Today, April 1, at the six-month mark of the current round of violence, the Israel Defense Forces sees a decline in the number of attacks, most of which take place on weekends.
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Figures from last month have not yet been tallied, but according to a security source, March saw fewer attacks than the 155 in February.
In October, when the “wave of terror,” as the IDF calls it, began, there were 620 attacks in the West Bank, Jerusalem, within the Green Line and around the Gaza Strip. This also counts incendiary devices.
In conversations over the past few weeks with officers serving in the West Bank, the latter have tried to explain why the phenomenon that IDF Central Command calls a “limited popular uprising” is not an intifada of the type seen in the late 1980s and early 2000s.
One difference is that there is still freedom of movement in the West Bank; a Palestinian who wants to go from the northern West Bank city of Jenin to Ramallah, north of Jerusalem, can do so without passing through IDF checkpoints. Even when access to villages or towns was ostensibly cut off – on instructions from the politicians and not always in agreement with officers in the field – these were temporary and incomplete. “It’s not the cut-off of the intifadas. It’s a check, a checkpoint,” one officer said.
Far fewer brigades are deployed in the territories this time. Today, an army officer said, there are 26 or 27 brigades in the West Bank, whereas in the intifada, that number was as high as 80. “Then, there were brigades that saw 11 months of duty out of a year. We are not there yet,” the officer said.
The IDF also says that in the current wave, clearly institutionalized acts of terror cannot be seen, nor are the refugee camps heavily involved.
Officers also point out that cooperation with the Palestinian Authority security services is still strong – some say more so than in the 1990s under the Oslo Accord. On the other hand, “it could get worse,” a senior officer said.
The incident last week in which a soldier shot and killed a Palestinian terrorist already wounded and lying on the ground in Hebron has once again raised the issue of rules of engagement.
According to IDF directives, before soldiers begin operations in the West Bank, they are tested in writing on their knowledge of instructions for opening fire and simulations are conducted. “If their life is in danger – there’s no dilemma. That is the basis for the rules for opening fire. They are clear down below, I don’t think there’s a gray area,” an infantry brigade commander said, speaking before the Hebron incident.
The officer added: “I’m sure not everyone agrees with them [the rules for opening fire] and that is fine. There is tension here. We must kill whom we must, and avoid hundreds of thousands of innocents, who live peacefully, or not peacefully, in the region.”
The officer said knife attacks are particularly hard to cope with. “You don’t see a terrorist in a uniform. It’s a teenage boy or girl or a woman, usually with a knife right in front of you,” the officer said. "On the one hand, you have to act fast, and on the other, not get hurt and not kill your comrade, and all this with a few bullets, not go wild, because we must be professional.”
According to Shin Bet security service figures, more than 50 percent of the perpetrators of these attacks are under the age of 20, and 12 percent are women.