Wave of Palestinian Attacks Evokes Intifada Debate

The explosion of a pipe bomb on a passenger bus in Bat Yam on Dec. 22 was part of a recent upsurge in Palestinian terrorism that runs parallel to Israel-Palestinian conflict negotiations. (Gideon Markowicz/FLASH90)

The explosion of a pipe bomb on a passenger bus in Bat Yam on Dec. 22 was part of a recent upsurge in Palestinian terrorism that runs parallel to Israel-Palestinian conflict negotiations. (Gideon Markowicz/FLASH90)

An Israeli civilian contractor for the Ministry of Defense was killed by a sniper as he worked to repair a section of the country’s border fence along the Gaza strip damaged by last week’s storm.

After the shooting, Israeli jets struck targets inside Gaza, reportedly wounding an 18-year-old man, according to Palestinian medical sources. As the Israel Defense Force sent additional troops to the border, the Al-Quds newspaper reported that the Hamas leadership within Gaza, fearing further Israeli reprisals, ordered the evacuation of its bases and installations.

The Dec. 24 sniper shooting was the third attack on Israelis in a week, raising the level of anxiety in the Jewish state. Just a day before, a Palestinian stabbed and seriously wounded an Israeli policeman at a junction north of Jerusalem; on Dec. 22, a pipe bomb exploded on a public bus in the Tel Aviv suburb of Bat Yam. There were no injuries in the blast because an alert passenger informed the driver of a suspicious bag, and riders evacuated the bus before the detonation.

Israeli police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld said police have increased their presence and are prepared for further attacks.

“After the past 24 hours and the increase in attempts, as well as terrorist attacks that have taken place, we’re calling on the public to be more aware of suspicious people and objects and to contact Israeli police if they see anything suspicious,” said Rosenfeld. “I would say the attacks have been sporadic and carried out by terrorists who haven’t planned the attacks but took advantage of situations that arose.”

The U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv ordered its personnel to avoid travel on both public and private buses.

Attacks against Israel are clearly on the rise, according to the Israeli Security Service. In July, there were 82 Palestinian attacks and attempted attacks; August accounted for 99 incidents, and September, October and November respectively saw 133, 136 and 167 incidents. Over the past four months, two Israeli soldiers and one civilian have been killed in areas that Israel acquired in 1967.

Yet, both Israeli officials and commentators are hesitant to use the word intifada, or “popular uprising,” to describe the latest spate of violence. The first Intifada, which began in 1987, consisted of attacks with stones and Molotov cocktails. The second Intifada, which began in 2000, was far more deadly for Israelis.

“The word intifada has a connotation that is not good,” said Yehuda Ben Meir, an expert on Israeli public opinion at the Institute for National Security Studies’ think tank in Tel Aviv. “It brings back bad memories. More than 1,000 Israelis were killed [in the second Intifada]. The Israeli army is careful not to use the term, but people are definitely getting itchy and nervous.”

Terrorism experts agree that, at least so far, most of the attacks seem to have been done by individuals and not by order of Hamas or any other Palestinian terrorist organization operating in the West Bank. That makes the attacks more difficult to predict and stop.

Characterizing the violence as an intifada could give the Israeli army greater freedom of movement, as it exhibited by entering Palestinian cities during the second Intifada. However, it could also raise public expectations that the army will crack down hard to stop the violence.

“Size matters,” stated Shlomo Brom, also from the Institute for National Security Studies and a longtime senior Israeli military official. “The question of whether a few people are injured and killed or dozens is a big difference.”

At the same time, he said the sheer number of incidents could foretell another intifada. Palestinians have grown increasingly frustrated with the apparent lack of progress toward establishing their own state; although Secretary of State John Kerry is expected to present both sides with a framework agreement next month, Palestinian media outlets have predicted Kerry’s ideas to be unpalatable and that any future talks will fail.

Kerry himself recently came under criticism when he suggested that the alternative to his peace plan is “the third Intifada.” Some called his remarks “reckless.”

Cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian security services appears to continue despite the increase in attacks. Palestinian police stop dozens of attacks aimed at Israel each month, and Israelis who wander into Palestinian-controlled towns are returned unharmed.

Israeli psychologist Yehuda Ben Meir said that the recent bus bombing will resonate most with Israelis, even though there were no casualties.

“It was in Bat Yam, in the heart of Israel, and people saw the pictures of the bus with all of the windows blown out, and it had an effect,” he said. “We still have not crossed the threshold to the feeling of an intifada, but if the violence continues, that could change. It will depend on events over the next [several] weeks.”

 Linda Gradstein writes for The Media Line.

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