Tuesday, Jun 11, 2024

My Take on the News

 

A Miracle in Beitar Illit

A terror attack was miraculously thwarted last week, this time in the city of Beitar Illit. Beitar is a city that is far from Tel Aviv not only geographically (it is located on the border of the Gush Etzion area, a short distance from the exit from Yerushalayim to the Tunnels Road) but in mentality as well. Tel Aviv and Beitar Illit, which is a completely chareidi city, are light years apart in a cultural sense, to the point that they might as well be two in different countries altogether.

Last Thursday, an Arab boarded the number 226 bus from Yerushalayim to Beitar Illit carrying a bomb in a suitcase. His intention was to plant the bomb on the bus and then detonate it by phone after disembarking. He got off the bus at the first stop in the city and quickly crossed the street to board an outgoing bus returning to Yerushalayim from Beitar. At that point, he tried to activate the bomb with his cellular phone, but it didn’t work. The bomb did not explode; it merely began spewing smoke, which alerted the passengers on the bus that something was amiss, and they quickly scrambled off the bus. The police were called, and large numbers of security forces descended on the city. The Home Front Command warned the residents of Beitar that there was a concern that the city had been infiltrated by terrorists. Of course, the bomb’s failure to detonate was nothing short of miraculous. Had it gone off, the results could have been catastrophic!

It took a very short time for the passengers to be cleared off the bus and for sappers to neutralize the bomb. Security forces continued canvassing the area for a long time thereafter, searching for the suspect on the assumption that he couldn’t have gone far. Video footage from the bus shows a person leaving the suspicious object on the vehicle and then disembarking.

The residents of Beitar were all quickly made aware of the miracle that had taken place in their city on Thursday night, at a time when there is generally significant activity in the city. This Thursday night, the entire city was instructed to remain at home. The army and Shabak hurried to the scene and set up a makeshift command center in the heart of the city, where they coordinated the manhunt for the terrorist. As long as it wasn’t clear where the terrorist had gone, the residents were forbidden to leave their homes.

Just imagine the scene: In a city with tens of thousands of residents, the entire populace was instructed to remain at home, practically under siege, while hundreds of soldiers were searching the entire city, building by building. One can only imagine the fear and helplessness that the residents of Beitar must have felt that Thursday night and Friday, until Shabbos began. At some point, the army announced that everyone was permitted to return to their normal routines, although it wasn’t exactly clear on what basis that decision was made. This announcement, after all, came long before the terrorist was actually apprehended. Then again, perhaps the army already knew that the terrorist was no longer in the city.

Lifting the Lockdown

On Friday night, the Shin Bet and the army captured the terrorist who had planted the bomb on the bus in Beitar. (In these cases, the army and the intelligence service always work together, with the Shabak identifying the fugitive’s hiding place and the army carrying out the arrest.) Several other suspects who helped the terrorist escape were likewise taken into custody. The army released a statement informing the public that “thanks to a joint effort of IDF soldiers, the Shin Bet, and the Israel Police, with the aid of intelligence gathered by the Shin Bet, the suspect accused of planting the explosive device on a bus in Beitar Illit on Thursday was taken into custody tonight.” The terrorist was actually captured very late on Friday night, a bit more than 24 hours after the bomb was planted.

The terrorist was found in the Arab village of Batir, in the Etzion region, and was arrested along with four other suspected accomplices. The army also impounded a car that they suspected was used by the terrorists in the course of their scheme. The Shin Bet announced that Arab workers would not be permitted to enter Beitar Illit for the time being, and that the security services would engage in heightened activities over the course of Shabbos to rule out any further threats and to ensure the safety of the city’s residents.

At this point, I do not have an answer as to what led the army to lift the lockdown in Beitar. Did they simply decide that it didn’t make sense to force an entire city to stay home throughout Shabbos, while large numbers of soldiers continued patrolling the city on the small chance that the Arab terrorist was still there? Or had they already collected footage from security cameras that showed that the terrorist had left the city?

Horror on the Roads

Unfortunately, there is more to report about terrorism in Israel in recent days. On Friday, a two-year-old girl named Hadar Noga Lavie, from the settlement of Shiloh, died in Shaare Zedek Medical Center. Hadar was seriously wounded last Shabbos in a car accident involving a Palestinian motorist near Ofra. The residents of Ofra, as well as their neighbors in other settlements, are certain that the car accident was a deliberate act of terror. Yisroel Gantz, the head of the Binyomin Regional Council, declared at the girl’s funeral, “A sister of all of us died a week after an Arab driver crashed into her. We embrace the Lavie family and send them strength.”

