The Israel Defense Forces and the Shin Bet security service were still searching Sunday night for the person or persons who shot and injured three yeshiva students in the West Bank Sunday afternoon.
A male assailant, presumably a Palestinian man, reportedly got out of a car and fired from close range at a hitchhiking station guarded by Givati Brigade soldiers. Other reports say the shots were fired from a moving car.
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The reasonable assumption is that the gunman was working alone, but the authorities are checking whether someone else may have been in the car. An initial investigation determined that the shots were probably from a pistol.
In most attacks of this kind in the past few years, the perpetrator is apprehended fairly quickly. Tapuah is a busy intersection with security cameras that generally allow for the rapid identification of passing vehicles and their escape routes. The security forces assume that the gunman could shoot again, while being pursued, and might fire at his pursuers.
Earlier Sunday, Israeli soldiers shot a 60-year-old Palestinian woman after she approached them carrying a knife at the Gush Etzion junction. She died from her injuries Sunday evening. Palestinians said that the woman suffered from depression and was in debt.
“Suicide by IDF” is a known phenomenon. The soldiers shot into the air before firing at her, but we can only ask whether she could have been stopped in a manner that did not end in her death.
These incidents came at a particularly sensitive time in the territories, during the holy month of Ramadan and following unrest in Jerusalem. The friction around the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City has subsided, after the Israel Police took down the new barriers it had set up there, but the atmosphere in the city is still tense.
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A new source of tension involves Israel’s intent to destroy Palestinian homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, which is raising widespread protest throughout the city. At the moment, the High Court of Justice has postponed the decision on whether the homes will be destroyed until Thursday at least.
The next two weeks will be full of tense days for political and religious reasons: Qadr Night toward the end of Ramadan, Nakba Day and the Jewish festival of Shavuot are all coming up. The IDF hopes that despite these past few incidents and the tension in Jerusalem, a wave of copycat attacks will not pop up in the West Bank over the last few days of Ramadan.
The events in the West Bank and Jerusalem are not affecting events in the Gaza Strip. Hamas’ anger over Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ postponement of the Palestinian parliamentary election scheduled for May 22 did not manifest in violence against Israel. It appears that Hamas is reluctant to incite tensions in the sector of society that it is responsible for, while it has no problem kindling the tensions in the West Bank, which falls partially under the rule of their rivals in the Palestinian Authority.
The disaster at Mount Meron Thursday night, mere hours after Abbas’ announcement, surely did affect Gaza. Hamas will not deliberately provoke Israel while it buries its dead from a mass tragedy, out of fear that it would encourage a harsh reaction from the Israeli military.
This week, the Strip is expecting a visit from the Qatari envoy Mohammed Al-Emadi, with its monthly financial aid. This is another reason not to rock the boat in the Strip.
And still, Abbas’ announcement contributes to the general air of instability. Even though the PA tried to divert blame to Israel, which refused to respond to the request to allow voting in East Jerusalem, the cancellation stems primarily from Fatah’s fear of direct competition with Hamas. The Islamic institution now has a clear interest in exacerbating the situation in the West Bank, in hopes of disturbing the relationship between the Palestinian Authority and Israel. The PA, for its part, is passing on the message through Israeli military channels that it intends to restore calm.
The final decision will be made on the ground: How many Palestinians, Hamas activists or lone wolves with no organizational affiliation, will choose to carry out copycat attacks, like those which have been seen in recent days? If the IDF can maintain vigilance and respond effectively, it may still be possible to stop this wave in its infancy.