What the Paris Attacks Taught Me About Israel

When Paris was hit by terrorism and French civilians were killed, the world stood up for the French.  When Israel is hit by terror and Israeli civilians are killed, too many people are silent.  Standing up against the terrorist murder of Israeli civilians does not mean you condone the Israeli occupation or Israel’s other misdeeds; it means you you are a human being with an actual heart and your priorities are in order.

 Originally published on LinkedIn Pulse November 14, 2015  

By Brian E. Frydenborg (LinkedInFacebookTwitter @bfry1981) November 14th, 2015

Avishag Shaar Yashuv/Flash90 

TEL AVIV — As I was reading about and watching the unfolding massive terrorist attacks in Paris, and as I rushed to churn out an article about my initial thoughts, initial feelings, initial responses, there was a large degree of desensitization going on inside me of I worked.  But towards the end, when I could turn more of my brain away from the task at hand and I was just proofing and posting, my emotions started to rear their suppressed heads.  There was a lot of negative stuff, to be sure.  But there were some positive thoughts: looking at the enormous support for France from across the world, seeing the Freedom Tower at the World Trade Center and the Empire State Building light up the Manhattan skyline in the tricolors of the French flag, I was reminded of the outpouring of sympathy and love and shared grief that France, and the world, showed the United States after the 9/11 attacks.  It was nice to see the favor returned by many Americans, nice to see most of the world stand up yet again to reject terror and murder. 

Then I thought about where I was at that moment, in Tel Aviv, part of a trip I am taking through Israel.  I thought, too, of past terrorist attacks in this very city where I was now and in other parts of Israel.  I thought about how much I love Israel and the Israeli people, even though I am extremely critical of their government’s policies towards the Palestinians, whom I also love.  I felt a moment of solidarity with Israelis even though these were attacks that happened in France. 

And then, something of an epiphany hit me: New York, Mumbai, London, Madrid, Ankara, Paris twice in one year now… when these spectacular attacks happened, there was outpouring of international sympathy, of support, of solidarity and love.  But when I thought of Israel, it dawned on me: when Israelis suffer terror attacks, they must often be asking “Where is the love?,” because there are very few marches or protests in the Western or wider world for Israeli Jews when they are attacked, not many that aren’t organized by local Jews or that don’t happen in America.  After a long night of writing, I woke and and shared my feelings with my delightful Israeli Couchsurfing host; as I looked into her eyes, I had to fight back tears as I realized how truly alone she and others must feel.  I told her how sad and sorry I felt that Israelis were so alone when it came to their suffering, and she—a very liberal Israeli who is against the occupation—told me that I was right, that they do feel alone, that she was sad about it, too.

When Israeli security forces and sometimes even Israel civilians, usually settlers, commit attacks that are either clearly excessive in terms of government action or even are terrorism in their own right when talking about Israeli Jewish civilians attacking Palestinian Arabs, the world, social media, the publics of many nations rightly protest, and protest robustly.  In Europe, where there are more Muslims now than previously, the protests are increasingly large and vocal.  This reaction is understandable and fitting and proper.

What is not fitting and proper is the general silence from the people of the world when Israeli civilians are targeted, attacked, wounded, and killed.  Yes, world government leaders tend to read statements of solidarity and support for Israel, and in the U.S. in particular, there are plenty of public shows of support.  But throughout most of the rest of the world, in Muslim nations and in Europe and in other places, there is at best a muted response when Israeli civilians are targeted in terrorist attacks.  Yes, these attacks are often very small in scale, and are not on the scale seen in Paris last night.  But they still happen, and with far more regularity than these other massive international attacks.

Now, I am not a fan of Netanyahu, but he has a point; when discussing the fact that the Iranian regime regularly makes incendiary statements against Israel (and there can be a discussion about how serious this rhetoric is and what exactly it means), he noted the “utter” and “deafening silence” that these threats were met with by the world community; he then stared down the members of the UN General Assembly silently for forty-five-seconds to drive this point home.

Well, that’s how Israelis feel, even many liberal Israelis, when it comes to terrorism: they are alone, they have little or no support, and even when it is Israeli civilians being killed, the focus is still on criticizing Israel.