Idit Lavie, the mother of the deceased girl and a resident of Shiloh, is certain that the accident that left her daughter mortally injured was a terror attack. She recalled experiencing a similar attack in the past, when an Arab driver tried to force her off the road and into an abyss. “He didn’t hesitate,” she said about the motorist who collided with her in the accident that killed her daughter. “He had a very clear goal, and as soon as the car stopped turning over, he was surrounded by other Arabs who called out, ‘Good job! Good job!’ I was certain that they were going to finish the job and lynch me, and I called MDA in a panic. I told them that there had been an accident and the Arabs were going to kill me. The Arab driver who was coming at me from the other direction was deliberately zigzagging until he hit me; there can be no doubt as to his intentions,” she concluded.

These three incidents — the terror attack in Tel Aviv, the attempted bombing in Beitar, and the violence on the roads of Yehuda and Shomron — point to three major problems. The first is the trend of quiet terror, as it might be called, on the roads in Yehuda and Shomron. The second is the involvement in terror of Israeli Arabs, who are full-fledged Israeli citizens with standard blue identity cards; both the terror attack in Tel Aviv and the attempted bombing in Beitar were perpetrated by such individuals, and this makes it much more difficult for the security services to combat terror. The third issue is the intolerable ease with which an Arab can board a bus carrying Israelis. It’s true that every citizen has the right to travel on any bus, but the buses running to and from Beitar are meant to serve the residents of the city. The fact that many Arab workers take these buses from their jobs in Beitar to the nearby villages where they live is a source of great danger. Even worse, it means that the Arabs manage to escape the security check on the Tunnels Road. The soldiers who are stationed at the checkpoint do not board the Beitar Illit buses to inspect their passengers.

The only conclusion to be drawn is that we are surviving in Eretz Yisroel only through miracles, and that only Hashem can protect us from harm!

“We Are the Moral Majority”

Another major news story this week, of course, is the subject of the anti-government protests. The publisher asked me to write a separate article about the judicial reform and the calls for dialogue between the two sides, but I must note that most people believe that all the talk about dialogue and compromise is merely a smokescreen. The protestors aren’t really objecting to the judicial reforms; they are demonstrating against the very existence of a right-wing government. They feel that the state has been stolen from them. At the same time, the violence that has begun to take place at the demonstrations is somewhat surprising. Everyone believed at first that the demonstrators were respectable citizens, but it has now become clear that they are extremely violent people. Protestors have been caught on camera using metal rods and clubs to attack the cars of innocent passersby who merely complained to them about their blocking traffic. That was beyond frightening.

The following is an excerpt from a satirical column written by a right-wing figure in Israel, parodying the voice of the left: “Tell me, what is wrong with you? Did you fall on your heads? Have you gone off the rails? You want to rule this country? What difference does it make that you won the election? We are the rulers here! We have always been here, and we will remain! We built this country, we brought you here, we cut off your peyos and shaved your beards, we gave your children the right education, and we sent you off to Sderot, Ofakim, Netivot, Beit Shean, and Afula. This wasn’t so that you could come to us with demands, and it certainly wasn’t for you to take over our state. We are the elite, we are the economy, we are the culture, we are the media, we are the judicial system, we are the academics, we are the enlightened ones, and therefore we must, must, be in power forever, because we know what is right for our country. What, you think you know how to run a country? We have a group of enlightened individuals whom we placed in the ivory tower of the judiciary. They have organized a court system for us to judge you, a prosecution to trump up charges against you, a system of legal advisers to tie your hands, and a police force under our control that will investigate you according to our agenda. The situation was just fine until recently.

“You, the religious, the chareidim, the settlers, and the Likudniks are the baboons. Your majority in the population, which is steadily growing and has been demonstrated time and again in elections, is only a technical matter. We are the qualitative majority, the moral majority, the majority in values and in wealth. Therefore, we, not you, must be the ones running the state, and it must be done based on our agenda, not yours. If you do not agree to our continued rule through the system that Professor Aharon Barak created for us, the enlightened, then we will block roads and barricade highways. As far as we are concerned, women can give birth in ambulances, injured people can die on their way to the emergency rooms, planes can take off empty, the army can fall apart, the reserves can disband, the elite military units can give in their equipment, the air force can be grounded, industry can be brought to a halt, and the entire state can collapse. From our perspective, the entire Zionist enterprise should be burned if we cannot be its exclusive rulers.”

