Israel Must Stop Ignoring its Own Extremism Problem

This morning, police released for publication the identity of the terrorist responsible for last night's deadly attack in Be'er Sheva: Muhaned Al-Okabi, a Bedouin citizen of Israel from the town of Hura, only a few miles east of Be'er Sheva.

Some people reacted with shock to the news that the terrorist was in fact an Israeli citizen from the Negev, as opposed to an Arab from Hevron or Jerusalem. But there is absolutely no reason to be surprised – in fact, anyone paying attention would have received the news with a grim sense of inevitability.

It's not just because a large number – if not the majority – of attackers during this recent spate of terrorist attacks have been Israeli citizens or residents of Jerusalem.

Jerusalem – and specifically the Arab neighborhoods and villages surrounding it – has a very particular problem; namely a complete lack of law and order, which is the elephant in the room amid all the bluster and endless announcements of new security measures. The fact that police had to enact an effective closure of Arab neighborhoods and build a ridiculous ghetto-wall around nearby Jewish areas just to stop Jews being murdered speaks volumes about the failures of this government, and every single government before it, in applying Israeli sovereignty in our own capital city.

Hura is not Jerusalem – but it does have its own very obvious problem with Islamist extremism (as well as with general lawlessness and rampant violent crime).

Just how bad that problem is came to light in June of this year, when security forces uncovered an extensive ISIS terror cell in Hura, which was indoctrinating and recruiting residents to join jihadists in Syria. In fact, that cell was believed to have succeeded in facilitating the travel to Syria of several Israeli Muslim citizens currently fighting among the ranks of ISIS. 

One particularly shocking element of that case was that several of the cell members were teachers, who used their positions to indoctrinate the innocent children under their charge in jihadist ideology. Under police questioning, the local headteacher insisted that he had no idea of the extensive recruiting efforts going on under his nose – the jury is still out on that one.

But with the emergence of yet another Islamist terrorist – this one aiming his violent hatred squarely at his Jewish neighbors in Be'er Sheva – it is clear that the problem stretches far beyond that one cell.

It also stretches beyond Hura itself. Further north in Yafo, right next to Tel Aviv, violent Islamist rioters recently tore through the ancient city, attacking police and calling for Israel's destruction while openly supporting the ongoing terrorist campaign.

In nearby Lod, Jewish residents complain of daily harassment and attacks by Arab thugs – a campaign of violence which culminated in two separate shooting incidents over Sukkot, prompting angry Jewish residents to take to the streets in protest.

In Nazareth, a young Arab woman was caught just in time by security forces (thanks to her family's quick reactions), after expressing her intention to become a "martyr." She became the first Israeli Arab in many years to be placed under administrative detention, due to the very real fear that she would commit a violent anti-Semitic attack.

There is Um el-Fahm, that hotbed of Islamist extremism and de-facto base of the Hamas-linked Islamic Movement, the Muslim Brotherhood's arm in Israel. For most Israelis, the very name Umm el-Fahm is synonymous with Muslim extremism, producing regular violent riots and attacks on police, several ISIS recruitees, and of course Sheikh Ra'ed Salah.

With that context, again, there should be no surprise that the Arab terrorist who ran over and stabbed Jews in Hadera was a resident of Umm el-Fahm

And then, of course, there is Jerusalem.

The urgent question which must be asked now, in light of this latest terrorist attack by another Muslim citizen of Israel, is where this came from and how to stop it. Yet with all the short-term solutions, all the valiant (even superhuman) efforts of security forces, it is abundantly clear that Israel lacks any concrete counter-extremism strategy to tackle the Islamist ideology gradually spreading among a significant portion of its own citizens.

Part of the problem is the very real difficulty in distinguishing between Israeli Arab extremists and extremist networks on the one hand, and their identical counterparts under the Palestinian Authority on the other. In a sense, there really is no difference – ethnically, religiously or ideologically. But for strategic purposes it is crucial that Israeli authorities do indeed relate to the two separately, because the context is very different and because the ramifications of such a hateful ideology spreading among some 20% of Israel's own citizens is far more dangerous.

