Does the Jerusalem terror attack signal a new uprising?
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Analysis

Does the Jerusalem terror attack signal a new uprising?

Sunday's shooting revealed a subtle but important shift in Palestinian discourse, and suggests that the recent period of relative calm may be ending

Avi Issacharoff

Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel's Middle East analyst, fills the same role for Walla, the leading portal in Israel. He is also a guest commentator on many different radio shows and current affairs programs on television. Until 2012, he was a reporter and commentator on Arab affairs for the Haaretz newspaper. He also lectures on modern Palestinian history at Tel Aviv University, and is currently writing a script for an action-drama series for the Israeli satellite Television "YES." Born in Jerusalem, he graduated cum laude from Ben Gurion University with a B.A. in Middle Eastern studies and then earned his M.A. from Tel Aviv University on the same subject, also cum laude. A fluent Arabic speaker, Avi was the Middle East Affairs correspondent for Israeli Public Radio covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq and the Arab countries between the years 2003-2006. Avi directed and edited short documentary films on Israeli television programs dealing with the Middle East. In 2002 he won the "best reporter" award for the "Israel Radio” for his coverage of the second intifada. In 2004, together with Amos Harel, he wrote "The Seventh War - How we won and why we lost the war with the Palestinians." A year later the book won an award from the Institute for Strategic Studies for containing the best research on security affairs in Israel. In 2008, Issacharoff and Harel published their second book, entitled "34 Days - The Story of the Second Lebanon War," which won the same prize.

Israeli police secure the scene where a car driven by a Palestinian terrorist was intercepted by the police and the gunman shot dead in Jerusalem Sunday, Oct. 9, 2016. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)
Israeli police secure the scene where a car driven by a Palestinian terrorist was intercepted by the police and the gunman shot dead in Jerusalem Sunday, Oct. 9, 2016. (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)

The terror attack in which two Israelis were killed in Jerusalem Sunday morning could be a defining moment that heralds the return of the rifle as a symbol of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.

Some might say that there was nothing new in this attack, in which Jerusalem resident Levana Malihi, 60, and police officer First Sergeant Yosef Kirma, 29, were shot dead in a shooting spree carried out by a 39-year-old Palestinian from the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan.

There have been other deadly attacks in exactly the same spot in northern Jerusalem in recent years. But the weapons used in those attacks were cars, tractors and knives.

This time, a sense emerges from Palestinian media and social networks that the attack is being presented as a template for future actions in the so-called “Al-Quds Intifada.”

The gunman was linked to a group that hassles non-Muslim visitors to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, and had already been convicted of attacking police officers who tried to bar his access to the flash-point holy site.

Palestinian terrorist who carried out a shooting attack in Jerusalem that left two dead, in an undated photograph from the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. (Social media)
Palestinian terrorist who carried out a shooting attack in Jerusalem that left two dead, in an undated photograph from the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. (Social media)

Palestinian elements, both extremist and less so, who are encouraging this new uprising, are not satisfied with the spate of knife attacks and car-rammings that characterized the violence of the past year. They want to spark a full-scale armed assault. But to do so, they need to undermine the security coordination between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. Hamas has repeatedly, if unsuccessfully, tried to encourage more and more attacks in its pursuit of that goal.

The differences between Sunday’s attack and its predecessors suggest this incident could change that reality.

First, an aura of success surrounds Sunday’s attack in the Palestinian discourse. The killing of two “Zionists” is being hailed as a real achievement, more so than the knifings that often, though by no means always, only wounded their Israeli targets.

Jerusalem resident Levana Malihi, 60, left, and police officer First Sergeant Yosef Kirma, 29, who were shot dead in a terror attack in Jerusalem, October 9, 2016. (Police spokesperson)
Jerusalem resident Levana Malihi, 60, left, and police officer First Sergeant Yosef Kirma, 29, who were shot dead in a terror attack in Jerusalem, October 9, 2016. (Police spokesperson)

Second, the identity of the gunman: He was not a scared child like many of those who carried out recent stabbings, but rather a dedicated Islamist extremist who believed that the Jews want to destroy the Al-Aqsa mosque on the Temple Mount and was prepared to martyr himself to protect it.

The terrorist published a “will” in which he called on Muslims to act to protect the mosque. His family joined the celebrations of his “martyrdom,” handing out candies to all those who passed by their house. Even his young daughter put out a video in which she expressed her joy in her father becoming a “shahid” (martyr).

The attack also drew praise from the full range of Palestinian factions, including both Hamas and Fatah. It’s interesting to note how quickly Hamas adopted the killer as one of its “sons,” even while continuing to do its utmost to avoid a confrontation with Israel in Gaza.

That is because in Gaza, where the terror group rules, Hamas has something to lose. In the West Bank and East Jerusalem, however, the only ones who will suffer in Palestinian public opinion are the Palestinian Authority and Fatah.

This attack, and the reaction to it, point to an incipient potential for a reawakening of the impulse to carry out the kinds of shooting attacks that Israelis experienced in the 1970s and 80s, and even worse, the sorts of attacks seen in the bloody Second Intifada that began in 2000. There are plenty of firearms in Palestinian cities and even in West Bank villages and the Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem. And even though, in recent months, home-made machine guns have become very expensive and difficult to find due to the intensive disruption efforts of Israeli forces against West Bank firearms workshops, anyone with a few thousand shekels and the desire to carry out an attack can find a supplier.

This situation is paired with the internal fragility of the Palestinian Authority and the delicate situation of PA President Mahmoud Abbas, who faced unprecedented criticism last week over his decision to participate in the funeral of Israeli President Shimon Peres. Moreover, recent media speculation over a possible successor to Abbas and uncertainty about his future following a health scare last week, which left him briefly hospitalized for a minor heart procedure, have further complicated matters.

President Reuven Rivlin, right, meets Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during the funeral for late former president Shimon Peres at Mount Herzl Cemetery in Jerusalem, on September 30, 2016. (Photo by Mark Neyman/GPO)
President Reuven Rivlin, right, meets Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during the funeral for late former president Shimon Peres at Mount Herzl Cemetery in Jerusalem, on September 30, 2016. (Photo by Mark Neyman/GPO)

This has all served to heighten the feeling that the Palestinian Authority is reaching the end of an era. And among Palestinian youth there is a growing sense that the next era could be a very different one.

Sunday’s shooting and its fallout could be a harbinger of this new period, and a sign that the relative calm that had prevailed, made possible by security cooperation between Israel and the PA, may be coming to an end.

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