Last week, a disturbing video emerged. It seemingly showed an Israeli soldier executing a wounded Palestinian attacker from point-blank range in Hebron. After the video aired, Israelis from across the political spectrum issued condemnations. “What happened in Hebron does not represent the values of the Israel Defense Forces,” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Defense Minister Boogie Ya’alon said, “even when our blood is boiling, we must not allow such a loss of sense, such a loss of control.”
Only a handful of Likud politicians, including Ofir Akunis and Yisrael Katz, joined the Jewish Home’s Naftali Bennet and Betzalel Smotrich to rush to the soldier’s defense.
In the recent wave of violence, the rules of engagement have been an issue of fierce debate within Israel. Last month, IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot issued an important statement concerning such attacks saying, “IDF cannot speak in slogans, such as ‘if someone comes to kill you, arise to kill them first,’ or ‘everyone who carries scissors should be killed.’ Troops can act only if there is threat to life.” In the video footage, there appeared to be no threat to anyone’s life.
What is most startling and concerning, however, is not the video itself, but how the Israeli public seemed to support the soldier’s actions.
In a poll released by Channel 2 News conducted by the Midgam Institute, 68 percent of Israelis said the Prime Minister and Defense Minister were wrong to issue statements condemning the soldier’s actions, while 57 percent of Israelis believe there is no need to conduct an investigation or apprehend the soldier involved—only 32 percent think there needs to be investigation.
When asked how to describe the actions of the soldiers, 42 percent answered that the soldier’s action constituted responsible behavior under the circumstances, 24 percent believe his actions were caused by the pressure of the situation, 19 percent believe this was a violation of orders, while only 5 percent believe this was murder.
Another poll from Buzzilla suggests that 82 percent of Israelis support the soldier’s actions. This figure is based on an aggregation and analysis of social media activity.
Though an investigation has yet to occur, the evidence at hand suggests that there was no imminent threat from the injured Palestinian attacker. On Sunday, new video emerged showing the soldier shaking hands with far-right activist and former leader of Kach (Meir Kahane’s outlawed group) Baruch Marzel, while the body was being removed from the scene.
Although this was an isolated incident, it is reflective of a shift in Israeli public opinion to the right as well as growing anti-Arab sentiment among Israeli Jews since this latest wave of terror began. This shift was also evident earlier this month when Pew released its annual study of religion in Israeli society in which 48 percent of Israeli Jews agreed with the statement “Arabs should be expelled or transferred from Israel.”
Such anti-Arab attitudes have been fuelled by some members of Israel’s leadership, including Prime Minister Netanyahu, who has convinced much of the Israeli public (and AIPAC) that this terror is equivalent to ISIS. Netanyahu’s tactics have succeeded in part due to incitement from the Palestinian Authority and their failure to condemn virtually any of the latest attacks. This allows Netanyahu to continue his inaction, described last week by Nimrod Novik in Matzav, enabling many to overlook a central cause of the latest wave of Palestinian terrorism, which is the hopelessness of a generation of young Palestinians.
Netanyahu has continued his election campaign tactic of instilling fear in the minds of Israelis, and it has worked. Israelis need to look beyond fear mongering and to develop interest in strategies to address the multiple causes of the current wave of Palestinian violence against Israelis. I am hopeful that in his eleventh year in office, Netanyahu realizes the importance of prioritizing problem solving over his political longevity. Netanyahu knows that moving toward a unity government with the Zionist Union is a first step in addressing Israel’s strategic concerns. That may be the only way to get us off the dangerous path toward a chaotic third intifada.