The Finance Ministry Takes Notice

Here is an example that lends credence to this thesis, albeit one involving a different arm of the government. At my request, a member of the Knesset submitted the following parliamentary query to the finance minister: “A tourist couple from London [the names were included in the query] left Israel in December 2020. At the airport, they presented receipts and asked for the tax refunds provided to tourists who purchased products in Israel. They were told that there would be a delay in handling their request due to the coronavirus; however, they haven’t yet received a response, and the emails they sent have been ignored. To date, they have heard nothing at all about this topic…. Has the workload involving VAT refunds been so heavy since the coronavirus that it makes sense for there to be no response for two years? Is it possible to expedite the refund in this particular case, due to the situation of the individuals requesting it?” I was alerted to this issue by the London couple and I made sure that the query would be submitted.

One week after the query was filed, officials from the Treasury began making urgent efforts to contact the couple, both by phone and by email, in order to expedite the response to their request. This is completely understandable; after all, those officials will now have to answer to the finance minister and, through him, to the Knesset member who submitted the query. To avoid being forced to admit to their inaction, they had no choice but to address the issue as quickly as possible. On Monday, the response to this query arrived at the office of MK Yossi Taib, the chairman of the Knesset Education Committee. The official response, signed by the Minister of Finance, read, “The request for a refund of VAT has been handled. A transfer has been made to the bank account of the tourist couple from London.” That is what I mean when I say that parliamentary queries can be a powerful tool.

Power Is the Elixir of Life for the Left

This may sound insane, or at least cynical, but if you think about it, it is a very accurate depiction of what is taking place. Here is another excerpt from the same very long and biting satirical piece: “This is war. You are our servants, and we are the masters. You are the donkeys, and we are the riders. Don’t you understand this? Don’t you agree to it? We will even call our fight a struggle for democracy, because democracy exists only when we, the enlightened, have absolute power through the judicial decisions of the attorney general, who has the backing of all the systems that we created. That is true democracy, with checks and balances that ensure that our agenda will always control this country.

“The Knesset doesn’t interest us, just as the result of the elections makes no impression on us at all. What is the Knesset, after all? It is a group of 120 fools who can be divided into two categories: those who are with us and those who are against us. The ones who are with us are the enlightened ones, who are now in the minority because they made a few technical mistakes. Those who are against us are the majority, but they are ignoramuses, fools, settlers, criminals, baboons, savages, and, worst of all, chareidim. Should this type of coalition rule over us, the enlightened and educated ones? (All right, that doesn’t exactly describe Lapid, but he writes well.) We are also the wealthy industrialists. Who cares if you have a majority?

“Listen carefully to what we are telling you: Sit in silence, accept the rule of our magnificent movement, put all those bizarre papers from Levin and Rothman in the shredder, and go back to functioning as you always have, under our hegemony. For the time being, we will let you keep Netanyahu so that you can claim from the backseat that there is a right-wing government here, but we will still be the ones holding the steering wheel. We will not give up that control, because power is the elixir of life for us. Without it, we would consider leaving, but London, Paris, Brussels, Stockholm, and Berlin are full of Muslims, New York has high crime rates, and who knows what Silicon Valley will be like after the collapse of SVB? Therefore, at this stage we prefer to remain here, but only on our terms, meaning that we will be the actual rulers and you will just be pretending.

“This is the deal. Take it or leave it, but if you refuse to accept it, the responsibility will be yours. We were made to lead and to rule, and you were made to be suppressed and to keep quiet. That is the situation, and that is how it will remain. If you value this state, you will give in. You have no choice, and you have no option other than unconditional, immediate surrender. Our dear friends on the right, if this state is precious to you, then you should raise a white flag rather than the flag of this country, because it is ours and only ours; this country belongs to us and only to us. You have only a white flag, and don’t even think for a minute about putting tzitzis on it, because we will not appreciate that. It will remind us of other times when Jews paid with their lives for wearing tzitzis. We will accept nothing from you but capitulation and giving up the twisted ideas of Levin and Rothman. We will always continue ruling over you through the mechanism designed by our leader, Aharon Barak, even if you have a majority among the people and in the Knesset. We have no interest in that, because we are defending our absolute power — in the name of democracy, of course.”

