2015-12-09 / Columns

Focus on our common humanity to prevent the spread of terrorism


In the wake of the Paris attacks, France’s flag was overlaid on millions of Facebook personal profile images in solidarity. Numerous Israelis, felt excluded, asking, why doesn’t the world stand in solidarity with us when we suffer terrorist attack, or, as is the current situation, a wave of multiple terrorist attacks?

Two days before the Paris attacks, 43 people were killed by a suicide-bomb attack perpetrated by an ISIS supporter in Beirut. Many other innocents have been murdered in countries such as Syria, Iraq, Turkey, Lebanon, Pakistan, Serbia, Yemen, Nigeria, Sudan, Somalia, Cameroon, Bahrain, Egypt, Algeria, Afghanistan, Libya, Chad, Kenya, Brazil, Congo DRC, Mexico, and Tunisia. Last month, a bomb went off at a funeral in Bangladesh, and we do not see it.

When Paris is attacked, Facebook promotes solidarity with a flag overlay. The US lowers its flag to half-staff, but how would you feel if your loved one was murdered in a similar attack and the world was silent and you were neglected?

After the attack that killed Ezra Schwartz, the Israeli government placed ads of condolence in the Israeli press expressing its grief at the death of two victims of terror in Gush Etzion, Yaakov Don and Ezra Yehiel Schwartz. But there was no mention of Shadi Arafa, a young man in his twenties from Hebron. He was killed at the same time, in the same attack. Is Shadi’s life worth any less than Yaakov or Ezra’s. Neither Shadi nor Ezra were Israeli citizens. Why did the Israeli government not mourn Shadi’s death or extend condolences to his family?

The world seems shocked that the young men who carried out the terrorist attacks in Paris were European-born. However, in hindsight, is it surprising that when they felt their opportunities were curtailed because of their background, these young men embraced that very same identity to the extreme and sought meaning and significance through an organization which paid attention to them and encouraged them to be who they were?

So, too, the Palestinian teens who may have been acting as “lone wolves” over the last two months see no way for themselves to have a future of full acceptance and integration within their lifetimes. An increasing number of Palestinian girls and women are carrying out terrorist attacks, possibly the first time in their lives they took a major step without patriarchal approval.

The situation in no way justifies acts of terror. However, in a world with virtual communities where teens and young adults can find acceptance, encouragement, inclusion and support when their families and communities seem to abandon and not understand them, the rise in extremism is not surprising. It is fertile recruiting grounds for social media empowered ISIS.

In our fear, some have retreated and taken an isolationist point of view calling on a ban on refugees. This seems, by all rational accounts to be reactionary and ridiculous as refugees go through a long vetting process, much stricter than those who seek to emigrate from places like the borderless European Union.

The United States has always tried to draw a fine balance between civil liberties and what some would call security; what others would call fear. As Jews, we must speak out and encourage the ingathering of all immigrants seeking a better future, but this is especially true of refugees, as almost all of our forbearers sought refuge in America.

What is more, as Jews, we must always be the watchdog for discrimination and xenophobia. In the words of Mark Hetfield, president and CEO of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), “Previously HIAS helped immigrants because THEY were Jews. Now HIAS must help immigrants because WE are Jews.”

When I attended the President’s Conference in honor of Shimon Peres’ 90th birthday some years ago, President Clinton framed his speech around the concept that “all of human history can be summed up as redefining who is us and who is them.” He called upon us to expand who we include in “us.”

He turned to the President of Rwanda and apologized, calling his inaction during the massacre his biggest failure as President. President Clinton said he had been too involved in Bosnia, proving that a Christian nation could care about Muslims, that by the time he focused on Rwanda, it was too late.

But President Clinton, in that speech, provided the key to solving our current threat. He said that when he went to Rwanda, he learned that the traditional greeting is “I see you” and we must learn to see each other.

There will always be those who prey on our youth. The way to combat this is to offer our children a place of belonging and acceptance.

In our hearts and with our words we must seek and offer more inclusiveness to those who need it most. We must focus on our common humanity instead of drawing distinctions highlighting our differences. We need to really see each person in our society as part of our society. If we are to win this war, we must focus on love and inclusiveness, not fear and intolerance.

Keep up the conversation on the web at http://jerusalemjournal.israhost.co.il

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