Getting Tough on Terror – and the Triggers of Terror

Israel has the right and duty to respond to terrorism with the firmest hand necessary – but calming the combustible situation in Jerusalem requires far more than good policing.

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Palestinian protesters during clashes with Israeli border police, October 30, 2014.Credit: AP

The three bullets fired in Jerusalem on Wednesday in an attempt to murder Yehuda Glick could be as destructive as the three bullets fired in Tel Aviv nearly exactly 19 years ago that murdered Yitzhak Rabin.

Glick is not the prime minister and, at the time of writing, it seems that thankfully he will survive the despicable attempt on his life. But Israel’s response to the shooting is liable to determine much more than the fate of one man.

Israel has both the right and the duty to respond to such terrorism with the firmest hand necessary – but calming the situation requires far more than good policing. It requires a strategy to undermine any support for terrorism among ordinary Palestinians.

Netanyahu is wrong if he thinks that a firm hand alone will prevent further violence and further attempts to murder Israeli activists. Of course, he needs to be tough on terror, but he also needs to be tough on the triggers of terror.

He needs to give Palestinians something to hope for, or Friday's Day of Rage declared by Fatah will mark the start of a serious escalation.

Brilliant detective work, no doubt assisted with excellent intelligence, led the Shin Bet security service within hours of the attack to the door of Muatnaz Hijazi, the suspected gunman. The Shin Bet says that when officers tried to arrest Hijazi, he opened fire and was killed in the short gun battle that followed.

On Thursday, smoke and helicopters hovered over Jerusalem while gunfire crackled in the streets of Abu Tor, where Hijazi lived. Most shops in East Jerusalem were shuttered and the tension in the capital was palatable.

Last Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the cabinet that he was drafting an extra thousand police officers into the city to restore order after weeks of violent protests.

“We will not allow the reality of Jerusalem to become one of throwing stones and firebombs, and disturbances. This is not coincidental. Islamic extremist elements are trying to set alight the capital of Israel and we will use all necessary force, with determination and responsibility, so that they are unsuccessful,” said Netanyahu.

The extra police have failed to calm the capital. They failed to prevent the attack on Glick. That’s because the problems in Jerusalem are not purely a security matter. The underlying tensions stem from politics, not crime.

Clamping down on the Islamic Movement and firing rubber bullets and stinking water at the residents of East Jerusalem may buy Netanyahu a fragile appearance of calm, but it would be illusory. The underlying political unrest would remain, simmering dangerously beneath the surface, ready to explode again without warning.

There is no justification for the attack on Glick, but there is a reason. This was not a random shooting. The Israelis who insist on praying on the Temple Mount or settling in Silwan and other flashpoint areas of East Jerusalem are playing with fire. In an ideal world, Israelis could pray or live anywhere, but in the current diplomatic climate, each new home in Silwan distances Israel another step from the community of nations.
Netanyahu needs to remove the triggers that give extremists justification for acts of terror like the one that nearly took the life of Yehuda Glick. He needs to clamp down on Israeli stupidity just as hard as he clamps down on Palestinian violence.

It’s hard when the stupidity comes from Netanyahu himself. The announcement of new housing projects in East Jerusalem and the West Bank at the current time brings Israel no benefit and does incalculable harm. If Israel’s response to the attack on Glick is merely more police making the lives of East Jerusalemites even more miserable, then more terror will surely follow.

The latest JMCC poll of Palestinians found a majority of 56% in favour of peaceful negotiations and non-violence as a way of ending the occupation and achieving a Palestinian state, and just 32% in favour of an armed intifada.

Even after all the recent failures, the same poll found 52% agreed with re-starting peace talks and 45% opposed. Asked how they would vote in an election, 37% chose Fatah and only 29% Hamas, while President Mahmoud Abbas had the support of 37% against only 30% for Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh.

Netanyahu needs to give Palestinians something to hope for, not just something to fear. It seems he has fertile ground to work with.