Writing in The New York Times, Matti Friedman, author of “Spies of No Country: Secret Lives at the Birth of Israel,” offers his cogent perspective on the primary reason Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the longest-serving prime minister in the history of Israel, has remained in office as long as he has: during his reign, the terrorist attacks and the carnage reaped by Palestinian bombers and terrorists have been reduced from their terrifying ubiquity in the early 2000’s to a level at which Israelis could try to lead normal lives without fear of being blown apart at any moment.
Friedman notes the upcoming election on Sept. 17, then points out that the best way to understand the feelings of many Israelis is to see the film “Born in Jerusalem and Still Alive,” which recently won best first feature at the Jerusalem Film Festival. The film’s main character, Ronen, triggered by a young tour guide telling tourists that downtown Jerusalem is “beautiful,” and the “center of night life and food for the young generation,” Ronen interjects, “Don’t believe her. You see this market? Fifteen years ago it was a war zone. Next to my high school there was a terror attack. Next to the university there was a terror attack. First time I made sex — terror attack.”
Friedman uses that episode to segue to Netanyahu’s longevity in office, noting, “No single episode has shaped Israel’s population and politics like the wave of suicide bombings perpetrated by Palestinians in the first years of the 21st century. Much of what you see here in 2019 is the aftermath of that time, and every election since has been held in its shadow. The attacks, which killed hundreds of Israeli civilians, ended hopes for a negotiated peace and destroyed the left, which was in power when the wave began. Any sympathy that the Israeli majority had toward Palestinians evaporated.”
He continues, “More than any other single development, that period explains the durability of Benjamin Netanyahu, which outsiders sometimes struggle to understand. Simply put, in the decade before Mr. Netanyahu came to power in 2009, the fear of death accompanied us in public places. There was a chance your child could be blown up on the bus home from school. In the decade since, that has ceased to be the case. Next to that fact, all other issues pale. Whatever credit the prime minister really deserves for the change, for many voters it’s a good enough reason to keep him in power on Sept. 17.”
Freidman points out that the Second Intifada “killed more Israelis than the Six-Day War of 1967 … Though other forms of violence persist, the last Israeli fatality in a Palestinian suicide bombing was in 2008.”
Freidman writes that the memories of the violence and wanton murder Israelis had to endure explains why Israelis are afraid to leave Judea and Samaria, why the Left in Israel has receded, why a separation barrier exists. He recalls, “I remember standing at a bus stop when I heard a suicide bomber blow himself up and murder 11 people one street over, at Café Moment. My mother passed through the Nahariya train station right before a suicide bomber struck there, and my sister was in a cafeteria at the Hebrew University campus when Palestinians blew up a different cafeteria. I’ve got many more memories like that, all of them standard for the time.”
As Shoshanna Bryen wrote in The Daily Wire:
It thus seems fair to note that while not one Jordanian was killed by a terrorist Palestinian to liberate “Palestine” from the Jordanian government in the 19 years of occupation, 2,143 Israelis have been killed and nearly 10,000 wounded by Palestinians in deliberate attacks. It seems fair also to emphasize the word “deliberate.” Dead Jews were the goal. Fair, too, to remind her that 19 of the dead and 172 of the wounded were victims of a massacre during a Passover Seder; Nava Applebaum and her father David were murdered sitting in a café the night before her wedding; Kobi Mandell and Yosef Ishran, two 13-year-old boys, had their heads smashed against rocks; 3-month-old Hadas, 4-year-old Elad, 11-year-old Yoav, and parents Ruth and Udi Fogel were murdered in their beds. Eighteen people, including Americans Malki Roth and Shoshana Yehudit Greenbaum, were killed in a Sbarro pizza parlor (their killers received an estimated $910,823 in “salary” from the Palestinian Authority).
Friedman concludes, “The events Ronen describes to his tourists seem hard to believe. But he knows they happened, and so does the Israeli electorate. As a psychiatrist might tell us, the deeper something is repressed, the more power it exerts. So when Mr. Netanyahu declares in an election ad that ‘in the stormy Mideastern sea we’ve proven that we can keep Israel an island of stability and safety,’ we all know what he means, even if we don’t vote for him. That’s his strongest card, and if he wins, that will be why. The scenario we’re afraid of is clear even if it doesn’t have a name. It doesn’t need one.”