The terror war from East Jerusalem

In the flammable Arab neighborhoods, the purported threat to al-Aqsa lit the flames; it’s hard to say what can douse them. Closures and curfews won’t

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.

The site of a attack where a terrorist rammed his car into pedestrians and then got out and stabbed others, injuring at least 5 people, killing one, on Malchei Yisrael Street, in Jerusalem. October 13, 2015. (Hadas Parushl/FLASH90)
The site of a attack where a terrorist rammed his car into pedestrians and then got out and stabbed others, injuring at least 5 people, killing one, on Malchei Yisrael Street, in Jerusalem. October 13, 2015. (Hadas Parushl/FLASH90)

Today, 12 days after the West Bank terror attack that killed Eitam and Naama Henkin, we can officially declare this to be the “Al-Quds Intifada” — the Jerusalem uprising.

It is different from the two previous intifadas inasmuch as it lacks the popular element that characterized the uprisings that began in September 2000 and December 1987. Even so, this sequence of terror attacks and violence can no longer be defined as a passing wave.

Day after day, more and more attacks are being perpetrated, overwhelmingly by youths from East Jerusalem – children, teens, students and even one employee of Israel’s Bezeq phone company (Alaa Abu Jamal, who murdered Yeshayahu Kirshavski in Monday’s car-ramming/stabbing attack).

The spark that set it alight may have been a visit to the Temple Mount by Housing Minister Uri Ariel or by Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely, in a climate in which many Palestinian and Israeli Muslim groups had been peddling false allegations about nefarious Israeli plans for Al-Aqsa, though there were warning signs long before the two made their trips: the murder of Arab teenager Muhammad Abu Khdeir and the mini-intifada that took place last summer, ongoing altercations between security forces and Palestinian youths, and more.

But to fully understand the context in which this new intifada has flared, we need to go back many more years — to the ongoing neglect of Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem by Israeli governments over the past 48 years, despite the dire economic situation of the residents of these areas; the state of lawlessness; and the fact that a twilight zone has evolved in some of the villages on the periphery of Jerusalem since the construction of the security barrier. Entire neighborhoods and villages whose residents have blue ID cards, who are citizens of Israel, are not given any attention by either Israel or the Palestinian Authority.

This is the intifada of the young, this is the internet intifada, but first and foremost this is the Jerusalem intifada. True, there are protest marches in the West Bank every day, but the number of participants is relatively small. The Palestinian public outcry is weak and of limited scope compared to the rate at which East Jerusalem youths are joining the circle of terrorism and violence, with no planning or organization, with social media as the catalyst and main engine.

Ironically, among the factors driving more attacks are the clips shot by Israelis from the scenes of terror attacks: a video of the female terrorist from Nazareth, the man who stabbed a Border Police officer at the Damascus Gate, and — of course — Ahmad Manasra, the 13-year-old who went on a killing spree in Pisgat Ze’ev. The image of Manasra, wounded and beaten after attempting to murder a Jewish boy, was widely disseminated among Palestinians, and quickly became a symbol of Israeli cruelty.

Palestinian social media chose to ignore the fact that this was a terrorist who set out to murder Israelis, and focused on the fact that several of the Israelis who were there in the aftermath of the attack wanted to lynch him. These video clips create more and more terrorists.

The genie is out of the bottle, and it’s hard to see how to put it back. If only a few days ago one could contemplate diplomatic moves or gestures to restore the calm, such steps are now irrelevant. The youths of East Jerusalem don’t care about the status of diplomacy between the Palestinian Authority and Israel. The purported threat to al-Aqsa Mosque was the main catalyst in igniting the flames, but it’s hard to say what could help to douse them.

Abbas has sometimes been keeping his mouth shout, and other times accusing Israel of “executing” Hassan Manasra, the second terrorist from Pisgat Ze’ev. But even if he made an effort to condemn each and every attack, it wouldn’t help on the ground: the youths of East Jerusalem don’t listen to him.

Hamas, of course, is delighted with the vicious turn of events. It worked to inflame the situation on the eve of Rosh Hashanah, and it stands to gain most from the current violence.

Israel has no real tools to counter these attacks. Sending more troops to East Jerusalem will not help at all. A closure or curfew on villages in East Jerusalem could slightly reduce the number of attacks, but won’t bring them to an end. Furthermore, such a step would have dramatic political and diplomatic implications regarding the division of Jerusalem, and would probably draw more Palestinians from the eastern part of the city into the cycle of violence, as they won’t be able to go to work. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s opponents would doubtless have a field day, claiming that “Bibi divided Jerusalem.”

We are now in the middle of a war against terror, but with almost no possibility of confronting tomorrow’s terrorists, who are near invisible until they act.

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