The Shin Bet security service and the IDF arrested some 200 Palestinians across the West Bank in the two weeks ahead of this week’s start of Ramadan, security sources told The Times of Israel on Thursday.
The detentions netted suspects allegedly involved in a wave of terrorism and disturbances in the West Bank late last year and in the early months of 2013, the sources said.
The arrests were made in recent days in order to preempt a feared upsurge in disturbances during the often-sensitive Ramadan period, the sources said. The security establishment was also seeking to avoid the need to make arrests during Ramadan itself, for fear of friction and outbursts of violence.
Palestinian human rights sources said, however, that some of those who were arrested were activists who had no involvement in disturbances, but who had taken part in peaceful demonstrations and non-violent activism. Two brothers arrested in Bil’in, for instance, the Palestinian sources claimed, had merely been photographing demonstrations in the village, where protests against the security barrier are commonplace.
The past two months have seen at least a 50 percent fall in disturbances and stone-throwing in the West Bank, the Israeli sources said, compared to the previous two months. This was attributed in part to the arrests, but there has also been a marked decline in motivation within the Palestinian public for confrontations with the IDF, security sources said, possibly because of ongoing American efforts to restart peace talks. Furthermore, Israel’s transfer to the Palestinian Authority of tax revenues has eased economic conditions in the West Bank somewhat.
This month is expected to see an loosening of some Israeli restrictions in the West Bank, the sources said, including the possible granting of tens of thousands of entry permits for Palestinians to Israel, and the re-opening of two major roads that have been closed for several years. One of these roads runs from Jelazoun refugee camp north of Ramallah to Wadi Hermiah, easing movement between Ramallah and Nablus.
A senior IDF officer, in a meeting with settler leaders on Wednesday, also spoke of a dramatic decrease in the number of attacks by Palestinians against Israelis in the West Bank. OC Central Command Maj.-Gen. Nitzan Alon credited “intensified IDF action and improved cooperation with the Palestinian security forces” for what he said was a two-thirds decline in the number of attacks over the past two months, Maariv reported.
Wednesday’s meeting with the settler leaders was a follow-up to a similar gathering that took place in the Knesset in March amid a wave of violence so severe that it had some in the security establishment predicting the start of a third Palestinian intifada (popular uprising). At the height of the tension, there were reports of as many as 200 attacks a day, mostly rock-throwing incidents and Molotov cocktail attacks.
The upsurge, which began at around the time Israel launched Operation Pillar of Defense in Gaza, in mid-November 2012, carried on into the winter and spring with dozens of attacks on Israeli vehicles, road closures and violent protests.
That situation, in which settlers were afraid to leave their homes, Alon said, led the army to intensify its efforts at maintaining security and resulted in a crackdown on any displays of violence by the Palestinians.
According to the data Alon presented to the settler leaders in attendance, including West Bank local council heads and Yesha Council chairman Avi Roeh, the past two months have seen a 64% decline in Molotov cocktail-throwing incidents — from 79 in March to just 29 in June — and a nearly 70% drop in rock-throwing incidents.
Alon also referred to a major arrest spree by the IDF in cooperation with the Shin Bet, who were able to identify the perpetrators of the attacks. Alon also cited increased military presence in known West Bank “hot spots” and improved cooperation with the Palestinian Authority security forces.
The settler leaders told Alon that they could tell there was an improvement in the security situation, thanked the IDF for its efforts and expressed hope that the trend would last.