Weinstein’s Reflections

Yediot Acharonot recently published the memoirs of former Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein. This is a book that touches on several controversies that sowed discord and inflamed passions throughout the country, such as the Lieberman, Harpaz, Marmara, Duma, and Arbiv affairs. Weinstein describes his experiences throughout the years between his youth and his departure from the Ministry of Justice. At one point, he writes, “Ever since I met Aryeh Deri, when I represented him in the Braun-Chevron affair, my admiration for him has steadily grown…. I have a warm place in my heart for Aryeh Deri. He is one of the most balanced and insightful people in Israeli politics. He is a worthy man, and his contributions to the political security cabinet and the government are worth more than their weight in gold.”

I found Weinstein’s book interesting both because of its light, readable style and because it deals with issues that are still fresh in our memories. For me, the most interesting part of the book was his take on the draft deferment for chareidim, a topic that found its way back into the news this week as the chareidi politicians have been advancing a new draft law that will be impervious to Supreme Court interference. Weinstein relates that he was an enthusiastic member of the Peri Commission, which recommended placing a limit of 1800 on the number of draft deferments issued to yeshiva bochurim per year (he refers to them as exemptions, but that is not an accurate term) and called for sanctions on yeshivos that would not meet the draft quotas.

“Over the years,” Weinstein writes, “I have changed my mind and have come to regret my support for the commission and my willingness to assist it without reservation, instead of standing up and opposing its conclusions…. I thought about it in depth, and I have reached the conclusion that it isn’t always necessary to be right. If it was up to me today, I would exempt the chareidim from being drafted to the army and delay this decree by another 15 years. Equality in sharing the burden of military service can wait. What cannot wait is integrating the chareidim into the workforce.”

Weinstein relates that he once met a chareidi couple in a park while walking his dog. When he questioned them about their lifestyle, the woman said to him, “I am happy for my husband to learn Torah while I support him. His ‘work’ is more important than mine.” Weinstein personally feels that it is important for the chareidim to learn the Liba core curriculum and then go out to work. “They don’t have to learn Darwin’s theory that men are descended from monkeys,” he adds, “but they should learn mathematics and English. At the same time, in addition to mandating the core curriculum, I would advocate for chareidi students of all ages, from preschool through yeshiva, to receive the same government funding given to every student in Israel, no more and no less.” The chareidim wouldn’t agree with his sentiments about the core curriculum, but they would certainly applaud the idea of equal funding, and they would welcome the cancellation of the draft in the coming years.

The Power of a Parliamentary Query

I always advise the members of the Knesset to submit parliamentary queries. Even if it doesn’t help, a query can never hurt. But in any event, it will almost always accomplish something.

I am often asked how the queries can yield any benefit. When a Knesset member submits a question, a minister can simply brush it off with a non-answer, and then life will go on for everyone. The public security minister, for instance, often emphasizes in his responses that he is merely reading aloud an answer that he received from the police. What is the point of asking a question at all?

The answer is that it isn’t exactly true that a query accomplishes nothing. For instance, imagine that someone filed a complaint with the police about a crime, whether it was the theft of a car or, l’havdil, the torching of a shul and the desecration of sifrei Torah. These incidents are usually investigated at the police station closest to the site of the crime, and the job is usually assigned to a weary team of officers who are hardly interested in conducting a thorough and serious investigation. They typically do not mind at all if a few months go by with no developments and then the case is closed, generally on the grounds that the perpetrator was not identified. They won’t even bother to look for security footage from the scene of the crime or to ask the complainants if they have any idea who might have been behind it. That is why no progress will be made … until the parliamentary query comes along.

The query is actually a thick file that is transferred from the minister’s office to the police chief, then to the district commander, then to the commander of the local station, and finally to the investigative team, with each individual along this chain adding a memorandum of his own. When it finally reaches a junior officer in the police station, he will feel as if he has just been hit by a ton of bricks. It will be his responsibility to give an accounting of what was done, and he knows that his answer will work its way up the chain of command all the way to the minister and the Knesset. No one will be able to whitewash or cover up his negligence. Therefore, he will have to take some sort of substantive action that he will then be able to report to the higher echelons. Thus, the query tends to galvanize the police into action, and often results in some sort of positive development.

