The storm after the calm
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Hebrew media review

The storm after the calm

Twin attacks bring terror back to the forefront after nearly a week of quiet, with commentators split on whether to change tack or stay the course

Police at the scene of a shooting attack in the Etzion bloc in the West Bank on November 19, 2015 (Etzion Regional Council)
Police at the scene of a shooting attack in the Etzion bloc in the West Bank on November 19, 2015 (Etzion Regional Council)

After nearly a week of relative calm, just as editors were debating to start referring to a “recent” wave of violence, instead of an “ongoing” one, the terror came roaring back like a tsunami Thursday, leaving five dead and a shaken nation in its wake.

The two terror attacks Thursday dominate coverage in the press Friday morning, even pushing the impending release of American-Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard out of prime real estate that had doubtless been reserved for it before the first attacker entered the Panorama office building early Thursday afternoon and the killings started.

By most accounts the Pollard release, after 30 years in prison and an unparalleled Israeli and Jewish community effort to get him paroled, is the more historic and important of the two; a decade from now, the terror attacks will be a fading memory for most, but the Pollard release will remain in history books.

No doubt, though, in the here and now, the killing of five people in a single day – the highest toll since the start of the spate of violence two months ago, as noted by Haaretz on its front page – is the more important story. There’s also no need to repeat that adage about what leads.

In case you don’t know the saying, Yedioth’s front page declaration of “A day of blood” should give you a clue. Below the headline is a picture of a car used in the Etzion Bloc shooting, and in what is possibly a passive aggressive nod or jab at Paris (take your pick), a picture of Tel Aviv city hall lit up like an Israeli flag, less than a week after the same paper ran pictures of the same building lit up like the French flag.

The papers all recount the carnage in about the same fashion though they focus their umbrage in different directions. Yedioth Ahronoth points out the fact that the Palestinian Authority had the “chutzpah” to claim that an innocent Palestinian killed in the second terror attack was gunned down by Israeli forces in cold blood.

Members of the independent emergency service ZAKA cleaning blood at the scene of a stabbing attack in Tel Aviv on November 19, 2015. (Judah Ari Gross/ Times of Israel)
Members of the independent emergency service ZAKA cleaning blood at the scene of a stabbing attack in Tel Aviv on November 19, 2015. (Judah Ari Gross/ Times of Israel)

Israel Hayom focuses, meanwhile, on the site of the first attack, in a room being used for afternoon prayer services, with a headline “attack in the middle of prayers.” The paper recounts the chaos at the Tel Aviv office building as the attacker went store to store, stabbing whoever he could as people scrambled for cover and tried to close doors on him.

The paper quotes one of the people in the prayer service saying the first man who was stabbed ran into the room to warn the rest.

“He was covered in blood and fell on the floor. We didn’t understand what had happened, then one of us saw the terrorist with a huge knife trying to get into the synagogue. We immediately closed the door and blocked it with our bodies. At the same time some of the worshippers tended to the injured man, laid him on the ground and tried to stop the bleeding,” the eyewitness tells the paper.

Have papers, will kill

Haaretz points out that the attacker in Tel Aviv was the first in the wave to have been in Israel legally, with a permit to work in a restaurant in the building.

“Before getting a permit to work in Israel, applicants have to undergo a Shin Bet security check,” the paper reports. “Security officials in the past have pointed out that in the last decade not a single attack was carried out in Israel by somebody who went through a check like this and got a work permit. Based on that, this case is considered an anomaly. In this current wave of terror, all Palestinians attacking in Israel have been in the country illegally, and have mostly come from Hebron.”

Commentators in all three papers seem split on the significance of the attacks, ending a short lull, with some counseling to toughen up Israeli policies, and others calling to stay the course.

For Hanoch Daum in Yedioth, whose son’s teacher was one of those killed in the Etzion Bloc attack, Thursday’s events are an opportunity to once again call for “the gloves to come off,” looking to France as an example.

“We saw Europe change in a single night – has that happened here? We are carrying out important operations against the homes of terrorists and inciters, but doesn’t a situation in which more and more attackers are coming out of Hebron demand a wide operation in that area, including a closure if necessary?”

In Israel Hayom, Dan Margalit laments the fact that both attackers were left alive after leaving so much death in their wake, but writes that the correct option is not necessarily to go kill more people or their livelihoods.

“There are two schools of thought for dealing with this. The first is the gradual addition of force, starting with Operation Protective Edge and ending with calls to place a total closure on the West Bank and keep permitted workers from Israel. The second, endorsed by [Defense Minister] Moshe Ya’alon and [IDF chief of staff] Gadi Eisenkot, calls to differentiate between the terror and the general Palestinian public, which is in contact with the Jewish population. Until now, in the imperfect wins and losses accounting, the more conservative approach has proven itself,” he writes. “It seems right to stick with it. Presumably, the confining of all legally permitted workers to Nablus, Jenin and Jericho will anger the Palestinian public and won’t just not lower the flames, but actually the opposite. The losses from a step like this are greater than the gains.”

Haaretz’s Amos Harel, who has described several previous attacks of the last two months as turning points, pulls a 180, writing that this is nothing of the sort.

“Thursday’s attacks underscore the nature of the current confrontation. Even when there’s a short hiatus, as there was, perhaps because of the wintry weather at the beginning of the week, it doesn’t necessarily signify a turning point. The violence is constantly changing in frequency and form. It combines car-ramming and stabbing and recently more shooting incidents, while the large demonstrations in the West Bank seem to be waning,” he writes. “To some extent, the number of casualties is random, unrelated to the number of attacks, and depends on how fast the security forces arrive. A minute or two can be crucial.”

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