The fatal attack in Otniel on Sunday night, like Monday morning’s attempted murder in Tekoa, emphasizes just how far Israel and the Palestinians still are from the end of this “intifada of lone wolves.”
That said, it is clear that over recent weeks there has been a decline in the number of stabbing and car ramming attacks, along with riots and even Friday protests.
Only three months ago, those thousands-strong protests had the potential to set the whole West Bank ablaze. But in more recent days, only a few hundred people have been participating in the rallies, partly because of the Palestinian Authority’s more energetic efforts to quell them. And yet, despite the relative slowdown, this week’s attacks show that the wave of violence is not coming to an end.
The limited “success” of the stabbing attacks and the absence of any change in the situation on the ground should have led to a lowering of motivation to carry out attacks, and it is certainly possible that there has been such a decline among some young people.
The problem, however, demonstrated clearly by the events of the last three days, is that there are still enough young people with the will to go out and kill Jews, and potentially die in the process, and apparently their reasons for doing so will not change in the foreseeable future.
The most recent attacks also illustrate the copycat effect in the current intifada. In other words, the motivation does not stem only from nationalist or religious factors; it comes, more than anything else, from social influences: The “success” of one terrorist in the Otniel attack on Sunday provided inspiration to another young Palestinian from Bethlehem to carry out a similar attack hours later.
Whereas in the past, the Temple Mount and its Al-Aqsa Mosque provided the reason for the attacks, the significant drivers today are revenge and the desire to belong socially to one community or another, to be “cool.”
While in Israel or other Western democracies, young people listen to a particular rock band or are fans of certain TV programs, the carrying out of an attack turns some young Palestinian perpetrators into “heroes of the moment” among some in their social circles.
This can also explain the fact that nearly a third of the attacks are concentrated in the Hebron area, where ties to clan, family, friends, mosque or village play a significant role in the way youngsters are inspired to go out and attack. In other words, it isn’t only about Facebook or social networks; it’s about incitement that’s often spread by word of mouth, between members of a mosque or school, between neighbors and, above all, within a family. The death of one of them will almost always bring in its wake another attempted attack by a relative or a friend.
Until now, these copycat attacks have mostly been relegated to stabbings and car rammings. But should Hamas go through with its reported decision to renew suicide bombings and ramp up the number of shootings, all it may take is one especially devastating mass-casualty attack for the knife to be replaced by a Kalashnikov rifle or an explosive belt as the symbol of the struggle.
Hamas knows that only one successful suicide attack within the Green Line is all it will take to sever the last tattered remnants of the ties between the Palestinian Authority and Israel, including security coordination.
Such an attack would bring severe Israeli punitive steps against the authority, weakening it even more, while catapulting the already popular Hamas to a more prominent position in the West Bank.