The Bank Collapse

There were other important stories this week, such as the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank. You might be concerned about the investors from the religious community who may have lost their money as a result; this will affect not only the investors themselves but also the institutions that they generally support. There is a certain irony in these events: The leaders of a number of Israeli hi-tech companies tried to frighten the government and prove that the judicial reform will harm the economy by transferring tens of millions of dollars into that very bank. Of course, they all regret that move at this time.  Rumor has it that some of them managed to bring hundreds of millions of dollars back to Israel at the last moment. It is clear that they came out of this looking very foolish.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia and Iran have decided after seven years to renew their friendly relations. This is a serious blow to Israel, since the idea of normalizing relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia was raised not long ago. Bennett and Lapid are now accusing Netanyahu of ruining the progress that they worked to make, while Netanyahu accuses them of mishandling the situation. But we know the truth: The hearts of kings and officers are in the hands of Hashem.

There was also an unpleasant situation at the end of Shushan Purim. Every year, tens of thousands of people travel to Yerushalayim on Shushan Purim to experience the holiday there. The visitors come from Elad, Bnei Brak, Petach Tikvah, and even from the north and south. On Shushan Purim, the streets of Yerushalayim were so heavily congested that it was impossible for buses to reach the bus stops, and thousands of religious Jews were stranded for many hours. This was certainly a failure on the part of the police, regardless of the fact that it has been quite a while since the holiday of Purim was observed in Yerushalayim under normal circumstances; for the past two years, it has been on erev Shabbos, with fewer people coming to Yerushalayim for Purim at all, and before that Purim was celebrated in the year of the coronavirus. In spite of all that, the police should probably have anticipated this situation and taken the appropriate steps to prevent it.

Another Terror Attack in Tel Aviv

Last week, I made note in this column of the terror attack that occurred 27 years ago on Dizengoff Street in Tel Aviv, in which 13 people were killed. Unfortunately, terror returned to that very same street last Thursday, when an Arab armed with a gun suddenly appeared and shot three people.

Dizengoff Street is the entertainment district of Tel Aviv. When the terror attack took place last week, a massive protest against the government was underway nearby. After the shooting, many people breathed a sigh of relief when they heard that the perpetrator was a Palestinian. Until that moment, they had feared that the shooter might have been another Israeli, enraged by the ongoing public controversy. This wasn’t an entirely baseless concern; such an unfortunate incident wouldn’t be without precedent, and the level of violence and incitement at the demonstrations has only been growing.

In recent years, Dizengoff Street has become a prime target for terrorists. Over the past seven years, three shooting attacks have occurred on the street, taking the lives of five people altogether and wounding about 20 others. About a year ago, Barak Lufan, Tomer Morad, and Eitam Magini were killed in a terror shooting at a coffeehouse on the same street, and 14 other people were injured, five of them seriously. The terrorist opened fire at the entrance to the café at the corner of Dizengoff and Natan Hachacham Streets, striking a number of passersby in the street and patrons in the bar, and then he fled. He was eliminated in Yaffo about a day later. In 2016, an Israeli Arab shot Alon Bakal and Shimon Ruimi to death on Dizengoff Street and wounded seven others. During his escape, the terrorist also murdered a taxi driver. He was eliminated a week later after an intensive manhunt. Finally, as I mentioned, a suicide bombing outside Dizengoff Center on Purim in 1996 claimed the lives of 13 Israelis and wounded 125 others, including many young people and children.

In the most recent terror attack on Dizengoff, the terrorist was shot to death by an off-duty police officer who happened to be in the area. His accomplices gave themselves up shortly thereafter; both men were Israeli Arabs, one a resident of Kuseife and the other a resident of Ramle. The two admitted to driving the terrorist to Tel Aviv but insisted that they were not aware of his intentions. One of them was taken into custody on the charge of having transported a Palestinian without a permit to be in Israel, while the other is charged with abetting the same crime.

The identities of the two accomplices raises a very thorny issue: the involvement of Israeli Arabs in terror attacks. It doesn’t take a genius to understand that this makes the danger level far greater.

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