‘Mindless’ though the Israelis like to dub every Palestinian shooting, Wednesday night’s killing of four Israelis in Tel Aviv was the most deliberate of recent attacks: surely an attempt to provoke the country’s new extreme right-wing Defence Minister to order the Israeli army into another bloody adventure against Palestinians.
Ever since Avigdor Lieberman was appointed to his new post by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the world – and especially the Palestinians – have waited to see if he would fulfil the bloodthirsty threats he made during Israel’s 2015 election. The killing of the Israelis, two women and two men, and the wounding of six others in the shopping and restaurant area around the Sarona complex now puts Lieberman to the test.
Both Palestinian gunmen reportedly come from a village near the West Bank city of Hebron – where many Israelis and Arabs both regard with horror the shameful relations between Jewish colonists and local Palestinians – and they were apparently eating at one of the Tel Aviv restaurants when they began shooting. They were dressed in suits and ties. There was therefore no sudden, emotional attack – as many recent stabbings and car-rammings in Jerusalem probably were.
Avigdor Lieberman’s threats have been variously quoted and misquoted by Arabs and Israelis although his most outrageous statement was published in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz in March last year. Speaking to a largely Israeli audience he talked of ‘disloyal’ Arab citizens of Israel and said that “those who are against us, there’s nothing to be done – we need to pick up an axe and chop off his head. Otherwise we won’t survive here.” This Isis-like threat disturbed even the normally complacent US state department and – had it been uttered by a Palestinian leader about Israelis – would have brought world condemnation upon the Palestinians.
As it was, Hamas praised the Tel Aviv killings, and fireworks were set off in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Israel revoked permits for 80,000 Palestinians to visit Israeli territory during the fasting month of Ramadan, a tactic which has in the past only increased hostility between Israelis and Palestinians. The two Palestinian gunmen in Tel Aviv, one of whom was wounded by Israeli security guards, were not Israeli Arab citizens and so presumably do not qualify for Avigdor Lieberman’s gruesome if melodramatic punishment of beheading.
But his other political promises, of a fourth Gaza war and a third Lebanon war – there have in fact been five Israeli-Lebanese wars, but no matter – still bode a very unhappy future for both Israel and its Arab neighbours. The old Israeli left-wing, symbolized by Uri Avneri who was himself a soldier in the 1948 Israeli war, has agreed with one very senior Israeli army officer: that the growing power of Israel’s right-wing politicians has more than a little in common with the last months of the German Weimar Republic. Avneri himself, who does not suggest that the Israeli leadership are Nazis, grew up under Weimar and the first years of Hitler and freely uses the word ‘fascism’ about current Israeli politics.
The Palestinians, alas, care little for Jewish history. The more ferocious Israel’s threats, the more publicity their cause receives – and the more frightened the world becomes.