When an Islamist terrorist with Israeli citizenship shot up a Tel Aviv café on New Year’s Day killing three people, there was no outpouring of support or sympathy from around the world for the victim or the people of Israel. Indeed, the only aspect of the story that drew much international coverage was Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech afterward in which he cautioned Israeli Arabs that they needed to stand up and condemn rather than condone such crimes. This effort to condemn terrorism was damned as incitement against the country’s Arab minority. But a week later, the world got a taste of what real incitement to hatred and terror looked like when the shooter was finally cornered and killed by Israeli police in his hometown in northern Israel.
The murderer Nashat Milhem seems to have been a lone wolf attacker. However, he may well have been influenced to kill by ISIS propaganda in much the same way the San Bernardino killers in December and the Philadelphia man who tried to assassinate a police officer this past week. Yet part of the problem was that, whether or not they knew of his intentions before he struck, many in the Israeli Arab town of Arara knew the object of the nationwide manhunt was hiding thereand that members of his family were actively aiding his effort to escape justice. That speaks to exactly the problem Netanyahu sought to highlight in a population that, notwithstanding the challenges of a being a national minority in a Jewish state, enjoys more liberty and equality before the law than Arabs in any of the neighboring countries.But just as troubling as that is the reaction to Milhem’s crime among Palestinians.Given the easy comparison between Milhem’s wanton rampage and what has recently happened in Paris and San Bernardino, it might have been advisable for Palestinian groups to disavow him, especially since he was not part of any organized terror group. He might have been dismissed as a person with mental problems although it’s not clear whether or not the initial supposition that he was mentally ill was true. But as far as most Palestinians are concerned, Milhem is a hero, and that unfortunate fact tells us more about the obstacles to peace than any criticism of Israel or Netanyahu’s shortcomings can ever do.
The Palestinian Authority, the entity that we are told is still Israel’s partner for peace, didn’t merely fail to condemn that attack in Tel Aviv the way all of Israel has condemned the few instance of Jewish terror. The PA’s Health Ministry has added Milhem to their list of Palestinians killed attempting to murder Israelis that are honored by the West Bank government. The PA noted Milhem’s action as, “a martyr who spilled his pure blood to free our land.”
Meanwhile, Hamas’ Al Quds television network devoted considerable time to honoring Milhem too and praised him as a “brave hero” and “martyr.”
And lest one think it is just the Fatah and Hamas movements that are praising the Tel Aviv murders, Arabs in East Jerusalem acting on their own set up mourning tents for Milhem and erected banners in their neighborhoods praising him as a “heroic martyr” that “defeated the occupation.”
While these statements of support for Milhem’s crime have largely gone unreported in the international press, they are, in a way, more significant than his crime or any other single terrorist outrage. That’s because they demonstrate again the truth of Daniel Polisar’s thesis in his November Mosaic Magazine essay “What Do Palestinians Want?”
Polisar studied decades of Palestinian public opinion surveys. His research brought him to the inescapable conclusion that the overwhelming majority of Palestinians oppose peace with Israel, think the Jewish state has no legitimacy no matter where its borders might be drawn and actively support terror against Jews under any circumstances. Some apologists for the Palestinians have claimed his conclusions are incorrect but the reaction to Milhem, just like their cheers for other acts of terror, provides incontrovertible proof that Polisar is right.
The reaction to the Tel Aviv shooting is more evidence that the conflict isn’t about borders or settlements, let alone anything Israel’s prime minister might say. Rather, it remains what it always has been: an existential struggle between two national movements over one piece of land. If the Palestinians ever undergo a sea change in their political culture that might allow their leaders to make peace and end the century-old war to eradicate Zionism, they would find that a majority of Israelis still willing to make tremendous sacrifices in terms of territorial concessions. But the support for Milhem’s slaughter and the many other individual acts of terror carried out over the last three months during the so-called stabbing intifada demonstrates that Palestinians and even many Arab citizens of Israel consider any murder of a Jew to be a blow against the “occupation.” Moreover, by applauding Milhem, they are also making clear they think cosmopolitan Tel Aviv is just as much of an “illegitimate and illegal Jewish “settlement” as the most remote hilltop community in the West Bank inhabited by right-wing extremists.
Those who urge Israel and Netanyahu to disregard the failure of past attempts to make peace and the disastrous and bloody consequences of Oslo and the Gaza withdrawal need to think long and hard about the Palestinian reaction to Milhem. So long as so-called “liberal Zionists” as well as the Obama administration ignore the truth about Palestinian intentions, their critique of Israel is worthless. What’s more, those who are supporting the “Palestinian resistance” should not kid themselves that they are backing a movement about freedom. The cheers for Milhem as Palestinians continue to hold rallies in favor of the murder of random Jews should remind everyone that those who back such “resistance” are supporting terror, not justice.
JONATHAN S. TOBIN IS SENIOR ONLINE EDITOR OF COMMENTARY MAGAZINE AND CHIEF POLITICAL BLOGGER AT WWW.COMMENTARYMAGAZINE.COM. HE CAN BE REACHED VIA E-MAIL AT:JTOBIN@COMMENTARYMAGAZINE.COM. FOLLOW HIM ON TWITTER AT TOBINCOMMENTARY.