Analysis: Palestinian ‘individual attacks’ expected to rise

An Israeli medical team carries the body of a victim at the scene of shooting attack In Hadera, Israel (Ariel Schalit - AP)

Zena Al-Tahhan

Al-Jazeera  /  March 30, 2022

In an surge not witnessed in years, Palestinians carry out three attacks killing 11 Israelis in just more than a week.

Occupied East Jerusalem – Three separate attacks by Palestinians in the span of eight days have killed 11 Israelis, in a surge not witnessed in years, and which may continue.

The latest attack took place on Tuesday night in the ultra-orthodox town of Bnei Brak, east of Tel Aviv. The attacker, Diaa Hamarsheh, was a Palestinian labourer who worked in the town, but lived in the village of Ya’bad outside Jenin city in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Hamarsheh killed five people, including a policeman, before being shot dead by police.

On Sunday, two Palestinian gunmen from the northern town of Umm al-Fahm opened fire in the city of Hadera (Khdeira), killing two border police officers. It followed an attack on March 22, when a Palestinian from the village of Hura in the Naqab (Negev) carried out a stabbing and car-ramming attack, killing four Israelis.

All the Palestinian assailants were shot dead at the scene, either by police or armed Israeli civilians.

While the first two attacks were carried out by Palestinians allegedly affiliated with the ISIL (ISIS) group, the assailant in the Bnei Brak incident was reportedly affiliated with the armed wing of the Fatah political movement, which governs the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority (PA).

The evident increase in the frequency and level of attacks appears to mark a new phase of confrontation on the ground.

Awad Abdelfattah, a Galilee-based political analyst, believed that the violent suppression of country-wide Palestinian protests by Israeli forces in May 2021, as well as a lack of Palestinian leadership, is a factor in the latest uptick in attacks, and that they will likely continue.

“These are individual attacks, a pattern that appeared in 2015,” Abdelfattah told Al Jazeera. “They come as a result of the absence of a popular powerful struggle that the Palestinian leadership is supposed to lead … the alternative at this point is individual attacks that will continue, and will increase at a faster pace than before.”

Much attention has been focused on ISIL’s claims that it was responsible for both the Hadera and Naqab attacks.

A senior Israeli police official told Kan, Israel’s state broadcaster, that “authorities are worried that possible IS [ISIL] sleeper cells in Israel will execute further attacks.” Israeli media has also reported that 20-30 ISIL cells are believed to exist in Israel, and 12 alleged ISIL supporters were arrested in northern Israel on Monday night.

However, Abdelfattah argued that the group has thus far not been particularly active in Israel or in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, and that there is little evidence of growth in support for the organization.

“There is no clear presence for the group in Palestine – there are individuals who were arrested on alleged association. The vast majority of Palestinians detest the group and recognize its role in destroying Arab uprisings in the region,” Abdelfattah said.

Israeli response

Top Israeli political and security officials have convened emergency meetings in recent days to deliberate about how to respond. Thousands of police and army reinforcements have been deployed inside Israel, as well as in the occupied West Bank, and across the border with the besieged Gaza Strip.

In an address on Wednesday morning, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett described the developments as a “great and complex challenge” that required adapting to a “new threat”.

“[The security establishment must] read the tell-tale signs of lone individuals, sometimes without organizational affiliation, and to be in control on the ground in order to thwart terrorism even before it happens,” Bennett said.

Following yesterday’s attack, Israeli settlers emerged in rallies on main roads across the occupied West Bank, with attacks reported on Palestinian vehicles near Nablus and Salfit.

Inside Israel – which most Palestinians refer to as “the 1948-occupied interior” –  videos emerged of Israelis smashing Palestinian cars in the town of al-Lydd (Lod).

Tensions on the ground have remained high since April and May last year.

Israeli attempts to forcibly displace residents of the Palestinian neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah, and subsequent violent raids at Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in occupied East Jerusalem during Ramadan, led to mass Palestinian protests, and an 11-day confrontation between Israel and Palestinian armed movements in the besieged Gaza Strip.

The protests were violently suppressed, and hundreds were detained. Arrests of Palestinians over the events were continuing until February last month.

In major cities inside Israel, including Haifa, al-Lydd, and Ramle – towns that were ethnically cleansed in 1948 and are home to a minority Palestinian population today – matters escalated when Israeli vigilante groups, many of them hailing from settlements in the occupied West Bank, attacked Palestinian homes and carried out lynchings.

Haifa-based political analyst Ameer Makhoul believed that Israel’s security reinforcements in recent days are part of plans drawn up after last year’s May uprising, and that the response this time will be more violent.

“Israel’s security apparatus is failing, and they will take this out on the Palestinians. The punishment will be collective,” said Makhoul, using as an example Israel’s response to the escape of six Palestinian prisoners in September 2021, in which collective punishment measures were imposed against all prisoners.

Jewish vigilante groups

A rise in attacks by armed Jewish groups, particularly inside Israel, is also expected.

“There is a feeling of fear in the Palestinian arena from the development and expansion of these fascist groups,” said Abdelfattah. “Israeli society is moving towards fascism, and this could lead to massacres,” he said.

Since early last week, armed Jewish groups attacked Palestinians in at least three incidents in the Naqab, hospitalizing several. A former Israeli police officer also formally set up an organized armed Jewish group to operate in the region. While the police distanced itself from the group, officials have not worked to prevent it.

Similar Jewish militias have been operating in al-Lydd.

“I think we are at the beginning of a new phase of popular [Jewish] attacks against Palestinians,” said Makhoul.

“When Israel’s security apparatus fails, it uses organized Jewish terrorist groups to terrorize Palestinians and instill fear – a phenomenon that began in the occupied West Bank and is being replicated in the occupied interior.”

“The settlers are not their own entity – if Israel wanted to prevent them, it can, but there is no political decision to do so,” Makhoul added.

Despite the lack of clarity surrounding the political affiliations of the Palestinian assailants and the Palestinian public’s views on the attacks themselves, analysts said they come as a direct result of Israeli policies.

“Regardless of the differing Palestinian opinions on such attacks, they come as a result of the deliberate neglect of the Palestinian cause, the entrenchment of the settler-colonial project, the belittlement of this people and their rights in an unprecedented way – by Israel, by regional powers, and by the world,” said Abdelfattah.

Zena Al Tahhan is Al-Jazeera English’s digital correspondent in Jerusalem