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Palestinian leadership fans the flames of terror



Israel has been gripped by a wave of deadly terrorist attacks over the past fortnight. Fourteen people were killed and scores injured in four separate incidents in Be’er Sheva, Bnei Brak, Hadera, and Tel Aviv. Responsibility rests squarely with the Palestinian leadership and its calls for “popular resistance” – which is code for murdering Israelis.

So said South-African-born Lieutenant Colonel (retired) Maurice Hirsch, who analysed this lethal violence in a webinar hosted by the South African Zionist Federation on 6 April. He was chief military prosecutor for Judea and Samaria, and specialised in terrorism cases. He joined Palestinian Media Watch, an organisation that monitors developments among Palestinians, in 2017.

Hirsch provided the backdrop for these incidents. The Palestinian Authority (PA) was created by the Oslo Accords in 1993 as a proto government to run the day-to-day lives of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. The PA is largely made up of the Fatah faction of the Palestine Liberation Organisation. It’s run by the deeply unpopular 86-year-old Mahmoud Abbas, and has held elections only twice in the past 25 years, the last one for president was in 2005. Hamas won parliamentary elections in 2006, and took over running Gaza. Hamas and the PA compete to show who is more extremist and who really represents the Palestinians, according to Hirsch.

“Palestinians in Gaza and in Judea and Samaria have become sick of Abbas and Fatah,” Hirsch said. “He has a 73% disapproval rate. They are sick of his cronyism, his putting his people in senior positions to get rich. If elections were held today, Hamas’s Ismail Haniyeh or Marwan Barghouti – who is serving five life sentences – would both be preferred to Abbas.”

Abbas was pressured by the United States and Europeans to hold elections, which he called for May 2021, but they are now postponed indefinitely. Hirsch noted that a lot of European and US funding to the PA had dried up, partly due to hate being propagated in Palestinian textbooks and the policy of paying money to terrorists’ families, termed “pay for slay”.

A loss of 90% of aid funding to the PA has severely weakened Abbas. He has thus turned to encouraging terrorist attacks as a tactic to regain popular support. Recent polls indicate high support for violence in the Palestinian population. Hirsch said there were 10 to 30 terror attacks thwarted in Israel every day.

He said the incitement of violence was a deliberate strategic choice by Abbas. “He uses soft language calling for ‘popular resistance’. This isn’t for peaceful marches. This is to get up and kill Israelis. And the PA are the ostensible moderates.

“The Israeli security establishment has believed that Fatah is ‘the lesser of two evils’ for 25 years, and to change that would be too destabilising, and so they can’t get rid of the PA, they support the dictatorship of Abbas.”

At the funeral of six members of Fatah’s armed wing, the Al-Aqsa Martyr Brigade, Abbas’s message was to pay Israel back double for these killings. This lead directly to the recent attacks, Hirsch said.

He accused the new Israeli government under Prime Minister Naftali Bennett of being soft on Hamas in Gaza. Hamas has only one goal: “annihilate Israel”. It has been rebuilding support after the rocket fire on Israel in May 2021 triggered Operation Guardian of the Walls.

Of Israeli Arabs – those who are citizens of Israel – he said many were becoming more and more integrated into Israeli society, for instance by volunteering for army service. Their leadership, though, has insisted that they are Palestinians and has attempted to radicalise them.

It’s worrying that in two of the attacks, ISIS (Islamic State) claimed responsibility – a growing trend. “Palestinians see the Abraham Accords [in which Israel normalised relations with several Arab states] as a disaster. The region is moving on, and the Palestinians no longer have a right to veto it.

“The month of Ramadan has been used to incite violence, whipping up religious gusto to kill ‘infidels’,” Hirsch said. “They renew the false claim that Israel wants to destroy the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.”

Hirsch claimed that since Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza in 2005 “it has brought nothing but more hostility. Giving land to the Palestinians will only increase areas for terrorism.”

He also noted that there are about 200 000 illegal weapons in the Israeli Arab community, heightening the danger posed to Israelis. Hirsch said the government wasn’t doing enough to seize these weapons.

“When Abbas dies, there will be tremendous upheaval, even a bloodbath, as others clamour to control the PA” and the resources it gives access to.

The moderator, Simon Anstey, asked whether this was the cusp a “third intifada”. Hirsch replied that “there wasn’t a second intifada – translated as a ‘popular uprising’. What we saw from 2000 to 2005 was suicide bombers. It was all out terror. We must watch our terminology and combat that narrative. And if we show weakness, they will continue to escalate.”

He ended by saying that the African National Congress leadership was disgracing the memory of apartheid by comparing Israel to apartheid South Africa. “Nelson Mandela wouldn’t agree with those who want to murder Jews just because they are Jews. He believed in the existence of Israel.”

  • Steven Gruzd is a political analyst at the South African Institute of International Affairs in Johannesburg. He writes in his personal capacity.

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