Analysis |

ISIS Attack Theory Suits Netanyahu Well, but Jerusalem Is Not Berlin

Jerusalem has not had a calm day in years but Trump's plans for Israel's capital could only add fuel to the fire.

Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson
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 Israeli Border Police on patrol in East Jerusalem's Jabal Mukkaber neighborhood following the terror attack on soldiers, Jan. 8, 2017.
Israeli Border Police on patrol in East Jerusalem's Jabal Mukkaber neighborhood following the terror attack on soldiers, Jan. 8, 2017. Credit: רויטרס
Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson

Jabal Mukkaber, a neglected and hilly village in East Jerusalem, holds the local and perhaps national record for the highest per capita number of murderers.

It was from there that Ghassan and Udai Abu Jamal set out in November 18, 2014, armed with axes and a butcher's knife, to perpetrate the attack at the synagogue in the city's Har Nof neighborhood, killing five worshipers and a policeman. It was from there that Bilal Abu-Ghanem and Bahaa Alian, armed with knives and a pistol, set out on October 13, 2015 and murdered three passengers on a bus in Armon Hanatziv, not far from Sunday’s attack on a group of soldiers near the promenade. On that same day in 2015, another resident of the same neighborhood, Alaa Abu Jamal, ran over Yeshayahu Krishevsky in West Jerusalem.

>> Jerusalem attack: Why the latest Palestinian attacker in Jerusalem was not deterred | Analysis <<

As with the synagogue attack over two years ago, it was also hard to ignore the fact that the terrorists from Jabal Mukkaber may well have drawn their inspiration on Sunday from the terrorists of the Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL). One can assume that in 2014 they were inspired by the videos of the militant Islamic group's executions in Syria, but Sunday one couldn’t ignore the similarity between the attack that day and the recent bloody truck-ramming attacks in the Christmas market in Berlin and on the promenade in Nice.

Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Lieberman visit the scene of the truck-ramming in Jerusalem, January 8, 2017.Credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS

The theory that the Armon Hanatziv terrorist, Fadi al-Qanbar, was more influenced by ISIS than by Palestinian organizations is strengthened by the fact that, according to his family, Qanbar had never been arrested, never belonged to any organization and was not politically active. His neighbors also claimed that he wasn’t particularly religious, but the beard in photos of him seem to indicate that he'd become more involved with Islam. The type of beard hints at belief in Salafist Islam, the faith espoused by ISIS.

One can thus come up with two scenarios related to the Sunday attack: One is that Qanbar took the truck and set out deliberately to perpetrate a violent act; the second is that as he drove on the road leading out of his village, he noticed the soldiers standing near the curb at the promenade and made a snap decision to plow into them.

After visiting the scene of the attack later in the day, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu added credence to the claim that Qanbar had been influenced by ISIS. “We know the identity of the attacker, and by all signs he was an ISIS supporter,” he said.

As far as the prime minister is concerned, the ISIS theory is well suited to the message he tried to convey – which is that Jerusalem, like Berlin and Nice, is just another western city dealing with brutal, uncompromising terror committed by global Islamic operatives. As per this message, this force of absolute evil has no motive or rationale, and has nothing to do with the occupation or any other Israeli policy. But in the same sentence in which he blamed ISIS, Netanyahu also highlighted the differences between Jerusalem and Berlin.

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 peopleCredit: MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP

“We’ve imposed a closure on Jabal Mukkaber, the neighborhood [the terrorist] came from,” he said Sunday. However, as of this writing, said closure has not been imposed and the entrances to the community are still open. But this remark, which could not have been made by the authorities in Berlin or Nice, exposes the difference between the three cities.

Jerusalem is not Nice, and not just because it has no seashore. Nice doesn’t have 40 percent of its residents living without civil rights, under occupation and in humiliating living conditions. In Nice a prime minister doesn’t announce the closure of a neighborhood that’s home to tens of thousands of people just because one of them was a terrorist. Even Sunday's attack was indeed inspired by ISIS, it still originated in Jerusalem and is part of the unending series of attacks the city has suffered over the past two-and-a-half years.

Since the wave of attacks began in the city, during the summer of 2014, Jerusalem has not known a single day of calm. Some days have been quieter than others, but each brings any one of a number of types of events: violent protests, rock throwing and firebombs, vehicular or stabbing attacks, nightly arrests raids, closures and curfews, and daily harassment of Palestinians. On most days, there is more than one such incident.

Sunday's attack was one of the most deadliest and difficult in recent history – both in terms of the death toll but also in terms of the image of soldiers fleeing the truck in terror. Past experience teaches us that a so-called “successful” attack like this will lead to copy cat acts. Unfortunately, due to the "lone wolf" nature of vehicular attacks, they are almost impossible to thwart in advance.

No far from the scene of the deadly attack is the site slated to house the new U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem. As January 20 approaches, so do the chances of the embassy being relocated there. Such a move could well add a little more fuel to the fire that has been burning in the city for over two and a half years.

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