This is no "war" against a foreign country or entity, but a struggle to wrest a portion of Israel's own citizens from the claws of a poisonous ideology that is incinerating country after country in our immediate neighborhood. And let's be clear, it is not "all Israeli Arabs (or Bedouin)," but those who subscribe to extreme anti-Israel ideology.

Yet far from countering it, in the absence of any real strategy Israeli authorities are achieving the very opposite, with an approach which is in practice completely, absurdly, illogically backwards.

As any counter-extremism expert will tell you, one of the most basic elements of such a strategy must be empowering moderates and marginalizing extremists as much as possible. Yet here in Israel, we do the very opposite.

Extremist Arab MKs who openly support terrorist groups like Hamas, who actively engage in racist harassment against Jews (and police) on the Temple Mount, who have attacked soldiers in the past (remember the Mavi Marmara?), and who are even now calling for an "intifada", are free to serve in the Knesset and receive a government-funded salary.

And while our politicians vow to crush Hamas and attack the Palestinian Authority for not doing more, we allow Hamas's little brother, the Islamic Movement – particularly its jihadist northern branch – to operate openly and legally in Israel, alongside other fascist Islamist groups such as Hizb ut-Tahrir. Why are these organizations still legal in Israel, when even neighboring Muslim countries have banned them? Your guess is as good as mine.

At the same time, those Israeli Muslims, Christians and Druze who are loyal citizens, who do serve in the army and contribute as much as any Israeli Jew to Israeli society are sidelined, without a voice to express their legitimate demands as citizens, drowned out by the extremists we ourselves have allowed to flourish here. It is worth noting here that Al-Okabi's own family are themselves loyal Israeli citizens, who serve in the army and loudly condemned his actions; but the fact that their son was nevertheless radicalized only underlines the seriousness of the threat, and how it is spreading thanks to the extremists we allow to run riot.

Much of this is due to the rampant political-correctness of the Supreme Court and some politicians, who are afraid of "discriminating" against Arabs by taking action against extremists. But the result is a perverse one: if discrimination and distrust towards Israeli Arabs still persists, it is in great part because the liberal elite has fed it by effectively legitimizing the most rabid extremists as their "legitimate representatives" – whether their "constituents" actually like it or not. That is, as a former colleague of mine once noted, the truest form of Islamophobia. And, as Arab-Israeli TV anchor Lucy Aharish recently noted, it is Israel's Arab population which ultimately suffers the most.

Instead, the Left focuses on a handful of already-marginalized, feral Jewish extremists (not that violent extremism by Jews shouldn't be tackled as well), while the Right makes do with words – lots and lots of words – but little action.

So instead of battling the extremists who encourage and facilitate terrorism, while empowering moderates who encourage and facilitate integration and participation in Israeli society (some of whom, like Father Gabriel Nadaf, are doing incredible work even with the limited resources they have) we are getting the worst of both worlds: sidelining the moderates while allowing the extremists to run riot.

The time has come to flip that irrational approach on its head. The government must act decisively to not only follow through with Netanyahu's latest pledge to ban the Islamic Movement, but to show a true zero-tolerance policy towards all purveyors of Arab and Muslim supremacy. Extremist MKs such as Hanin Zoabi, Ahmed Tibi, Basel Ghattas and Jamal Zahalka should not be free to abuse their positions and act as an effective fifth-column operating within Israel's own legislature. And rabid anti-Semitic preachers should not be allowed to spread their hate on the Temple Mount, Judaism's holiest site.

There are other issues as well – such as the desperate need to whip a disorganized police force into shape; the outrageous lack of police enforcement in the Arab sector (a phenomenon which actually harms innocent Arabs more than Jews); or the need for more resources and a proper strategy to tackle online incitement.

But without formulating an overall counter-extremism strategy and fostering and encouraging an alternative to the toxic extremists who currently monopolize the Arab-Israeli leadership, Israel will never be able to decisively deal with the problem. It will only be a matter of time before the next Muhaned Al-Okabi.

Ari Soffer is Managing Editor of Arutz Sheva English.

Source: http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/202111

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