Fighting terror with brooms and hammers
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Hebrew media review

Fighting terror with brooms and hammers

After an attack by a Palestinian cleaner, most — but not all — pundits still see the pluses in continuing to employ workers from the West Bank

Illustrative: A Palestinian construction worker in Israel (Nati Shohat/Flash90)
Illustrative: A Palestinian construction worker in Israel (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

A day after a deadly terror attack by a Palestinian cleaner at the entrance to a settlement, Israeli papers are a predictable mix of sadness and second-guessing of Israeli policies regarding employing West Bankers.

Pictures of funerals, grieving relatives and headshots of three victims of the attack set the tone for the part of the coverage that deals with remembrance. But aside from bittersweet memories, papers seem mostly taken up with questions of if and how Israel may respond, especially regarding the question of hiring Palestinian workers.

“My hero, I lost my love,” reads the main headline in tabloid Israel Hayom, quoting from the tearful eulogy of the girlfriend of Solomon Gavriyah, a border guard killed in the shooting.

Yedioth Ahronoth plays up the connection between the two other victims, security guards from nearby Abu Ghosh and Har Adar, where the attack took place, with a front page headline reading “we are both from the same mountain.” The paper gives no indication that Youssef Ottman and Or Arish ever interacted, though they are both described as having large hearts, loving life and having a good time by their respective friends and family. Coming closest to linking the two, the paper quotes some friends of Ottman who hail from Har Adar.

From left to right: Solomon Gavriyah, Youssef Ottman and Or Arish, three Israelis killed in a terror attack outside the settlement of Har Adar on September 26, 2017 (Courtesy)

“We hung out with him a lot at the booth at the entrance to the settlement, drinking coffee and talking about life. He was a great guy with a big heart and now he is missed,” one is quoted saying outside Ottman’s Abu Ghosh home.

As is traditional after an attack of this magnitude, especially after a lull in violence, just as much attention, if not more, is given to pundits’s analysis of where Israel and the Palestinians may go from here. Haaretz’s headline notes that the killer had a permit to work in the settlement, pointing to the crux of the issue, this being a rare instance of somebody who was vetted and trusted becoming a killer, casting a shadow over the system of employing some Palestinians despite security tensions.

In Israel Hayom, columnist Nadav Shragai uses the opportunity to call for a boycott of Arab workers, urging a return to what is prosaically termed “Hebrew labor,” a throwback to the early days of the state when employing people based on ethnicity was mainstream behavior.

“Jewish labor, which currently has a bad name, to the extent that anyone who espouses it is investigated on suspicion of racial discrimination, was until not long ago seen as utterly Zionist and utterly Jewish (take care of your own first), and right now can statistically be considered the safest option. Extremist organizations such as the Lehava anti-assimilation group might have co-opted the term, but we should take a much greater interest in it,” he writes. “The Equal Employment Opportunities Law, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of ethnicity, supposedly contradicts the concept of Jewish labor. Our lawmakers would do well to invest some creative thought into softening the legislation. Circumstances, time, and maybe even our heritage demand that we revisit the issue.”

Not unsurprisingly, Shragai’s position is in the minority, with other pundits pointing out the fact that the attack was not necessarily part of a larger trend and should thus perhaps not lead to wide-ranging collective punishment.

In fact, writes Yossi Yehoshua in Yedioth, allowing Palestinians to make more money by working for Israelis actually decreases terror.

Palestinian construction workers wait to cross into Israel, at the checkpoint at the entrance to the West Bank Jewish settlement of Beitar Illit, November 28, 2010 (illustrative photo: Yaakov Naumi/Flash90)

“The general policy of giving work permits — even at a time when violence is waxing — proved itself during the current terror wave, and only a few permit-holders carried out attacks… Out of more than 450 attempted terror attacks, only two were by holders of permits, one permanent and one temporary.”

Amos Harel in Haaretz notes that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seems to be advocating for collective punishment in response, but says that the army is against the idea, and can usually get politicians to roll over as well so long as the attack stays “localized.”

The problem is what happens if it leads to copycat attacks, especially with tensions higher surrounding the fall Jewish holidays.

Palestinian laborers sit outside the Har Adar settlement after they were removed from the area by soldiers following a deadly terror attack at the entrance to the community on September 26, 2017. (Jacob Magid/Times of Israel)

“This time, the circumstances are worrisome because the period of the High Holy Days always brings tensions on the Temple Mount. There’s also the Palestinians’ concerns that the Trump administration isn’t serious about the peace process, and the atmosphere that the term of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is in its twilight,” he writes. “In the summer of 2015, Military Intelligence issued a strategic warning to the government regarding the possibility of an outbreak of violence in the territories. The warning was borne out, but the conflict didn’t spill over extensively, mainly because of Israel’s level-headed response – refraining from collective punishment and deploying soldiers and police to the scenes of terror attacks.”

Looking at Palestinian hopelessness as a reason behind terror is not popular, as it is usually seen as a form of justifying violence, but nonetheless, columnist Ben-Dror Yemini in Yedioth challenges the powers that be to recognize that their policies regarding settlements and peace can have a lasting impact on the level of terror (while admitting that it will never fully go away) and to choose a middle way to save everybody.

“So long as hostile populations, outpost residents on one side and Hamas supporters on the other, are involved, the level of violence will rise. And anyone who wants more terror should approve more and more outposts near more and more villages. Separation won’t eliminate terror. It will only lower it. But there’s no partner for separation today. And even if Netanyahu would propose the Hillary Clinton parameters tomorrow, the negative reply is a given,” he writes. “So there is only one plan that many good people, from non-dogmatic right and left, have been aiming for in recent years: Separation under continued control. This is a plan proposed by many defense system alumni. They call it the Commanders’ Plan. The Palestinians will get much more autonomy, much more self-rule on the one hand, and Israel will continue to control the border with Jordan and any other spot where security is necessary on the other.”

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