Jerusalem's Terror Wave Likely to Get Worse as Tensions Simmer

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Border Police officers patroling a street following a Palestinian stabbing attack near the Herod's Gate entrance to the Old City of Jerusalem, September 19, 2016.
Border Police officers patroling a street following a Palestinian stabbing attack near the Herod's Gate entrance to the Old City of Jerusalem, September 19, 2016.Credit: Menahem Kahana/AFP

It’s déjà vu all over again. As soon as Israeli leaders boast about suppressing terror and restoring quiet, the reality blows up in their faces. Just three days ago, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat asserted that the latest terror wave was over. Since then, there have been four attacks in his city, one after the other. The most serious occurred at Herod’s Gate in the Old City on Monday morning, when two police officers on their way into work were stabbed and hurt, one of them seriously.

A year ago, as Alexander Levlovich was driving home on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, youths from Tzur Baher threw rocks at his car, causing him to lose control and crash into a pole. This marked the start of the 2015-2016 terror wave. Two weeks later, Eitam and Naama Henkin were murdered in the West Bank and the day after, Nehemia Lavi and Aharon Bennett were murdered in Jerusalem’s Old City.

Dozens of stabbing attacks followed in the ensuing months, peaking with four attempts in a single day. On October 13, two terrorists from Jabal Mukkaber assaulted bus passengers in Armon Hanatziv, brutally killing three of them while, at the very same time, an assailant from the same village deliberately ran down and killed someone on the other side of the city.

Things began to calm down around Pesach in April, and the summer was relatively quiet, although there were sporadic attacks. The Ramadan and Tisha B’Av holidays passed with relative calm, and in recent weeks the decision makers started feeling like they could congratulate themselves for a job well done.

Foremost among them was Mayor Nir Barkat, who in countless tours of the city — and in meetings with Likud activists — boasted repeatedly of his success in quelling the terror. Two weeks ago, he explained at length how the combination of collective punishment (checkpoints) and administrative punishment (fines and closer inspection on municipal matters for families whose sons are suspected of causing disturbances or involvement in terror) had produced calm.

“We sat down with the Shin Bet security service and the police, and we developed models that don’t exist anywhere else, and we are very satisfied,” said Barkat.

It’s quite possible that the moves Barkat so proudly points to did lead to a reduction in the popular violence emanating from some neighborhoods. But that doesn’t make them legal or moral. But it’s more likely that the calm is due to a number of measures the government has taken regarding the Temple Mount: Not putting collective restrictions on Muslims’ access to the site; preventing MKs from going there; and slightly limiting access for Jewish visitors. All of these moves were agreed between Israel and Jordan, with U.S. mediation.

It’s hard to pinpoint just what is prompting the latest wave of young assailants with knives. Last week, during the Id al-Adha holiday, the tension was palpable over access to Al-Aqsa Mosque. On the day before the holiday, and contrary to previous years, Jews were permitted to visit the Temple Mount. The same occurred during the last days of Ramadan. Last Friday, tensions were heightened when groups of Muslim worshippers were blocked on their way to the Temple Mount.

Then there’s the tension between the Waqf (Muslim religious trust) and the authorities concerning renovation work the Islamic Council wants to do around the Temple Mount.

Also last week, a family living in the building adjacent to Herod’s Gate was evicted by the Ateret Cohanim group, the last step in a strategic move by the settler organization to take over a large building in the Muslim quarter. Yesterday’s attack took place adjacent to that building.

The tension surrounding the Temple Mount is largely artificial and fueled by extremists who whip up emotions over Israel’s alleged desire to alter the status quo there. But the Palestinians’ distrust of the Netanyahu government is fertile ground for such accusations to thrive. Clearly, there is also a copycat element and desire for revenge coming into play.

The real concern is that we’re approaching what could be a very tense and troubling time, with the Jewish High Holy Days in October. The decision makers need to understand that they are dealing with an irrational reality in which an imagined, collective sense of threat is more powerful than any reality. Meanwhile, they ought to at least refrain from patting themselves on the back.

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