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Analysis

Back-to-back stabbing attacks spark baseless row over ending West Bank closure

Despite claims to the contrary by Netanyahu, decision to reopen crossings would have likely played no role in Monday’s attacks

Judah Ari Gross

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

Israeli border police officers patrol the area near the site of a stabbing attack, in Jerusalem on September 13, 2021. (Menahem KAHANA / AFP)
Israeli border police officers patrol the area near the site of a stabbing attack, in Jerusalem on September 13, 2021. (Menahem KAHANA / AFP)

Two stabbing attacks by Palestinian assailants on Monday prompted harsh, though seemingly unfounded, criticism by opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu of the government’s decision to reopen the crossings between Israel and the West Bank over the weekend.

On Monday afternoon, a Palestinian teenager stabbed two Israeli men inside a pharmacy near the Jerusalem Central Bus Station, moderately wounding them, before a Border Police officer arrived at the scene and shot him.

The terrorist was identified in Palestinian media as Basil Shawamra, 17, a resident of the town of Deir al-Asal al-Fauqa, near Hebron in the southern West Bank. According to the Shin Bet security service, Shawamra did not have a legal work permit or other authorization to enter Israel and did so illegally.

Earlier in the day, a Palestinian man armed with a screwdriver attempted to stab a soldier at the Gush Etzion Junction in the central West Bank, but the serviceman repelled him and a second soldier opened fire, wounding the man.

Netanyahu’s criticism was directed against a decision to reopen Israel’s crossings with the West Bank on Saturday night. The government had initially put in place the closure for the Rosh Hashanah holiday last Tuesday and Wednesday — a common practice for major Jewish and national festivals — but decided to extend it through the weekend in light of the escape of six Palestinian security prisoners from Gilboa Prison in northern Israel. The extension of the closure was in large part meant to assist Israeli security forces in their search efforts, making it more difficult for the fugitives to cross from Israel into the West Bank.

Four of the fugitives were captured over the weekend, prior to the lifting of the closure, while the other two remain at large and were considered extremely dangerous.

Israeli medics stretch off a wounded Palestinian man, who stabbed two Israelis, in Jerusalem on September 13, 2021.(Menahem KAHANA / AFP)

“Two days ago, against the view of the police, [Prime Minister Naftali] Bennett removed the closure on Judea and Samaria. The tragic results we saw today with the terror attack at the Jerusalem Central Bus Station,” Netanyahu said in a video statement, using the biblical term for the West Bank.

Opposition Leader Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a conference in Jerusalem on August 1, 2021. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

However, neither of the attacks on Monday were made possible by the ending of the closure: the terrorist in Jerusalem entered illegally, not through a crossing; and the assailant at the Gush Etzion Junction was within the West Bank and did not pass through a checkpoint to reach the site of the attack.

On Saturday evening, the government did hold a discussion about ending the closure, during which the representative for the police initially expressed reservations about reopening the crossings in light of heightened tensions throughout the West Bank and Jerusalem over the prison break. However, Public Security Minister Omer Barlev, who is responsible for the police, told the Kan broadcaster that Israel Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai eventually supported the recommendation as well.

“All of the officials, including the chief of police, recommended to end the closure,” Barlev said.

Netanyahu’s apparently false claim about the Israel Police’s recommendation was repeated by commentators from nationalist news outlets, like Channel 20 and the religious-Zionist Srugim website.

The closure also did not prevent attacks from taking place inside Israel. On Friday afternoon, when it was still in effect, a Palestinian resident of Jerusalem’s Shuafat refugee camp was shot dead as he attempted to stab police officers in Jerusalem’s Old City. One police officer was lightly wounded by a ricochet.

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