Hamza Abu al-Haija was a Hamas operative well known to the security forces; he was a suspect in a number of terror attacks and in the planning of others. Security officials who failed to arrest him three months ago called him a “ticking bomb” after he was killed Friday night.
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The operation, which integrated police SWAT teams, the Shin Bet security service and the Israel Defense Forces, was meant to end in his arrest. Instead, it killed him and two other Palestinians, while seven Palestinians were wounded and two policemen were lightly wounded.
The reaction of the Palestinian street to violent incidents with many casualties could prove dangerous. A successful pinpoint operation could extract a heavy political and security price, since military operations don’t take place in a vacuum. The West Bank is restless because of the economic woes, disappointment with the Palestinian Authority’s performance and a lack of results from the peace talks.
Against this background, it’s no wonder that during Friday’s operation dozens of Palestinian youths threw firebombs and stones after surrounding the home where Haija had barricaded himself. Nor is it a surprise that during the funerals the next day Hamas and Islamic Jihad operatives called for revenge against Israel, or that in demonstrations and marches people called on PA President Mahmoud Abbas to break off the talks with Israel.
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said the operation "was an important thwarting of a planned terror attack aimed at Israeli targets.” He called it a preventive measure that saved lives.
But the explanations provided by the security forces and the minister responsible for them don’t exempt them from investigating how the incident turned into a killing field. Retroactive validation of assassinations or “preventive measures,” in Ya’alon’s whitewashed language, could lead to the indiscriminate killing of Palestinians and a violent flare-up in response. That’s what happened Friday night in Jenin.
Along with concerns about unnecessary killings, it’s important to understand that with no serious progress being made in the peace talks, one small killing field is liable to become an all-out battlefield. Both the Israelis and the Palestinians have extremists bent on ruining the talks; for them, events like the one in Jenin prove there’s no point in any agreement.
The Israeli government and the PA must stop playing into the hands of these extremists. When things are tense, it’s better to act with restraint and patience.