Recent Attacks in Jerusalem Prove the Futility of Israeli Policy

The broad deployment of police is only effective insomuch as it quickly ends violence that erupts, but it doesn't prevent it.

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Rescue services at scene of terror attack at Jerusalem Old City's Lions' Gate. October 3, 2015.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

The weekend in Jerusalem began with the funeral of Naama and Eitam Henkin, who had been killed in their car in a terrorist attack Thursday evening in the West Bank. The weekend ended with the death of two Jews killed in a terrorist attack in the Old City on Saturday evening.

Between those two incidents, a bullet was shot at the Jewish enclave of Nof Tzion in the Jabal Mukkaber neighborhood of the capital. A Molotov cocktail was thrown in the direction of Hadassah University Hospital on Mt. Scopus from the Palestinian neighborhood of Issawiya. Two more Molotov cocktails were thrown at Jews in the Old City, and a young Palestinian was shot in the leg when he was about to throw another Molotov cocktail at police in Issawiya. About 20 Palestinians were also injured by police in Issawiya by sponge-tipped bullets and tear gas in the course of a violent demonstration.

The reality in Jerusalem again may be seen as proving the ineffectiveness of the current approach that is being applied to managing the conflict and the apparent helplessness of Israeli security forces in the face of grassroots violence and terrorism committed by individuals acting on their own. The terrorist attack in the Old City on Saturday was committed on the main street of the Muslim Quarter, Hagai Street, which is an important route for Jews heading for the Western Wall and Muslims on their way to the Temple Mount. Dozens of Jewish families, most of whom are associated with Ateret Cohanim, a group that has encouraged Jews to live in predominantly Palestinian neighborhoods of the city, also live on the street.

Hagai Street is apparently the most heavily guarded street in the country. On a regular basis it is protected by dozens of police and border policemen while security cameras survey every inch of the thoroughfare. Due to the Sukkot holiday and prevailing security tensions, security details had been stepped up further on the street. “There are almost no police anywhere [else] in the State of Israel. All of them are in Jerusalem,” the city’s mayor, Nir Barkat, acknowledged after Saturday’s terrorist attack.  Nevertheless, the terrorist managed to find a gap between two groups of police officers to carry out the attack.

As with past stabbing attacks and incidents in which Palestinian attackers used their cars to deliberately run over Jews, this fall it turns out that the number of terrorist attacks is a function of one factor alone: the motivation and readiness of young Palestinians to die in an effort to kill Jews. The broad deployment of police is effective in the sense that Saturday’s incident quickly ended in the death of the terrorist, but not in preventing it. One of the injured in Saturday’s attack ran about 50 meters until a group of border police shot and killed the terrorist.

The Pavlovian statements by public spokesman on the right, from Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman to Mayor Barkat, speaking of a crackdown on the Palestinian population, the demolition of terrorists’ homes and construction of Jewish neighborhoods, along with collective punishment, the arrest of inciters, changes to open-fire regulations and emergency inner cabinet deliberations, are simply lip service. The effect of all of this on lone-wolf terrorists is marginal to negligible. And if it would have an effect, it’s not at all clear that it would be for the better.

When asked what would have an impact on the terrorists’ motivation, security officials are in agreement that the issue of the status of the Temple Mount and the belief that Israel plans to change the status quo there are a decisive factor, as is demonstrated over and over on terrorists’ Facebook pages. Such a belief has no basis in fact. It would never occur to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to change the status quo barring Jews from praying on the Temple Mount, but it still has deep roots in the worldview of the Palestinian public. Terrorists don’t need Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to tell them this from the rostrum of the UN General Assembly. All they need is to see pictures of Israeli police on the mount (even though the Muslim religious trust, the Waqf, has day-to-day administrative control of the Temple Mount).

So what can be done? In another universe, even less than an ideal one, with another Israeli government, it would have been possible to propose far-reaching suggestions; for example, permitting a symbolic Arab presence (in uniform, for instance) on the mount to prove Israel’s seriousness in maintaining the status quo. In a slightly better universe, it would have been possible to suggest a return to peace talks and even send a message to young Palestinians that there is a different diplomatic horizon. In our world, however, it seems we will have to make do with another emergency meeting of cabinet ministers and more police on Hagai Street.

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