After Four Weeks of Violence in Israel, a New Pattern Emerges

Analysis: As the roadblocks and checkpoints in Jerusalem shift attention to the West Bank, the current wave of terrorist attacks may be running out of steam.

Amos Harel
Amos Harel
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Security forces at the scene of the attack at Gush Etzion Junction, October 27, 2015.
Security forces at the scene of the attack at Gush Etzion Junction, October 27, 2015.Credit: Lior Mizrahi
Amos Harel
Amos Harel

These words should be written cautiously – first, since there are still between one and three daily stabbing attacks, and secondly, since a large-scale attack could occur at any point, reshuffling the deck. Nevertheless, it appears that in its fourth week, the current escalation is undergoing a change.

In the first two weeks, most of the attacks were carried out by Palestinians from East Jerusalem possessing Israeli ID cards. Most took place in Jerusalem, with many instances of terrorists easily crossing the Green Line in order to carry out attacks in central Israel.

In the last two weeks, the vast majority of attacks have been in the West Bank, more than half of them in the Hebron area. A few others occurred in the Bethlehem area, including Tuesday’s stabbing attack which wounded a soldier at the Etzion Bloc intersection. In the few attacks that occurred in Israel (such as last week’s stabbing in Beit Shemesh) the assailants came from Hebron. In Jerusalem there were only a few foiled attempts. Two youths were arrested on Monday in central Jerusalem after arousing suspicion. They were in possession of an ax and a knife.

The characteristic features of this spate of violence are the knife and car-ramming. In some cases, the two were combined, with stones thrown at a vehicle and the driver stabbed after emerging from his vehicle, or a car-ramming followed by a stabbing. Most of the perpetrators are very young and only a few are clearly affiliated with a terrorist organization. When an affiliation is established, mainly among Hebronites, it is with Hamas, and often very loose. The police’s attempt to saddle the Bedouin terrorist who opened fire at the central bus station in Be’er Sheva with a connection to Hamas was clumsy. The man visited Hamas websites prior to his attack, but that doesn’t make him a Hamas member.

At the same time, Hamas leaders in Gaza are trying to provoke further attacks, urging West Bank residents to turn to shootings and explosive devices. This has been only partially successful. Palestinian security personnel are active in the West Bank, trying to reduce confrontation with the Israel Defense Forces. Last week there was a significant drop in the number and intensity of demonstrations and the number of participants, with fewer demonstrations turning violent. Palestinian security personnel remove armed men from demonstrations in order to prevent shooting from within the ranks of demonstrators, as happened in previous intifadas. A more marked drop is evident in demonstrations by Israeli Arabs. Although the atmosphere remains tense, the number of incidents has considerably declined.

Neither Israel nor the Palestinian Authority can stop the 16-year-old male or female who acts after being incited by social media. But when they attack in a city like Hebron, where daily confrontation provide ample opportunities to attack, every second Israeli they encounter will be armed. This is why the number of Israelis hurt in Hebron is low, with attackers usually quickly disabled.

When attacks occur in the West Bank, media coverage is less extensive, especially when no Israeli is killed. TV channels require more time to break into a live broadcast from the scene and there are usually fewer civilian witnesses. The sense of emergency fostered by continuous TV coverage in the first two weeks has calmed down somewhat. Undoubtedly, the sense of distress and anxiety is still there, and one shouldn’t envy the settlers or soldiers there who are potential targets every day. Nevertheless, even though the army and Shin Bet security service have not found a magic formula to prevent these attacks, it seems that some of the dizzying sensation of the first weeks has been halted.

The main change is evident in Jerusalem. This should be attributed mainly to the reinforced police presence in East Jerusalem and along the seam line between the two parts of the city, as well as the placing of barriers and checkpoints at the entrances to Arab neighborhoods and villages. When attacks occur policemen respond quickly, with few missteps.

Israel is taking a hard line against East Jerusalem residents in other ways, such as deciding to demolish terrorists’ houses and threatening to revoke Israeli IDs from tens of thousands of residents living beyond the separation fence but within municipal borders. Experts believe this would not pass the High Court of Justice hurdle, but Netanyahu’s words caused concern among Palestinians in Jerusalem. Such a step would suspend National Insurance payments and limit freedom of movement.

Older residents remember the second intifada. After Israel spent billions on the separation fence, can Palestinians be sure that harsh steps, including collective punishment, won’t follow terror attacks? Police presence and such threats are only a short-term deterrent. Things may quickly change, with renewed attacks in Jerusalem, but for now it seems that the measures taken have had an effect, even if temporary.

It’s hard to predict when the violence will cease. Even when it does, things won’t go back to what they were. Nine Israeli and almost 60 Palestinian dead will keep stoking the fires. Nevertheless, the nature of the violence seems to have changed somewhat.

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