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Israel terror attacks reverberate beyond its borders

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For South African oleh Howard Sundy, moving to Israel was motivated by a feeling of coming home. But this week, that sense of security was rattled when a fellow olah who also lived in Netanya, Shirel Aboukrat, was killed in Hadera alongside her friend and colleague, Yazan Falah, from the Druze community. They were both Israel Border Police officers and 19 years old. They are two of 11 people from diverse backgrounds who have been murdered in eight days in three brutal terror attacks across Israel.

“I know the family, and have a lot of friends from shul who are friendly with her parents,” says Sundy. “As an oleh who made Israel my home 36 years ago, it’s a feeling of this is truly my home. The family left the life they had in France for the goal of feeling safe and living as Jews here in eretz Yisrael.

“Shirel completed her schooling at a dati leumi [national religious] school here in Israel. She decided to go to a combat unit and actively contribute to Israeli society and am Yisrael’s security. She could have opted to do volunteer work and not be in a combat unit. Her mother, Devorah, was heartbroken but respected her daughter’s decision. Shirel made the ultimate sacrifice.” Sundy says many people he knows are now comforting the family as they sit shiva.

Tania Shalom Michaelian, who made aliya from Cape Town, also lives in Netanya. “My twin daughters just got released from the army. The pictures of Shirel shut me down completely. Every soldier becomes your own child when your kids are in the army,” she says. Not only that, but one of her daughters is studying at Shenkar, a design, engineering, and art college close to where the Bnei Brak attack occurred. “She wasn’t there as she left college early, but it brings things very close to home. On the one hand, it’s scary, but on the other, we have to go on with our lives. Otherwise terrorism wins.”

Batya Shmukler, who made aliya from Johannesburg, has children living in Be’er Sheva and Hadera, where terrorists killed seven people. “Our thoughts are with the families of the victims, wherever they may be,” she says. “My kids are all fine and obviously concerned as anyone would be, but overall, our commitment to and love for Israel remains as strong as it ever was.”

The South African Zionist Federation called on the South African government to condemn the senseless terror attacks in Israel. The organisation noted that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has condemned the attacks, and that the South African government should do so as well.

Meanwhile, a local security expert says that the incidents are even more concerning because two of them were committed in the name of Islamic State (ISIS). This is the first time that terrorism has been carried out by ISIS adherents in Israel. It brings a new, worrying threat to the Jewish state and to Jewish communities worldwide, including in South Africa.

“Most terror organisations like Hamas, Hezbollah, and Islamic Jihad have ‘top down’ structures,” says Community Security Organisation (CSO) director of operations in Gauteng, Jevon Greenblatt. “Their leadership decides who does what and when. But ISIS is much more decentralised. Attacks are not planned ‘from above’, and individuals often carry them out on their own initiative, in ‘lone wolf’ attacks. These are much more difficult to identify and stop.”

Another difference is that two of these attackers – as well as the man who killed South African oleh Eli Kay – are all citizens working and living in Israel. The Be’er Sheva attacker was from the Bedouin community and the Hadera attackers were Israeli Arabs. “It’s not like Israel can close the borders to stop them. And they’re exceptionally radical and determined, as we’ve seen with other ISIS attacks,” says Greenblatt. “This is a different level of radicalisation. It’s exceptionally concerning, and Israel will need new security protocols to deal with it.”

The other aspect of ISIS terror is that it’s a vicious cycle, often inspiring new attacks in Israel and around the world. “Terrorists may have never met each other, but an attack in one part of the world can inspire another. It may give potential terrorists anywhere in the world – including South Africa – the motivation to target Jewish communities.”

Delving into some history, Greenblatt says most attacks in Israel are perpetrated by Hamas and other groups, supported by Iran, that are traditionally aligned with the Shia sect of Islam. “Iran hates ISIS, so it’s strange that ISIS seems to be growing within Israel. It’s also strange that even though ISIS claimed responsibility for these attacks, Hamas and other groups are lauding them.

“Though ISIS has for years casually mentioned ‘freeing Jerusalem’, it’s never taken an active interest in Israel until now,” he says. “Somehow, it’s now growing its influence and possibly recruiting and indoctrinating followers online and within some communities.”

He notes that in two of the recent attacks, it was people who happened to be in the area who neutralised the attackers. Though this isn’t a long-term solution, it shows that people can be proactive. “You can run, hide, or fight. In many cases, those who fight back survive the attack. Don’t freeze, don’t do nothing. Being vigilant is critical,” he says.

One heroic police officer who fought back in Bnei Brak was 32-year-old Israel Police Staff Sergeant Major Amir Khoury, an Arab Israeli who served on the Bnei Brak police station’s motorcyclist responders’ team. He was part of a team of two motorcycle officers who caught up with the terrorist and killed him, ending the deadly shooting spree. Khoury later died, as he had been shot while pursuing the terrorist.

Greenblatt emphasises that with our community’s security infrastructure, we can protect ourselves as individuals and institutions. “Terrorists look for ‘soft’ targets and aim for mass casualties. If we become a ‘harder’ target, it may very well deter them from trying in the first place.”

“One attack is inspiring another, regardless of which terror-faction members are carrying out these horrific acts,” he adds. “There also seems to be competition between the various terror factions or adherents to carry out these attacks and claim responsibility.”

He also says that sadly, terrorism has always been a threat and will continue to be one for the foreseeable future. “The concern is that these terrorists [who pledge allegiance to ISIS] are highly indoctrinated and determined individuals within Israel’s borders. But it’s also no different to the numerous attacks that Israel has experienced in the past. ISIS does, however, have a ‘brand’ of brutality, which attracts unhinged individuals with violent tendencies, and acts like this can be seen as inspirational. But it’s a tiny minority, and most people in Israel – of all backgrounds – just want to get on with their lives.”

This is reiterated by articles in Israel’s media, which emphasise that ISIS adherents are a tiny minority and that joining the extremist group makes their lives very difficult. Many have been arrested, and even those who have been freed and want to change their lives for the better have struggled to get jobs, travel overseas, or be accepted by their families.

“The streets of Israel are packed with police and soldiers at the moment. The Shin Bet security agency and Israel Defense Forces have arrested at least 12 people with ISIS ties. Security forces will continue to adapt to this new threat,” he says.

“Events in Israel often have far-reaching consequences,” Greenblatt says. “Diaspora communities need to be vigilant and report any suspicious activity affecting the community to the CSO on 0861 800 018. This is out of an abundance of caution, and not based on any known threats to our community.”

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