For the Palestinians in the West Bank, It’s an Exception, Not a ‘Terror Wave’

While the Palestinian public understands the attackers’ motives, the vast majority does not choose this path, which does not advance their cause, and has reservations about targeting civilians. But condemnation? Let Israelis first condemn the violence they exercise against Palestinians

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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A woman walks past Israeli Border Police in Jerusalem's Old City on Friday.
A woman walks past Israeli Border Police in Jerusalem's Old City on Friday.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Amira Hass
Amira Hass

The three acts of murder-suicide perpetrated by four Palestinians — from both sides of the Green Line — in less than two weeks only highlight the absence of a leading political Palestinian body, employing a single, clear and unifying strategy. The attacks reflect internal divisions and the painful awareness of Palestinian weakness and inability to act in the face of Israel’s might. On the other hand, the fact that so few choose this route, despite its availability, indicates a broader political understanding that such attacks do not further the Palestinian cause.

The vast majority is voting with its feet: it knows that individual wolf attacks driven by despair or revenge have not, are not and will not achieve a thing. They won’t change the balance of power. The Palestinian public in the West Bank understands this without being thus directed from above, without open public discourse on the topic and while its political organizations, mainly those of the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian Authority, are at their lowest point in terms of power and public confidence — and are in conflict and competition with one another more than ever before.

Every Palestinian, on both sides of the Green Line, has many reasons to wish that Israelis feel pain, because it's they and not only their government that are responsible for the Palestinians' predicament. It’s likely that this was the desire of the four suicide-murderers — regardless of their background, family circumstances or individual character. Israelis immediately know, since there is an entire apparatus disseminating such information, which attacker had been arrested previously, after which attack candy were handed out and next to which assailant’s house young people celebrated (with total disrespect for the family’s pain). But Israelis, on the whole, are not interested in the extent to which Israel, and they themselves, as its citizens, constantly and for many decades have been harming Palestinians, as individuals and as a people.

This huge gap between specific knowledge and willful lack of knowledge is sufficient to explain why the Palestinian public in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip is indifferent to the recent attacks by individuals, whether committed by Israeli citizens or West Bank residents, and is not obeying Israeli demands to condemn the murders. What is noteworthy is not that the attackers have escaped the Shin Bet's attention, but that despite their understanding for the assailants’ motives, the vast majority of Palestinians do not choose to take this route.

Thousands of Palestinians without a work permit openly enter Israel every day through the multiple gaps in the separation fence. This has been going on for years, with the full knowledge of the army and police. As everyone knows, there are ample weapons and ammunition among the Palestinians in Israel and the West Bank. These two facts could have engendered many more revenge attacks by individuals that could not be discovered in advance, both by Palestinian citizens of Israel and by West Bank residents. Even if copycats crop up in the coming weeks, like the screwdriver attack on Thursday, for Palestinians, the number of these attacks pales in comparison to the extent of the injustice Israel inflicts on them, and its systematic nature.

Every Palestinian has good reason to desire cracking the false normalcy enjoyed by Jewish citizens, who by and large ignore the fact that their state is acting tirelessly, day and night, to dispossess more Palestinians from their lands and their collective, historical rights as a people and society. In order to achieve this goal, Israel maintains a continuous regime of oppression. This includes bureaucratic violence such as prohibitions on construction, development and movement that discriminate against Palestinians in favor of Jews, in the Negev, the Galilee and the West Bank; and disciplinary violence through surveillance, nighttime raids and arrests; and physical violence such as torture during interrogation and detention, regular attacks by settlers, and injury and death at the hands of mainly soldiers and policemen, but also at the hands of Israeli civilians. The fact that the perpetrators are the state, its institutions and citizens, does not make this violence acceptable, legitimate or justified in the eyes of the Palestinians, who comprise half of the population living between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean.

On the contrary. The meticulously planned nature of this violence and the countless numbers of Israelis who take part in it gives Palestinians a different sense of proportion when violent action is taken by their compatriots. What is considered a “wave of terror” by Israeli Jews is viewed by Palestinians as an exception, consisting of a few young men who’ve become fed up with the helplessness of everyone, including themselves, choosing to kill and die instead. Many more young men get addicted to painkillers and other drugs for the same reasons, or follow their dreams and emigrate.

In private conversations, Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza express sorrow over the death of civilians. It seems that knife attacks and the murder of women and older people, as happened in Be’er Sheva, are more shocking than gunfire aimed at passersby, which includes policemen and soldiers in uniform. Some people emphasize the fact that the assailants in Hadera fired only at Border Policer officers and, according to Israeli witnesses, deliberately avoided firing at women and children. In one report in Arabic, this distinction between uniformed people and civilians is attributed — by mistake or on purpose, who can tell — to the assailant in Bnei Brak, even though he fired indiscriminately at civilians.

For various reasons, the sorrow and personal reservations are not translated into public condemnation (except by Mahmoud Abbas, who is so unpopular that his opinion doesn’t count). First, it’s because “lone wolf” attacks do not represent the general public, which is not responsible for them, but also because the use of weapons has an aura of sanctity and historical legitimacy that is hard to shake off. Second, it stems from instinctive compassion for a Palestinian who chose to be killed. Third, there is no public condemnation by Israel after every act of violence by the state or by official or private elements against Palestinians. A Palestinian condemnation appears like a nearly collaborationist disregard of the so very unequal balance of power.

The veneer of Israeli normalcy may have cracked for a few days, expressed as hysteria and fear stoked by Israeli media and Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah, who praise these attacks for their political utilitarian reasons. Stemming from a wish not to offend the families of the attackers who were killed, even people who are aware of the futility and ineffectiveness of such acts of despair and revenge do not state this publicly. Attacks by settlers and the army and right-wing incitement against all Arabs perpetrated immediately after the lone-wolf attacks have caught people’s attention, in any case.

Despite the traditional emotional support for armed resistance, the vast majority knows that for now, even if this struggle resumes (and not just by individuals), and even if it’s better planned than its precedent in the second intifada, it cannot vanquish Israel or improve the lot of the Palestinians. Just like diplomacy, the BDS movement and the bleeding demonstrations in Beita and Kafr Qaddum did not and are not succeeding in blocking the consistent, daily Jewish-Israeli takeover of space and expulsion of the Palestinians from it as they are pushed into overcrowded enclaves that can be cut off in a moment by a handful of soldiers.

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