Now, let me be clear: Israel has a pathological need to constantly be the victim, and though there are notable and sizable exceptions, Israelis tend to see pretty much anything they do to the Palestinians as justified and necessary, and many of these people feel the Palestinians as a whole deserve their lot and this treatment.  I’m not here to make excuses for Israeli policy, the nearly-fifty-year occupation that has led to systematic abuses and degredations of millions of Palestinians, the settlements, the emerging apartheid-like system in the West Bank, the siege of Gaza, and the discrimination of Israeli citizens of Arab Palestinian descent; no one should.  All of these things are factors which help to explain Palestinian terrorism and violence against Israelis.  They must be understood and acknowledged, and it is good to protest against and condemn all of it.

But—and this is key—these cannot be cited as an excuses or justificationsfor Palestinian violence against civilians.  And when Israeli civilians are maimed, wounded, and injured by Palestinians, I’m not saying that these topics are inappropriate to discuss.  But when Israeli civilians are attacked, that must be condemned first and loudest; the crowd that condemns (and rightly so) the Israeli occupation loudly and without qualification must also be able and needs to condemn violence against Israeli civilians without qualification.  And, frankly, the occupation is an ongoing, long-term thing.  When Israeli civilians are targeted, the proper focus is on the civilian victims; that day is theirs, and the occupation will still be there to be a major focus another day.

The world is asking—and must continue to ask—much from Israel.  The occupation of the West Bank and the siege of Gaza are intolerable and must end.  But the world that asks much from Israel would do much to realize they make Israel less receptive when it does not stand against the murder of Israeli civilians with the same passion and vehemence as it stands against Israel’s occupation and other wrongs committed against Palestinians.  When Israelis feel alone, that their suffering is not acknowledged, that their lives and their dead matter not to major world populations, especially a Europe that perpetrated the Holocaust against them, when the very powers that claim they will help protect Israel and stand for its interests in any major peace agreement with the Palestinians and other Arabs show little regard for Israeli life, it makes Israelis want to withdraw from the world, a world they see as hating them and wishing them harm, a world that stays silent when civilian men, women, and children are terrorized, maimed and murdered.  It makes them have no faith in any idea of an international order and to feel alone, isolated, unloved, hated, and insecure.  The more powerful sides in conflicts often only willingly make peace from positions of strength; by making Israel feel insecure when it comes to terrorism committed against Israeli civilians, the chances of peace, which includes a measure of justice for Palestinians, fade.

We saw the world stand up against terror in reaction to the barbaric attacks in Paris yesterday; let’s also stand up for terror against Israeli civilians.  Standing up for Israeli human life does not mean you condone the occupation or the many abuses of the Israeli state, does not betray any solidarity with Palestinians; and much more so than anything France has done in regard to ISIS and the conflict against ISIS, the up-close-and-personal-decades-long-oppression of Palestinians by Israel is clearly a major driver in the violence of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  But unless Israelis are shown more love and support from the global community, especially from Europe but also from Muslim lands and their many Muslim inhabitants, unless people stop being silent or outright justifying attacks against Israeli civilians, Israel will never feel secure enough to take the very real risks necessary for a just and lasting peace.  And regardless of your thoughts on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Israeli civilians that are victims of terror deserve your sympathy as much as any civilian victims of terror, and standing up against their murder is always the right thing to do. 

Some would say that the Israeli public are not “innocent,” and that because they empower leaders like Netanyahu, it is fair to judge them.  This is not an unreasonable position; but it is one thing to judge voters for bad politics, and another to say that their bad politics justifies a death warrant at the hands of terrorists; I shudder to think what would happen to many Americans, Russians, and others if our voting records made us fair targets for murder and terrorism.

Next time Israeli civilians are murdered in a terrorist attack—and it makes me sad say that there will 100% be a next time—condemn the attacks in a way that remembers who the victims at that specific moment are in a way that does not make Israel or Israelis immediately responsible for the attack, and that does not try to warp the victimhood of the recently murdered into some kind of red carpet for someone else’s victimhood.  When Palestinians are killed wrongly by Israelis, they don’t deserve to simply be dismissed as inevitable casualties of the response to Palestinian terrorism; when Israeli civilians are killed by Palestinian terrorism, they don’t deserve to written off simply as an inevitable consequence of the Israeli occupation; all these people are people, not ends to prove a political point. 

If you stood up for the French against terrorism, if you stand up for the Palestinians against occupation, be sure to stand up for Israelis against terrorism.  No one wins when Israelis mourning civilians murdered by terrorists stand alone; rather, we all lose.


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