The Gaza connection to terror in Jerusalem

As long as Hamas knows that Jerusalem is afraid of confronting it, the terror group will continue inciting violence in East Jerusalem

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.

Blood on prayer shawls and prayer books inside Har Nof's Kehilat Yaakov synagogue, where two Palestinian terrorists attacked worshipers at prayer, killing four, and a policeman who tried to thwart them, on November 18, 2014. (Kobi Gideon/GPO/Flash90)
Blood on prayer shawls and prayer books inside Har Nof's Kehilat Yaakov synagogue, where two Palestinian terrorists attacked worshipers at prayer, killing four, and a policeman who tried to thwart them, on November 18, 2014. (Kobi Gideon/GPO/Flash90)

Tuesday morning saw yet another dangerous new escalation after weeks of violence in Jerusalem with a synagogue attack that killed four people in the Har Nof neighborhood.

This was no case of “spontaneous terrorism,” as witnessed in recent car and knife attacks. In this case, the two terrorists, Uday Abu Jamal and Ghassan Abu Jamal, cousins from the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Jabel Mukaber, were apparently familiar with the synagogue where they staged their attack. They may have worked in the area; plainly, they gathered intelligence on it prior to the attack.

The relatively high body count also sets Tuesday’s attack apart from the recent attacks — which include the attempted murder of Temple Mount activist Rabbi Yehudah Glick — and creates more potential for escalation. An indiscriminate massacre of worshipers in a synagogue, wrapped in their prayer shawls, strikes at the most basic symbols of the Jewish people, and could result in acts of revenge against Palestinians.

The latest horror underlines that even though while it sometimes seems as if calm has returned to Jerusalem, the silence is repeatedly broken by another incident or another attack within days. Jerusalem refuses to return to normal. The previous relative stability of the city has been shaken — shattered — since the summer, with the murder in the capital of Palestinian teen Muhammed Abu Khdeir (in the wake of the murders of the three Jewish teens in the West Bank), Operation Protective Edge, and the friction and conflict surrounding the Temple Mount.

As with other recent attacks, the Israeli political right quickly blamed Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas — as though his men had carried out the attack in an area under PA control. These politicians do so, primarily, out of helplessness and frustration. The decision-makers and the security establishment cannot solve the security nightmare that has enveloped Jerusalem. Key factors in this latest escalation are the lack of a diplomatic horizon and Hamas. But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing ministers do not want another round of confrontation with Hamas, and they don’t want to take the far-reaching steps that might solve the conflict with the Palestinians; it’s easier to point the finger of blame than to initiate a dramatic diplomatic effort that might yield longer-term calm.

Tellingly, however, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni also criticized Abbas’s recent behavior, and US Secretary of State John Kerry protested Palestinian calls including from Abbas’s Fatah, for “days of rage.” And the fact is that while Abbas put out a statement condemning the attack, the right-wingers are correct about one thing: Abbas cannot continue to claim he is working to prevent attacks when his media outlets are full of incitement and hatred against Israel and the Jews and what amounts to praise for terrorism.

The false claims of murder in Palestinian media Monday, in the case of the East Jeruslem bus driver who hanged himself, are also part of the escalation. So, it’s true that Palestinian Authority security forces are working diligently against Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the West Bank and preventing attacks there. But that’s not good enough; Abbas, who had no direct connection to Tuesday’s attack and did not wish it, must calm the tensions on from his side.

The prime beneficiaries of the grim new reality are the terror groups, led by Hamas. The Islamist terror organization is doing everything it can to inflame tensions and encourage more attacks. Its spokespeople praised the murderers in Tuesday’s attack, just as they did the previous killers. Joining Hamas are other terror groups such as Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the latter of which claimed responsibility for Tuesday’s killings.

Hamas will continue to encourage attacks as long as it knows the Israeli government wants to avoid another major confrontation with it. And Netanyahu’s government does indeed want to avoid such a confrontation.

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