The future for Israelis and Palestinians has never been bleaker than it is now, in the wake of the savage assault by two Palestinians on Jewish worshippers in a Jerusalem synagogue.
The trauma of the event falls most heavily on Israelis, for Palestinians in the West Bank have lived for some time now in despair of their future and the future of their children, seeing no end to Israel's occupation. In contrast, many Israelis have believed that denying millions of Palestinians in the West Bank their right to self-determination and statehood is a "sustainable" state of affairs. This illusion has been shattered by the assault on the Jerusalem synagogue. Israelis are now experiencing some of the insecurity and hopelessness so deeply felt by Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, and also by Israel's Arabs, particularly the ones in East Jerusalem.
In a column in Ha'aretz, Ari Shavit wrote that the massacre in the synagogue is even more "disturbing" than the violence that occurred during the second intifada, because this time it is "an actual religious struggle. This time we're talking about the kindling of a holy war over the Holy City." It is a notion widely accepted by the media everywhere.
But it is a questionable take on the situation, particularly in light of Shavit's own reference in his column to Baruch Goldstein's massacre of 29 Arab worshippers and the wounding of 125 others in 1994 in the mosque at Hebron's Tomb of the Patriarchs. The Israel-Palestine conflict was never without its Biblical and religious resonances from its very beginning, even for the most avowed secularists. Shavit seems oblivious to the spate of mosque desecrations by the so-called hilltop youth (who the super-efficient Israeli intelligence agencies somehow never seem to find, much less to arrest and punish).
Rather, this new sense of insecurity on the part of Israel's Jews stems from the fact that Palestinian terror no longer has a central address, like Hamas or Islamic Jihad. Israel's security agencies and military have openly acknowledged that their success in containing the terror of those organizations cannot apply to the spontaneous violence committed by "lone wolves," which is dramatically on the rise and may trigger another popular intifada.
The reaction of many, if not most Israeli Jews to this latest atrocity is that Palestinians have fatally undermined their struggle for sovereign statehood in the pre-1967 territories. Few will blame Netanyahu for denying statehood to people who commit such gruesome atrocities and who celebrate the killers, as Hamas and other Palestinians have done.
But that is the perspective of Israelis who for long have regarded Palestinians, and Arabs in general, as a lesser breed of humankind than themselves. It is a perspective that accounts for the insensitivity of so many Jewish Israelis to the fact that this latest tragedy occurred only weeks after Israel's incineration of large parts of Gaza, in which 2,200 Palestinians, mostly non-combatants, including over 500 children, were obliterated, a carnage that a majority of Israelis wanted Netanyahu to continue; to the never-ending assassinations of civilians inside Gaza found anywhere near the fence that imprisons them; to the daily deprivations and humiliations inflicted on West Bank and East Jerusalem Palestinians; and to the assaults by the hilltop youths on Palestinian mosques, homes and olive groves in the West Bank that go unpunished. To this day, the murderer Baruch Goldstein is considered a saint by Israelis who have turned his grave into a religious shrine.
Considering the way two Jewish Israelis exacted revenge for the shooting death of three Israeli youth by their Palestinian kidnappers -- i.e. by pouring gasoline down a kidnapped Arab youngster's throat and setting his insides on fire -- there is little to distinguish between the murderous savagery of both sides, except that it is Palestinians, not Israelis, who have lived for nearly half a century under brutal occupation.
The seeming inability of most Israelis to engage in any self-examination blinds them to the injustices they have inflicted on a subject people. That, of course, does not justify Palestinian violence against Israel's civilians -- no more so than the crimes committed against Palestinian civilians by Israel's military in the War of Independence can be justified. Even those who consider themselves on Israel's political left, including Ari Shavit in his "My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel" and the journalist and historian Benny Morris, insist that these Jewish war crimes should be seen as unavoidable, for without them the Jewish state would not have been possible. That this exculpation would also apply to the crimes committed by Palestinians, who like the Jews in 1948, are still struggling for their own state, seems to have escaped Shavit and Morris' attention.
If the slaughter in the Jerusalem synagogue will make the Palestinian dream of statehood an even more unreachable dream, it will also turn Israel's illusion of the sustainability of the occupation into a nightmare. For the more hopeless the expectation of Palestinian moderates that non-violent means can bring about the promised and repeatedly denied two-state solution, the more Palestinians will believe that violence is the only way to change Israel's cost-benefit calculations for its theft of Palestinian territory in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem.
Palestinian violence against non-combatants discredits the Palestinian national cause. But who is to say it may not work for the Palestinians as well as it worked for the Jews in their War of Independence, for it achieved Ben Gurion's goal of triggering the flight of over 700,000 Palestinians. Palestinian violence may similarly serve to drive many of Israel's most creative and productive elements to abandon the Jewish state and renew their lives in the Diaspora, a reaction that is already discernable.
Israel's settlement project has succeeded in establishing a de facto Greater Israel "from the river to the sea." But given time, that success is likely to transform Greater Israel into Greater Palestine. As warned by Yuval Diskin, a former head of the Shin Beit, what he calls the Jerusalem intifada offers a glimpse into the future to which the right-wing is leading Israel.