On Nov 13, 18 year-old Israeli Army private Eden Atias was seated on a bus that had just parked in the central bus station of Afula, a city in Israel’s north.
16-year-old Palestinian Hussein Jawadra, who had been seated next to Atias, took out a knife and stabbed Atias repeatedly in the neck.
There were dozens of instances during my IDF service when I would find myself seated on a bus in the Afula bus station next to a Arab teenage boy and carelessly let myself catch up on much-needed sleep.
It’s just plain painful to think that every time I leaned my head against the bus window and closed my eyes while seated next to an Arab I was making a potentially fatal mistake.
But what’s more painful for myself and millions of other Israelis like me is that we feel completely powerless to deter future attacks like the one on Private Atias.
Israel has no death penalty, not even for terrorists who commit the most heinous crimes. It’s no secret to Israelis or Palestinians that those same terrorists in Israeli prisons have suitable living conditions, recreational activities, and academic opportunities, all funded by Israeli tax money.
Such is the case of Samir Kuntar, a Lebanese national who murdered an Israeli family of four in 1979 and was returned to Lebanon as part of a prisoner exchange in 2008. While in Israeli prison, Kuntar was permitted to marry an Israeli Arab woman, who then received a monthly stipend from the Israeli government as the wife of a prisoner, and he was able to complete a bachelor’s degree in political science by distance learning.
The 16 year-old Palestinian boy who murdered Atias will likely have the opportunity to finish high school, earn a university degree, and enjoy playing ping-pong and soccer with other Palestinians at his convenience.
There is a strong chance that he will, like Kuntar, walk out of prison one day a free man and return to his community a hero. Israel’s political leadership has freed hundreds of convicted Palestinian murderers this year alone as a gesture to the Palestinian Authority to advance peace talks. The last prisoner release occurred on October 30th and freed 26 Palestinians, most of whom had blood on their hands. Two more releases are scheduled for the coming months. According to Palestinian law, every prisoner released by Israel is entitled to a lifetime government stipend and a hero’s welcome.
We Israelis wonder, how can the murder of our countrymen be prevented if there are no consequences for the murderers? Why should our government continue to make these gestures to the Palestinians while their government rewards these murderers as heroes?
The Palestinian Authority has not publicly condemned the murder of Private Atias. Instead the Palestinian Authority offers more incitement against Jews and Israelis. The Times of Israel reports the Palestinian Authority’s Religious Endowments Minister Mahmoud Habbash claimed on official Palestinian television that both late Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat and the Prophet Muhammad were murdered in sinister ways by “the Jews.”
Israelis support peace talks with the Palestinians if they are conducted in good faith and make our lives safer. Unfortunately every time the Israeli government gets entrenched in peace talks. all we see is more Palestinian incitement and a rise in attacks on people like Private Atias. This sends a dangerous message to Israelis: if peace talks are underway our blood is cheap.
Peace talks will not succeed if more Israelis like Private Atias are murdered while they sit on public buses. The Israeli government must step up security while peace talks are held and, together with the international community, demand the Palestinian Authority end incitement against Jews and Israelis.
Without these measures, Israelis like me will continue to believe that peace is nothing more than a pipe dream.