In a little over a week, Israel has seen the deadliest string of terrorist attacks in years, the bloodiest since the 2nd Intifada in the early 2000s.
As of Thursday, 11 people have been murdered and several more wounded by mostly lone gunmen wielding everything from their car to automatic rifles and even a screwdriver. Their victims were ordinary people—moms shopping at a mall, a Yeshiva student taking his two-year-old son out for a stroll, an Arab Christian police officer (who is being hailed as “a hero of Israel” by the ultra-Orthodox!), two teenagers—a Druze border officer and his Jewish co-worker; two foreign workers from Ukraine and others. All of the terrorists have also been killed, either by authorities or by a quick-thinking civilian.
Israel Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, who has COVID, but is working from home, has urged all Israelis with gun permits to be armed and alert (and firearm applications are through the roof now!). Police forces have also been increased by the addition of 1,000 combat soldiers.
Israel has very strict gun laws, but allows citizens who have a background in security to carry hand guns. They go through a psychiatric exam. As a result, even though very few Israelis carry guns, the ones who do are quick to jump into action—normally within a minute.
“After a period of quiet, there is a violent eruption by those who want to destroy us, those who want to hurt us at any price, whose hatred of Jews, of the State of Israel, drives them crazy,” Bennett said. “They are prepared to die—so that we will not live in peace.”
“What is expected of you, citizens of Israel? Alertness and responsibility. Open your eyes. Whoever has a license to carry a weapon, this is the time to carry it,” Bennett said on Wednesday.
The attacks come as Ramadan, a month of fasting (during the day, feasting at night) for Muslims, begins Friday, April 1, at sundown. Ramadan is typically a time when tensions are high, riots can occur, and nighttime clashes with Israeli police are frequent. Last year, Ramadan festivities escalated into an 11-day war between Gaza (Hamas) and Israel.
Already, Palestinians have passed out sweets as they celebrate in the streets and on social media over the news of the deadly attacks, praising one of the terrorists as “brave” and “heroic.”
According to a statement on their website, Hamas had nothing but praise for the attacks as well (especially the one in the ultra-Orthodox community just south of Tel Aviv).
“The Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas) blesses the heroic operation against the Zionist occupation soldiers in the so-called ‘Tel Aviv’ area, which led to the killing and wounding of a number of Zionist occupiers, and stresses that all the heroic operations carried out by our Palestinian people, in every inch of our occupied land, comes in the context of the natural and legitimate response to the terrorism of the occupation and its escalating crimes against our land, our people and our sanctities.”
The deadly strikes in Israel over the last week have a different signature than the attacks in the past, which typically have been perpetrated by Palestinians who live somewhere in the West Bank. Bennett said these recent attacks have been a “complex challenge” for security forces because they were “lone individuals, sometimes without organizational affiliation” although at least one attack had ties to ISIS. Another challenge is that some assailants have been Israeli citizens—Arabs with ties to jihad groups.
“We face a challenging period. We have experience in dealing with terrorism, from the very beginning of Zionism,” Bennett said. “They did not break us then, and they will not break us now.”
In a surprise move, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas actually condemned the attacks. “The killing of Israeli and Palestinian civilians will only lead to a deterioration of the situation ahead of Ramadan. We are trying to obtain some stability.” Abbas also cautioned, though, against Jewish violence in retaliation against Palestinians. Tensions are often high between Arab and Jew in Biblical Judea and Samaria (the West Bank), and there are some extreme elements among the Jewish communities there. “This circle of violence shows true, lasting peace is the only solution to maintaining the security and stability for our peoples.”
There has been a flurry of diplomatic meetings over the last month between Israel and Jordan and Jordan and the Palestinian Authority, apparently in an attempt to ward off a continuing escalation in the violence. This year, concerns are high as Ramadan, Passover, and Easter all coincide.
On Wednesday, President Isaac Herzog became the fourth senior Israeli official to visit Jordan in March. He was greeted by King Abdullah II of Jordan at his palace in Amman. On Monday, King Abdullah paid a visit to PA President Abbas in Ramallah, the first such visit in five years.
After receiving Hertzog, King Abdullah quickly denounced the recent terror attack in Israel, saying that “every life matters.”
Four meetings in one month between Israeli and Jordanian officials is not normal. In all of these meetings (including the king’s visit to the PA), the main topic of concern was how to keep the rising violence from bursting into flames during Ramadan.
In an emergency meeting Wednesday, the Israeli Cabinet voted to not renege on easing restrictions for Palestinian pilgrims wanting to make Ramadan visits to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. This move by the Cabinet is a gamble—it will ease tensions with Palestinians, but it also leaves Israelis vulnerable to further attacks. The government also promised to patch holes in the security fence along the West Bank, bolster the police presence in key areas and increase counter-terrorism operations to ferret out other terrorist plots before they hatch.