After terror attacks, all Jerusalem bus stops to be fortified, Border Police boosted

Ben Gvir reportedly angered by Netanyahu’s decision, says reinforcing terminals isn’t enough, urges ‘offense rather than defense’; preventative arrests said made ahead of Ramadan

Michael Bachner is a news editor at The Times of Israel

Medics and police officers at the scene of a deadly car-ramming terror attack near Ramot Junction in Jerusalem on February 10, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Medics and police officers at the scene of a deadly car-ramming terror attack near Ramot Junction in Jerusalem on February 10, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The government on Tuesday announced a plan to “boost personal security” in Jerusalem, following a spate of deadly Palestinian attacks in the capital and under pressure from its far-right base to take immediate anti-terror steps. But National Security Ministry Itamar Ben Gvir was reportedly complaining it didn’t go far enough.

In a joint statement, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office and the Jerusalem Municipality said the plan consisted of deploying more security and police forces, focusing intelligence and operative efforts, and improving “civilian reinforcements.”

That latter part includes adding fortifications to all bus stops in Jerusalem to protect from ramming attacks, such as the one on Friday that killed three people, including two young children.

The statement said the reinforcement efforts would begin immediately with 300 bus stops defined as top priority. Later on, the municipality will fortify 700 additional stops, in areas where the need is deemed less urgent. The Prime Minister’s Office will allocate a budget for the fortification efforts, the statement said.

The government “is working night and day to restore the sense of security to the citizens of Israel,” said Netanyahu in the statement. Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion was quoted thanking Netanyahu and his office for the swift action.

Later in the day, Hebrew media reported that two or three reserve Border Police companies — approximately 150-200 troops — would be recruited soon to assist in Jerusalem and possibly also near the Gaza Strip.

The Ynet news site quoted an unnamed source in Border Police saying the force “is strained to the limit, and it is important for us to get a manpower boost,” adding that some of the forces were expected to be on the ground as early as Wednesday evening.

Border Police officers in East Jerusalem’s Silwan neighborhood, January 25, 2023. (Israel Police)

Additionally, dozens of preventative arrests have been made in East Jerusalem and more are expected, Channel 12 news reported, ahead of the holy Muslim month of Ramadan, which has seen heightened tensions in recent years. The report said the arrests were aimed at preventing prominent opinion leaders from continuing to incite and inflame tensions.

Ben Gvir, a far-right politician who campaigned on promises for hardline measures that would clamp down on terrorism, said Tuesday that he was still aiming to form a “national guard” that would “flood the streets with security forces and restore security and governance to the streets of Israel.”

The extremist minister — who sought to launch a major military operation in East Jerusalem resembling 2002’s Defense Shield, but was rebuffed — was reportedly irked by Netanyahu’s plan to fortify the bus stops.

“Reinforcement is important, but this is not at all the answer to terrorism,” Channel 12 news quoted an unnamed associate of Ben Gvir as saying. “It is no accident that the minister didn’t sign the statement issued by Netanyahu’s office.”

Likud leader MK Benjamin Netanyahu (left) with Otzma Yehudit party chief MK Itamar Ben Gvir at the Knesset on December 28, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/ Flash90)

The source added that reinforcing the bus stops should have been done years ago, and that the current campaign shouldn’t suffice with that step.

“Minister Ben Gvir is aiming to engage directly with the enemy, and has ordered police to act in East Jerusalem. He believes this should be the focus, offense rather than defense,” the associate said.

Ben Gvir isn’t the only senior member of the government who has slammed government moves to fortify bus stops.

In 2019, while in the opposition, current Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who is also a minister in the Defense Ministry, mocked a similar move in the West Bank, tweeting: “Who said Netanyahu isn’t building in Judea and Samaria?” He was using the West Bank’s biblical name commonly used in Hebrew, and was referring to his criticism that not enough construction was being approved in settlements.

In 2014, Shas party leader Aryeh Deri said that “a government that places concrete blocks on the way to the grocery store has no right to exist.”

The scene of a Palestinian attack at the entrance to Shuafat Refugee Camp in East Jerusalem, February 13, 2023. Insert: Staff Sgt. Asil Sawaed, killed in the attack. (Israel Police)

A spate of Palestinian attacks over the past few weeks has claimed the lives of 11 Israelis. The most recent of them, 22-year-old Border Police officer Asil Sawaed, was stabbed on Monday by a Palestinian teenager in East Jerusalem, and also accidentally shot by a comrade who had attempted to target the assailant.

On Tuesday, Ben Gvir paid a condolence visit to Sawaed’s family in the Bedouin village of Hussniyya in northern Israel.

Footage published online showed an elderly relative telling Ben Gvir that since the state’s creation in 1948, the Sawaed clan has had 14 of its members die while serving in Israel’s security forces, but that they were still living without electricity and running water.

The man, who said he had 28 children, told Ben Gvir that the state must help the clan with recognition and infrastructure.

“That is my duty,” Ben Gvir responded. “Whoever gives to the state, I owe them.”

“You are part of me,” said Ben Gvir, to which the bereaved relative answered: “You are part of me.”

Most Popular
read more: