No Need to Seal Off West Bank During Ramadan, Senior Israeli Cop Says

Police are not excluding the possibility that tensions such as those that sparked last year's Gaza war could repeat

Josh Breiner
Josh Breiner
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A member of Israeli security forces patrols in Jerusalem's Old City, this week.
A member of Israeli security forces patrols in Jerusalem's Old City, this week.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Josh Breiner
Josh Breiner

Police believe sealing off the West Bank is unnecessary despite the recent rise in security tensions in Israel, police operations division Sigal Bar-Zvi said Monday.

“There’s no reason for a closure,” Maj. Gen. Bar-Zvi told reporters, adding that Palestinian laborers from the West Bank should be permitted to go to their jobs inside Israel. “It’s not suitable at the moment to prevent that, certainly not against the backdrop of Ramadan,” she said referring to the Muslim holy month, which began on Saturday and has in the past been a period of heightened tensions.

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Just before Ramadan started, in late March, 11 people were killed in three terrorist attacks across Israel.

“If we'll feel that we need this stricter measure, we will ask for it,” Bar-Zvi said. “At this stage, we have not asked for a closure and there’s a consensus on the issue. A closure at the moment is not under consideration.”

The police’s main efforts over the next six weeks, a period covering not just Ramadan but also Passover, Memorial Day and Independence Day, will be directed toward what Bar-Zvi described as “public order against the backdrop of Ramadan” as well as “nationalistic crime.” This means anti-Israeli politically motivated acts, in addition to combating crime inside Israeli Arab communities.

Police in Jerusalem's Old City, Saturday.

With regard to clashes between Palestinians and police near the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City on Sunday night in which 11 Palestinians were arrested, Bar-Zvi said police had used “soft methods,” which included batons and sponge-tipped bullets.

Referring to tensions in Jerusalem in May of last year, which led to all-out war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, she said the same “triggers” remain. A sudden deterioration “would require a spark, and that’s not something over which there would necessarily be intelligence.

“Today we’re organized in a much more appropriate fashion for such a threat,” she added, having learned the lessons of last year’s war. “We’ve organized from the standpoint of equipment and know-how.”

Bar-Zvi added that in recent days, there have been instances of anti-Arab attacks on Palestinians by Jews, noting specifically an attack allegedly committed by four members of the extremist right-wing Lehava organization in Jerusalem’s Liberty Bell Park. Suspects have yet to be arrested. In another incident on Thursday, a member of the group was arrested in clashes at the Damascus Gate after about 40 Lehava members arrived at the location.

Following remarks by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett in which he called on members of the public who have firearm licenses to carry their weapons in public, Bar-Zvi said that if security forces are at the scene, members of the public should refrain from using any such weapons. Anyone carrying such a weapon assumes responsibility for its use, which must be exercised within the confines of the law after undergoing refresher training at a firing range, she said.

Police intelligence

The head of the intelligence branch of the Israel Police, Brig. Gen. Kobi Zrihan, said the police had received a number of alerts, some of which pertained to potential lone-wolf attackers. “These warnings are very dynamic,” he said, adding that there are also alerts that relate to more generalized possible hostile intent.

Hamas is seeking to be seen as the dominant Palestinian player “defending Jerusalem and the security prisoners,” he said, “as well as constituting the central voice of Israeli Arabs via the northern branch of the Islamic Movement.”

Zrihan said that Ramadan is a focal point of unrest and violent rhetoric every year due to "nationalist and religious feelings, and this religious fervor and other triggers that always exist are what create a high peak of disturbances of the peace.”

Past security-related incidents, such as the events leading up to last year’s war or the unrest in the Arab community in October 2020, are spontaneous, Zrihan said, but they are related to what he described as the general atmosphere. Even now, he said, the police are not excluding the possibility that events such as last May’s could repeat, “given the right trigger.”

Zrihan mentioned, for example, a scenario in which a West Bank Jewish settler "loses it as Baruch Goldstein did in 1994 in a killing spree against Palestinians at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron."

There is no chance that the police would receive advance intelligence about an isolated incident committed by a lone attacker acting spontaneously, Zrihan admitted. “Therefore, we are prepared in advance on the ground in places where our assessment is that such incidents could occur.”

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