Jerusalem Terror Attack Conjures Up Deja Vu of Second Intifada

Monday's bus blast reignites some of Israel's worst fears, though the scene was notably different than those witnessed during the early 2000s. Despite a recent decrease in attacks, the wave of violence has not ended.

Israeli security forces and emergency services gather around a burnt-out bus following an attack, Jerusalem, Israel, April 18, 2016.
Thomas Coex, AFP

Burned-out buses by the side of the road surrounded by medics, police and firefighters - sirens wailing in the background. That is the ultimate Jerusalem nightmare. Fifteen years have passed since these scenes were repeating themselves on a weekly basis. Veteran firefighters and medics were standing around the buses Monday and remembering those days, pointing out differences between now and then. 

With all the similarities, it is important to notice the differences. One of the clearest signs of the terror attacks on buses in those days was the vehicles' roofs – ripped off by the blast, and parts of the bus that had been hurled great distances. On Monday, the scene looked different. There was broken glass as much as 15 meters away and here and there pieces of plastic, but the frame of the bus was intact. Only the rear showed signs of the blast. 

That is why in the first hour after the explosion the police and firefighters thought it was the result of some mechanical failure. Only after examining the remains close up, and when it was understood that some of the passengers had suffered blast-related injuries and not only burns, did responders realize that a small explosive device had blown up in the back of the bus.

The differences in the size of the explosion in the black days of the intifada and Monday's blast also almost certainly indicate the type of entity responsible for it. At this point it can be assumed that it is not a sophisticated terror cell including an engineering brain and an infrastructure for producing and smuggling the device. Rather, it seems to be a local cell, perhaps Jerusalemites. 

Either way, one attack without fatalities is not likely to shake up the lives of Jerusalemites. But it might indicate that contrary to hopes, the wave of violence has not ended.

The past three weeks have seen a significant decline in the wave of stabbings in Jerusalem. Looking back, we can explain how the wave of violence started. We can recall the ascent of politicians to the Temple Mount and the decision to ban the Muslim women’s group, the Murabitat, from the compound. But no one can explain the dissipation of the energy that had pushed young Palestinian boys and girls to perpetrate stabbings in the Damascus Gate plaza or the Old City’s Hagai Street. 

Last Thursday three 12-year-old Palestinian boys were caught in the Old City with knives in their bags. One of them even had a farewell letter he wrote his parents, but it had been three weeks without a single attack. 

Things began to calm down right after an escalation in the kind of weapon used; makeshift Carlo guns popped up in three attacks in Jerusalem in a short period. Even the daily clashes between stone-throwing of Palestinian teens and the Border Police in the Shoafat refugee camp had almost stopped.

Early yesterday evening a few hundred people gathered at Mount Scopus for the annual Temple Mount activists' event, during which a Passover lamb is slaughtered and cooked as an “illustration and practice of the Passover sacrifice.” After the politicians’ speeches (for the first time ever, a sitting member of the Knesset, Miki Cohen of Likud, took part in the event), singing and playing of silver trumpets, and a moment before the knife was brandished over the Pascal lamb, one could see that in the southern part of Jerusalem, behind the trumpeters, smoke was billowing. Phones began to ring and journalists left hurriedly for the scene of the bombing.

Passover is the holiday of the Temple organizations; the practice event four days before seder night and the attempt by Kach Party man Noam Federman just hours before the seder to bring a young goat in the trunk of his car to the Temple Mount are part and parcel of the holiday ceremonies. The scenario the police fear is increased tension around the Temple Mount that will pour oil on the fires of violence. Monday's attack shows that the embers are still glowing.