Most people who write about terrorism focus on its immediate victims, the horrible and tragic deaths and injuries, the heartless terrorists themselves and those who send them. Others write about the effects on the general population, clutched by fear. As a Jerusalemite, I have experienced enough waves of terror to understand how this feels and can condemn the violence and try to be of some comfort to the victims who survive and the families of those who did not.
But although the particular focus of terrorism is on innocent civilians, all wars have brought about great suffering on the “home front”. From Atilla the Hun through the blitz on London (30,000 Londoners killed) and up to the carnage in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and now Syria, civilians have always come under fire.
Yet these days it becomes more apparent to me that other victims of terror are less known. All surveys confirm a sharp increase in racism over the last decade, and over the last several years a very worrisome increase, especially in Jerusalem, of racist attacks. In the last several weeks an Arab woman (wearing a head scarf) was attacked by Jewish women at a train stop in Kiryat Moshe, a religious neighborhood in Jerusalem. A pair of women, one Arab (also, apparently identified by a head scarf) and one Jewish had the car they were driving stoned by young religious boys, also in Kiryat Moshe.
What makes terrorism a particularly dangerous and upsetting form of war is the nature of the perpetrators. Since the terrorists are unlabeled, unmarked and virtually unidentifiable, not only does the general level of fear grow — but so does the suspicion. Anyone who looks like he might be a terrorist, speaks Arabic, or is dressed like one would expect of a terrorist, is immediately suspect. This is not to say that there isn’t plenty of racism in Israel in any case, or that the constant warring wouldn’t have its effect regardless, but the fear and the terrible experiences add a level of fear — or an excuse for it.
This is tragically ironic, because Israeli Arabs have traditionally remained extremely quiet even in times of war. Transcripts of Cabinet meetings in 1967 and 1973 revealed great surprise and satisfaction that Arab citizens did not, as some had feared, take advantage of the situation to complicate internal matters. Similarly, the wars in Lebanon and Gaza failed to provoke any outbursts on the part of Israeli Arabs: although largely still opposed to being drafted, they have not in any way posed a threat from within — again, despite fears and accusations otherwise.
Yet all the distrust remains and is exacerbated by every terrorist act and every act of violence. Israel’s new ultra-right government poses a threat to our neighbors and to our relations with them; meanwhile the random attacks of rockets by terrorists across the border and the even more insidious attacks from terrorists within is no less fearsome. The tensions create an atmosphere within Israel that should be given greater attention. The lesser known victims are Arab Israelis, who are suffering from a permanent status of suspect, and from Israeli society, which is turning on itself.
We must do all we can to prevent the violence in our neighborhood, the Middle East, from finding its way into our home.