When It Comes to Jerusalem and Security, What a Difference a Year Makes

The current escalation, with several attacks within two weeks, seems more serious than the one that plagued the West Bank last fall.

Amos Harel
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Police at the scene of the crime in Jerusalem, November 5, 2014. Credit: Reuters
Amos Harel

The van that slammed into pedestrians in Jerusalem on Wednesday, killing Border Police officer Jedan Assad, was the third terror attack in the city in two weeks. Since Jewish terrorists murdered teenager Mohammed Abu Khdeir in July, four Israelis and six Palestinians (including four terrorists who were shot to death by security forces) were killed in Jerusalem.

The events, including violent protests and hurling of stones and fire bombs at Israeli cars, have considerably eroded people’s sense that they’re safe and secure in the city. Wednesday night’s attack in the West Bank added to that insecurity.

The situation has already affected the sense of security in the Jewish neighborhoods beyond the ‘67 lines and is expected to impact domestic and foreign tourism to the eastern part of the city. Jordan’s recalling its ambassador from Tel Aviv for consultations shows how serious the situation is. Despite Israel’s extensive security and economic assistance, Jordan feels obliged to issue a public protest due to the sensitivity in the Arab world regarding the Jerusalem issue.

Almost a year ago, a series of terror attacks were launched against soldiers and settlers throughout the West Bank. Then too a debate followed whether a third intifada was brewing. But soon the tension was allayed until the beginning of this year.

The current escalation seems more serious. Last year’s incidents also seemed like a series of “lone wolf” attacks, terrorists acting on their own, mostly with no affiliation to an organization and no orderly chain of command behind them. In recent months, however, the attacks carried out by individuals are accompanied by the protest of many. A considerable number of Palestinian protesters clash weekly with the police on various sites in East Jerusalem. The religious factor is extremely significant this time round, mainly because of the Palestinian fear that Israel is attempting to unilaterally change the status quo on the Temple Mount, which Muslims worship as the Noble Sanctuary.

The attempted murder of the extreme rightist Yehuda Glick last week was the culmination of several incidents associated with the site’s status.

In Wednesday’s incident, the terrorist, Ibrahim al-Akari, attacked policemen in a jeep with an iron rod after ramming into pedestrians, including Border Patrol officers, at the light rail station. The police were a target, but they also stopped the murder rampage. The incident, like other recent ones in crowded areas, was photographed by security cameras. As in the previous attack, a Border Patrol officer shot the terrorist to death after he had already been wounded and was lying on the ground, raising the question of whether it was justified to kill him at that stage.

The police shoot first and ask questions later. The undeclared practice appears to be that of neutralizing terrorists on the attack site and killing armed militants in the process of arresting them. This is also what happened with the man suspected of shooting Yehuda Glick a week ago, and in September with the murderers of the three abducted teens in Hebron.

It’s hard to examine and judge after the fact a police officer’s decision and the risk he is willing to take upon himself in dealing with a terrorist running wild near civilians, or when the policeman is in the process of raiding a suspected armed killer’s house.

Still, Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch’s statement, that every attack must end with the death of the terrorist on site, seems unnecessary. Aharonovitch is not the first politician to make such a statement in similar circumstances. A similar one was made during the wave of knife attacks in the first intifada by then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir.

The security forces must stop the terrorist as soon as possible and act unflinchingly, without fearing trial. But a public statement like Aharonovitch’s, without setting any limitations, is like an execution order. It’s an opening to legal and moral entanglements, even diplomatic ones. There is no reason, apart from wishing to attract extremist voters in the election that may be approaching, for a minister to make such a remark.

Wednesday’s attack shows that we still have a long way to go before things quiet down in Jerusalem, despite beefing up of the police forces and the Netanyahu cabinet’s firm declarations. Palestinians in Jerusalem have several reasons to rise up and rebel. The iron first Israel is threatening them with will not necessarily quash the violence soon. Wednesday’s terrorist, like Glick’s suspected shooter, was an activist in an Islamic organization. Considering that the murderer’s brother is a Hamas operative, who had been released in the Shalit swap deal and deported to Turkey, this may turn out not to be a “lone wolf” operation after all.

Abbas keeping lid on West Bank

After the murder, ministers Ya’alon, Lieberman, Steinitz, Bennett and others competed with each other in accusing Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas of being responsible for the attack. Senior Palestinian officials may have ratcheted up their rhetoric in the past weeks, and Abbas sent a controversial consolation letter to the family of Glick’s suspected shooter. But the Palestinian Authority is continuing its close cooperation with the IDF and Shin Bet security service on security issues in the West Bank to prevent a similar eruption there.

Even if Netanyahu’s government is doing all it can to evade resuming the peace talks with the Palestinians, it still needs the PA to prevent the confrontation from boiling over and spreading throughout the West Bank. The West Bank attack shows it will be not be easy. 

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