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An Israeli's Take: Roots Of Recent Violence Lie In 'Hateful Incitement'

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And now an Israeli perspective. Mark Regev is a name and a voice well known to American listeners. For many years, he has been chief spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He's soon to take over as Israel's ambassador to the United Kingdom. This morning, he spoke to me from Jerusalem, and I asked him the same question I asked Dr. Barghouti, which is why he thinks this particular kind of violence is happening right now.

MARK REGEV: It's clear the Islamist groups, other extremists and, unfortunately, also the Palestinian Authority have been propagating conspiracy theories about some Jewish attempt to destroy or harm the Muslim holy sites. We see with the people committing these crimes - they actually believe this hateful incitement. And they really believe, somehow, Al-Aqsa is endangered, and they must kill a Jew to save Al-Aqsa. It's ridiculous.

MARTIN: I was looking at the polls - a compilation of public opinion polls published by various media outlets in Israel - and I have to say two things stood out for me. One was the sense that there are totally different perspectives about this. The Israeli Jews surveyed said they - they said what you just said, but the Israeli Arabs said something completely different. And how do you overcome this or move forward when people have such completely different perspectives about the roots of the issue?

REGEV: Well, the truth is since Israel took control of the Old City of Jerusalem in 1967, we have strictly supported and defended and protected the holy sites of all faiths. That's part of the Isreali way of doing things. And the whole idea that there's some Jewish threat to the Muslim holy sites is simply ridiculous. But nevertheless, extremists have been propagating this rubbish, and it is believed. And that's the sad thing.

MARTIN: One of the things, though - the other thing that stood out for me from the polling that I saw is that both sides who were surveyed - both the Israeli Jews and the Israeli Arabs surveyed -showed very little confidence in their leaders in the response to this crisis. How do you then move from forward?

REGEV: I think we do have the confidence. I think the sort of leadership Prime Minister Netanyahu is providing is giving confidence to the people of Israel, but we're doing our part. We're beefing up the police presence. We're making security more solid. We're safeguarding all of Israel's citizens. I think it's time the Palestinian Authority played its part, too, and they stopped echoing this sort of irrational incitement that is coming from the Islamists. There's no reason whatsoever why President Abbas is being quiet, why he has refused to condemn these deadly knife attacks. You know, we've had more than 25 such attacks, and he hasn't condemned a single one.

MARTIN: Do you feel that it is solely on Mr. Abbas' shoulders to address these individuals when they describe it as kids who are hopeless and helpless and see themselves as humiliated and demeaned. And they're just - they are not - they see them not as being led by anybody but their own personal rage. And if you have such a different perspective about the cause of a thing, how do you overcome that?

REGEV: I think we've seen actually a similar phenomenon in Europe and in other parts of the Middle East and even in North America where young Muslims have been radicalized through social media. This is bigger than the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. This is a phenomenon that has a global significance. I know people are dealing about this very seriously across the - across the globe. How do you prevent the recruitment of young people to this sort of extreme violence? And it's a challenge I think for us all. I hope we find solutions. At the moment, it's important that we play our part in beefing up defense. And it's important that responsible Arab leadership stand up and condemn this phenomenon for what it is.

MARTIN: I would be remiss - forgive me. I should have asked you this earlier. There is this issue surfacing about the Israeli response and the fact that the death toll among the Palestinians is quite high. It's so much higher at this point. And the question is, I think, how do you balance security concerns with concerns about excessive force?

REGEV: The rules of engagement that our police have, I think, are not that different from rules of engagement of other democratic societies across the planet. Israeli police are only allowed to use their weapons - they can only use deadly force in life-threatening situations. Those rules are clear. But when a terrorist has a knife or a meat cleaver or a Molotov cocktail - a petrol bomb - and is threatening, that is a life-threatening situation. And in those situations, the police are entitled under the law to use their weapons neutralize the threat.

MARTIN: Mark Regev is spokesperson for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He's soon to take up a post as Israel's ambassador to the United Kingdom. We reached him in Jerusalem. Mr. Regev, thank you so much for speaking with us.

REGEV: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.