The forces behind Israel’s terror wave
THE location of the most serious attack this week in Israel — the southern city of Beersheva — as well as the fact that the perpetrator was an Israeli Bedouin, has raised concern that the three-week terror wave could be spreading.
In the attack, IDF Sergeant Omri Levi was shot dead by Mohammed Elokbi, from the Bedouin town of Hura, and Hevtum Zarhom, an Eritrean migrant, was mistakenly shot by a security guard and then fatally beaten by civilians who believed he was an accom- plice. Despite the severity of the incident, it is not yet an indication that the violence is spreading to Israel’s Arab citizens. So far, out of close to 100 direct attacks, only two have definitely been carried out by Israeli citizens seeking to kill Jews. Nearly all the attacks in Jerusalem, and within the pre-1967 “Green Line” borders, were carried out by residents of East Jerusalem; Palestinians with “blue” identity cards who can travel throughout Israel.
The figures point to a number of preliminary — and perhaps temporary — conclusions.
While there have been rising numbers of violent protests, both in IsraeliArab towns and neighbourhoods and in the West Bank, there is not yet a widespread uprising by any standard.
Moreover, it seems that, for now, eco- nomic considerations trump nationalist feelings. Around 100,000 West Bank Palestinians work in Israel daily, half of them legally, which is a crucial source of income. Likewise, the Israeli-Arab economy is dependent on business with the Jewish sector.
Whatever the politics, neither of these communities is prepared at this stage to jeopardise livelihoods with a third intifada.
While there have been exceptions, the profile of the typical perpetrator remains a teenager, or young man in his 20s, living in East Jerusalem. The motives for drawing a knife and trying to stab Jews — an action that almost always ends in being shot and, in just over half the cases, death — remain mixed. Online incitement over alleged Jewish designs on Al Aqsa, frustration over living in a perpetually disadvantaged neighbourhood without any clear national status, romantic desires to become martyrs, lack of faith in the Palestinian leadership, weak parental control, all play their part.
Hamas has tried to take credit for the attacks, while the Palestinian Authority has largely remained on the sidelines, accusing Israel of “executing” the attackers. But they are as powerless to direct the perpetrators as much as Israel’s security forces are to predict and prevent them in advance.
The attempt to erect barriers and checkpoints at the exits of Palestinian neighbourhoods is more of a populist sop to Israeli public opinion than an effective tactic. As was the arrest on Tuesday morning of West Bank Hamas leader Hassan Yousef, a man with little influence nowadays.
At the centre of the motivating factors remains Temple Mount. This week, it was relatively calm. The streets leading to the mount, which have been the scene of daily attacks, are now saturated with police.
A proposal by the French government to station international observers on the mount swiftly led to their ambassador in Israel being called in for a telling-off. US State Secretary John Kerry is now talking of somehow enhancing and actually writing down the rules of the “status quo” on the mount. Both American and French proposals are doomed to failure.
The unwritten status quo, which Mr Netanyahu insists he has no intention of changing, does not necessarily mean the same thing to both sides. For the Palestinians, it means that the Al Aqsa compound is under exclusive Islamic control. For Israel, it means that the Muslim Waqf retains management of the site but that Jews may still visit it and the police retain security responsibility.
Officially, the status quo has been in force since 1967, but there are no guarantees that leaders on any side can efficiently enforce it. International observers, even if they were to be allowed in, could not adjudicate on the competing claims, not only between Jews and Muslims, but between rival Muslim factions.
The Palestinian Authority, the Jordanians, the Hamas-aligned Islamic Movement, as well as some Israeli rightwing politicians, all use Al Aqsa or Temple Mount for their political purposes. Observers would only add a further layer of tension and any attempt to actually put the status quo down on paper will lead to interminable disputes on wording.
Mr Netanyahu and his Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon have generally avoided taking steps that could escalate the situation, such as mass-arrests and a general closure of the West Bank.
The length of this wave of violence will ultimately be determined by the number of Palestinian youngsters prepared to kill and die for posthumous martyrdom. Eliminating their motivation to do so is beyond both Israeli and Palestinian leaders.
Palestinian students hold an anti-Israel demonstration in Khan Yunis, Gaza, this week
IDF soldier Omri Levi, shot dead this week in Beersheva