashem will protect us.
Health Minister Calls for Chometz in Hospitals
Meanwhile, it is bein hazemanim. Tens of thousands of yungeleit and bochurim have reached the end of the winter zman in their kollelim and yeshivos. Every year, we enter the month of Nissan with trepidation. When the bochurim leave their yeshivos to go on vacation, many bochurim set out on hikes and other trips without the slightest awareness of the things that they should not be doing or the proper preparations to make in advance of their outings. Last week, two groups of children from Talmudei Torah had to be rescued during a field trip. Every year, the gedolei Yisroel call on the public to exercise caution; I expect that this call will be repeated during the coming days. And since bein hazemanim tends to come with a decrease in Torah learning, there seems to be even more cause for concern.
With the approach of Pesach, we have also learned that there is yet another minister in the government who is an absolute fool: Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz. You may recall that the Supreme Court was petitioned to permit visitors to bring chometz onto the grounds of the country’s hospitals during Pesach. The court accepted the petition, of course, based on the principle of equality, civil rights, and other such spurious arguments. However, certain hospitals announced on their own accord that they would not allow chometz onto their premises, in spite of the Supreme Court’s rulings. In response, the vaunted Minister Horowitz called on the hospitals to reverse their decisions and allow chometz to be brought onto their grounds on Pesach. Why did he do that? Simply because that is his nature.
This triggered a conflict within the coalition. Several members of Yamina, who were already frustrated by this government and its ineffective response to terror, decided that Horowitz’s announcement was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. (Horowitz is part of the Meretz party, which is ideologically at odds with Yamina.) This group announced that the time has come to terminate their partnership with the left. Will this actually lead to the fall of the current government? It is hard to say for sure, but it seems most logical that it will not be enough of an impetus to bring down the regime. In spite of their indignation, these government officials will probably not be willing to give up their comfortable positions of power.
Har Habayis and Meron What Is the Difference
This week, the government decided to make its own arrangements for the Lag Ba’Omer festivities in Meron this year. To put it in plainer terms, that means that they intend to impose severe restrictions on access to Meron.
The government has already decided that anyone found in Meron on Lag Ba’Omer without an official permit will be subject to a fine of 500 NIS. Most of the details of the law are based on the interim recommendations of the official commission of inquiry, although some points were left ambiguous. For instance, the draft of the law proposes that there should be only one bonfire during the course of the hillula. The law doesn’t specify whose bonfire will be permitted, but the Meron project manager, Tzvi Tessler, has already announced that it will be the traditional hadlokah of the Boyaner Rebbe. The proposal would also give the designated minister (i.e., the anti-religious Minister of Religious Affairs, Matan Kahana) the authority to approve additional events, albeit without bonfires. These events will be limited to a maximum of 500 participants in open areas and 300 in enclosed areas.
An official permit will be required to enter Meron. These permits will be distributed to people who purchase tickets to travel on public transportation, on a first-come first-served basis. There will also be certain groups that will receive automatic permission to attend the event, starting with “communities, groups, and chassidish courts with a special connection to the hillulos of Lag Ba’Omer that have been held on Mount Meron over the years, subject to the criteria and the provisions of the law.” The second group to qualify for tickets consists of any individuals for whom there is a “public interest” in their attending the hillula. The third group consists of the family members of the victims of last year’s tragedy; the goal is to enable the families to participate in a single memorial event.
You may wonder why I have a jaundiced view of these restrictions. What could be wrong with trying to prevent another tragedy? The answer is that there is nothing wrong with trying to avert a disaster, but these tactics demonstrate a highly inflexible approach devoid of rhyme or reason. Placing such severe restrictions on the volume of visitors to Meron seems to be a cynical exploitation of the disaster. Why, lehavdil, does the government permit 25,000 Arabs to congregate on Har Habayis every week, while the crowding at Meron will be so strictly limited? What is the difference between the two sites? This is rigidity for its own sake, nothing more.
A Brush with Law Enforcement
A police van parked outside my building caught my attention one evening, piquing my curiosity.
In general, I manage to get along with all sorts of people, even some highly unpleasant individuals, but I try to steer clear of police officers. They may be wearing uniforms and body cameras, but they also seem to suffer from a lack of capacity to pay attention. Go out on the streets of Israel and you will see it for yourself: Police officers do not listen to anyone. But there they were in Givat Shaul. What were they doing there?
Actually, it wasn’t the first time that I had seen a van matching that description on my street. In fact, it might well have been the same van each time. As a result, my curiosity mounted even further, and I decided to stand next to the vehicle and wait until its driver appeared. I was determined to get to the bottom of the matter; I would ask the police officers to explain their presence, even if I could expect to be beaten for my troubles.
Before long, two policemen emerged from the building, each carrying an empty cardboard box. I approached them and asked one of the officers, “Would you tell me what you were doing here?”
He responded in an authoritative tone, “What difference does it make to you?”
I decided to try my luck with his companion. “Tell me,” I said, “what brought you here?”
The second officer looked a bit flustered. “My colleague brings a food package to one of the residents here every week,” he said.
That, at least, was an encouraging response.