Analysis

Why the Latest Palestinian Attacker in Jerusalem Was Not Deterred

Fadi al-Qanbar knew all the consequences of his actions - he'd seen it many times before - but the Palestinians see Israeli retaliations as a natural part of the general policy toward them, not as a response.

Israeli Zaka volunteers examine a body of one of the four Israeli soldiers killed when a Palestinian truck driver ran into the group at the Jerusalem promenade on January 8, 2017.
A Palestinian rammed a truck into a group of Israeli soldiers visiting a popular tourist spot in Jerusalem, killing four and wounding at least 15 people, authorities said.
GALI TIBBON/AFP

Whether Fadi al-Qanbar planned Sunday’s ramming attack in Jerusalem or whether it was a spur-of-the-moment decision, he knew exactly what collective punishment was in store for his family.

He knew that his body would not be returned to the family for burial – a particularly humiliating and painful blow. He knew that relatives would be arrested immediately and be beaten while in detention. That some might be fired from their jobs in West Jerusalem. And that female relatives without Israeli identity cards who are married to Jerusalem residents might find themselves expelled from their homes and separated from their children. He knew that for months, and perhaps years, his family would be harassed by the police and state authorities. He also knew that the family home would be demolished. All this has happened to other Palestinian attackers from East Jerusalem.

In his neighborhood of Jabal Mukkaber alone, in the last six months of 2015 Israel destroyed three homes and sealed two others. All of them belonged to families of terrorists. “Sealing” means pouring concrete into the home up to only a few centimeters below the ceiling.

According to Hamoked – the Center for the Defense of the Individual, between July 2014 and the end of December 2016, Israel demolished 35 Palestinian homes and sealed another seven; of these, six and four, respectively, were in East Jerusalem.

The fact that the parents, children, grandparents, nieces and nephews who lost their homes had nothing to do with the attack is irrelevant. Israel and its Supreme Court justices see demolition as a legitimate punishment and effective deterrent against those considering a terror attack.

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What’s more, Qanbar surely knew that his children would not only suffer the loss of their father, they would become either violent or withdrawn – and if they are of school age, their grades would suffer, as would their health. Yet he was not deterred.

The deterrence that failed

Analysts and politicians found all kinds of reasons that deterrence failed in Qanbar’s case: the Islamic State group; copycat attack; being a former prisoner (an apparently false claim made by Hamas that Israelis hastened to adopt), and Palestinian Authority incitement regarding the possible move of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. As usual, the explanations are misguided and misplaced.

A group of soldiers in uniform is not a neutral sight to any Palestinian. That’s the look and dress of those who burst into dozens of Palestinian homes every night, those who shoot women and minors to death at checkpoints, those who are sent to attack in the Gaza Strip, and who accompany Civil Administration forces to destroy water cisterns, portable toilets, tin shacks and tents. That Israelis have erased these facts from their agenda doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

Israelis will no doubt say that without the deterrent steps, the number of Palestinian attackers would be higher. Or the opposite – that there should be further crackdowns. The Palestinians, however, see Israeli retaliations as a natural part of the general policy toward them, not as a response. When Israel isn’t demolishing as a punitive measure, it’s destroying by not permitting construction and development. When it’s not arresting people for lethal attacks or allegedly planning them, it arrests children to try to choke off the popular struggle. With or without lethal attacks, it expands settlements, strangles the Palestinian economy, and plans forced expulsions of Palestinians from villages and homes in Jerusalem.

So the reasons that these privatized, unorganized disturbances aren’t morphing into a broader uprising will not be found in Israel’s inherent ability to cause ever-increasing pain. As much as Hamas tries to tout this attack as proof that the “Jerusalem intifada” hasn’t died, it’s clear that the wider public isn’t interested in that. Despite geographical and social dispersion, and weak, quarreling leaders, there is the political maturity of the Palestinian public, which knows that an uprising is inevitable but that it must wait for a more appropriate time.