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Rising violence on the streets of Israel

  • paula_slier
So much attention has been focused in recent months on Israel’s security concerns across its borders, one could be forgiven for not noticing the steady climb in tensions on the country’s own streets.
by PAULA SLIER | Mar 22, 2018

This year alone, five Israelis have been killed. After a relative period of calm, the situation inside the country seems to be heating up again.

Three Israelis were murdered in two separate attacks within 48 hours of each other just this week. In both instances, the attackers are believed to have operated alone, without any support or operational backing in what is defined as “lone-wolf terror attacks”. Speaking at one of the funerals this week, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said security forces were “telling us about a wave of violence making its way to us”. He vowed not to be discouraged.

In the first attack, a Palestinian driver hit four Israeli soldiers standing outside a military post in the northern West Bank, killing two and seriously injuring a third. Hamas released a statement welcoming the car ramming, but stopped short of claiming responsibility for it. The organisation pointed out that it came exactly 100 days after US President Donald Trump recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

In the second incident, a father of four was stabbed in Jerusalem’s Old City. The perpetrator did not have any known ties to a Palestinian organisation and had entered Israel on a five-day work permit.

The last time there was such an escalation in violence was in early September 2015. Dubbed the “Knife Intifada”, that unrest lasted until the first half of 2016 and was characterised by disgruntled Palestinian youngsters acting as lone wolves. They carried out mostly stabbings, but also rammings and shooting incidents.

Israel’s security establishment has admitted it struggles to get a handle on the phenomenon. Although it says it prevented more than 1 300 lone-wolf attacks last year, in the first two months of this year there were already 200.

Recent data suggests the motivation among youngsters to carry out such attacks is on the decline, but the latest incidents demonstrate just how deadly they can be when not thwarted.

Israelis often point out that Palestinians are encouraged to be violent. A case in point is this week’s warm welcome given by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to a Jerusalem resident on his release from prison, where he’d served 20 years for assisting in the murder of a yeshiva student.

That attack occurred on the same street on which this week’s Old City stabbing took place. While embracing him, Abbas said: “The prisoners’ issue holds a special place in the priorities of the Palestinian leadership, which works to free all the prisoners from the occupation’s prisons.”

Accused by Israelis of fanning hatred and incitement and not being a real partner in negotiations, Abbas doesn’t fare much better domestically. He faces mounting criticism over his security co-ordination with Israel and his lack of strong leadership. He’s 83 years old and in deteriorating health.

After Trump’s Jerusalem announcement, Palestinians also feel isolated and complain of a lack of support from Arab states. Compounded by a Palestinian economy that is close to inertia, it’s understandable why so many youngsters feel hopeless and bitter about their future. At least 40% of them are unemployed.

For now at least, the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) can, although not 100% foolproof, keep a lid on the situation in the West Bank and Israel. Its nightly raids and security co-ordination with Abbas’s team go a long way to preventing many attacks from happening.

But the situation is a far cry from Gaza, where the soldiers have no access and where, in recent weeks, protests along the Israel-Gaza border fence have grown increasingly violent. Demonstrators have used firearms, grenades and improvised explosive devices against IDF troops.

The Hamas leadership in Gaza wants to avoid an escalation with Israel that could prompt a large-scale military campaign. However, it is happy to fuel incitement and unrest by calling for riots and demonstrations that could threaten both the Palestinian Authority and Israel to capitulate to its demands.

In the coming weeks, there are many Palestinian days of commemoration planned. There is concern that on such days, the motivation to carry out attacks against Israelis is high. Will the anniversaries provide the fodder for Israel’s streets to become even more volatile?

Gaza residents are being encouraged to erect a tent city as close as possible to the border fence and remain there until “Nakba Day” (meaning Day of the Catastrophe, following Israel’s declaration of statehood), which falls on May 15. The mass march to Israel’s border, termed by the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip as “the great return march”, is being planned in several waves from next week until then.

Then on March 30, the IDF is bracing for thousands of Palestinian demonstrators to take to the streets across the West Bank and Gaza, and demand to return “home” to Israel.

On the Israeli calendar is the country’s 70th Independence Day celebrations and the US embassy relocation ceremony in Jerusalem, just one day before Nakba Day.

In response to the recent attacks, and with Pesach just around the corner, it’s only a matter of time before Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman seals off the West Bank and Gaza for the Jewish holiday.

A preventative and reprisal measure commonly employed by the IDF, the closure will affect tens of thousands of Palestinians who work legally in Israel, mostly in construction and maintenance, and will exacerbate an already tense situation.

The next few weeks will reveal whether these attacks on Israelis are part of something bigger or not. One can hope for the latter but should be prepared for the former.

Paula Slier is the Middle East Bureau Chief of RT, the founder and CEO of Newshound Media and the inaugural winner of the Europcar Woman in Leadership Award of the South African Absa Jewish Achievers.

 

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