Following Attack, Israel May Move West Bank Separation Barrier, Splitting Palestinian Assailant’s Village

Army considering the move after Friday’s car-ramming attack that killed two soldiers

A soldier at the Reihan assailant's home in Barta'a, March 16, 2018.
IDF spokesman

The army may recommend to the government to change the security barrier’s route in the area where a Palestinian on Friday killed two Israeli soldiers in a car-ramming attack, military sources said. If the barrier is ultimately moved it will split the village of Barta’a in two.

The attack on Friday took place near the West Bank settlement of Reihan, near Barta’a, a village that straddles the 1967 border between Israel and the West Bank. Residents on the eastern side are West Bank Palestinians, while those on the west are Arab citizens of Israel.

The attacker, Ala Rateb Abd al-Latif Kabha

At the beginning of the previous decade, when Ariel Sharon’s government belatedly built the security barrier amid the suicide bombings of the second intifada, officials were unsure where to build the barrier in the Barta’a area. They ultimately decided to put it up east of the entire village, so the West Bank Palestinian side was left on the Israeli side of the barrier.

In recent years, many Palestinians have moved there from elsewhere in the West Bank because it’s much easier to cross into Israel; no regular security checks are needed.

At the moment, the army sees a weak spot and, though it’s not related to Friday’s attack (which took place east of the security barrier in the West Bank), the army apparently seeks changes based on the government's hard line that follows terror attacks. The question of the barrier’s location will be debated shortly; defense officials already took punitive steps Friday, revoking his relatives’ Israeli work and business permits.

A map of Barta'a.
Haaretz

Preliminary findings from the investigation show that the assailant, Ala Kabha, did not show signs that he would launch an attack and did not leave hints on social media. It’s possible his decision to run over soldiers was made on the spur of the moment. He was driving in the opposite direction and then made a U-turn and rammed his car between the soldiers’ patrol jeep and a pillbox near where they were standing.

Unlike several ramming attacks, it appears that the officer and soldiers who were hit had been following security directives and were standing behind a shelter that separated them from the road. Kabha killed an officer and another soldier and wounded two other soldiers. Kabha was injured and arrested.

Kabha has a record of security offenses. In 2015, he was sentenced to two years in an Israeli prison for planning an attack at the settlement of Mevo Dotan, which is near Reihan and Barta’a. He was released about a year ago.

Israeli security forces and forensics inspect the destroyed vehicle that was used by a Palestinian assailant in a car-ramming attack in the northern West Bank, March 16, 2018.
JACK GUEZ/AFP

As far as is known so far, Kabha does not belong to a Palestinian organization, but that did not stop Hamas in Gaza from welcoming the attack and appropriating the incident as its own. Hamas also called the attack a Palestinian “gift” 100 days after U.S. President Donald Trump announced that he would move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

A series of explosives charges in Gaza

The issue of the U.S. Embassy will continue to hover. The army and Shin Bet security service are preparing for a heating-up of the situation in the territories in the coming months, which are filled with landmark dates.

March 30 is Land Day, marking the anniversary of the Israeli police’s killing of six Arabs who were protesting government land expropriations. In April Israel will be celebrating its 70th birthday, followed by the transfer of the U.S. Embassy and Nakba Day, when Palestinians remember the Arabs who fled or were expelled from their homes during Israel’s War of Independence. The period thus could be more tense than usual.

Toward the end of the month, Hamas in Gaza will be gearing up for mass processions and the setting up of tent encampments near the border fence with Israel. And at the moment, there doesn’t appear to be a breakthrough in reconciliation efforts between Hamas in Gaza and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. The drop in economic assistance to Gaza has been worsening the situation there and has put the Hamas government more on edge. On Saturday, another explosive charge was detonated – though no one was hurt – against the Israeli army at the Gaza border. It was the second such blast in two days and the fourth in recent weeks.

A map of Barta'a.

In the West Bank, efforts may be made to resume widespread demonstrations. Such a rise in tensions is generally accompanied by an increase in the number of attempted lone-wolf terror attacks – car rammings, stabbings and sometimes shootings with homemade guns by young people usually not part of any organization. The Israeli response to this is based on two main components: precise action by the security forces (with a minimum of Palestinian civilian casualties) and close security coordination with the PA.

Despite tense periods in recent years – the wave of stabbing attacks followed in July by the crisis over Israeli metal detectors at the Temple Mount – the PA has generally done its part in carrying out arrangements with Israel. The assurance of a continuation of these efforts is now becoming more difficult against the backdrop of PA succession battles and the understanding that Mahmoud Abbas’ tenure as president is nearing an end due to his age and declining health. He will be 83 at the end of this month.