Ben-Gvir calls for ‘Operation Defensive Shield 2’ following Jerusalem operation

Yumna Patel & Mariam Barghouti

Mondoweiss  /  February 10, 2023

After a car-ramming operation in Jerusalem, Itamar Ben-Gvir is calling for the re-invasion of the West Bank, while Israel’s usual policy of collective punishment and retribution continues.

Two Israelis were killed and several others were injured on Friday in a vehicular ramming operation in Jerusalem near the illegal Jewish settlement of Ramot Alon. The Palestinian driver, a resident of occupied East Jerusalem, was shot and killed on the scene. 

At approximately 1:30 p.m. on Friday afternoon, 31-year old Hussein Qaraqe, a resident of East Jerusalem, crashed his vehicle into a bus stop near the Ramot Alon settlement, also known as Ramot. Two Israelis were killed, including a 20-year-old and a six-year-old. At least five others were injured, according to Israel’s emergency services. 

Qaraqe, a father of two according to Palestinian media, was shot and killed on the scene by an off-duty police officer.

Videos circulating on social media showed several armed Israelis pointing their guns towards the vehicle, before shots were fired, killing Qaraqe.

Haaretz quoted an eyewitness as saying that for about a minute after the initial car ramming, “several people with guns stood around the vehicle and pointed at the driver, but did not shoot.” The witness went on to say “the driver made a sign with his hands as if to say ‘no,’ and everyone held their fire. At some point, someone threw a large stone at the vehicle, the attacker moved, and everyone fired at him.”

According to The Times of Israel, Hebrew language media reported that the six-year-old child that was killed was shot during the incident, and did not die from wounds sustained by Qaraqe’s vehicle. Israeli police denied those reports, saying that an officer had “checked the bodies and found that both the victims had been hurt by the car-ramming and not gunshots.”

Qaraqe was reportedly living in a rental home in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Al-Issawiyya, though Israeli media reported that his mother is originally from the neighborhood of Al-Tur, and his father is from the Dheisheh refugee camp in Bethlehem, in the occupied West Bank. 

The killing of Qaraqe and the operation on Friday afternoon is the second armed operation carried out in East Jerusalem in the past two weeks. 

On January 27, 21-year-old Khairi Alqam, a resident of al-Tur, opened fire in the illegal Jewish settlement of Neve Yaacov, killing seven Israelis and injuring several others. Alqam was shot and killed on the scene. 

The operation carried out by Alqam took place the day after Israeli forces conducted a deadly raid on the Jenin refugee camp, during which 10 Palestinians were killed, including two children and an elderly woman. 

Similarly, the vehicular ramming carried out by Qaraqe took place on the heels of a deadly week in the occupied West Bank. On February 6, Israeli forces shot and killed five Palestinians during a raid on the Aqbat Jabr refugee camp in Jericho. 

On Thursday, February 9, one day before Qaraqe carried out the car-ramming, two Palestinians were killed in separate incidents. Israeli forces shot and killed 22-year-old Hassan Raba’a near the Fawwar refugee camp in the southern West Bank district of Hebron following an alleged stabbing attempt, and the Palestinian political prisoner Ahmad Abu Ali died of systematic and deliberate “medical negligence” in Israeli prisons.

Qaraqe is the 45th Palestinian to be killed by Israel this year. 

Policy of retribution continues

In the wake of the Neve Yaacov shooting operation in late January, Israeli authorities quickly called for retribution and collective punishment. Alqam’s family and friends were arrested en masse, and his home was sealed off in preparation for its punitive demolition – a policy Israel maintains acts as a future “deterrence” measure.

The Israeli government had an almost identical response on Friday in the wake of the car ramming in Ramot, despite some Israeli authorities publicly voicing concerns that there was a mental health component of the incident, and that Qaraqe had been released from a psychiatric hospital only days prior.  

In the wake of the operation, the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu released a statement saying that Netanyahu would work “immediately” to seal off and destroy Qaraqe’s home. Haaretz added that in light of the fact Qaraqe lived in a rental apartment, the government’s legal advisers “will discuss the move on Sunday.”

“On behalf of all the citizens of Israel, I send my condolences to the families of those murdered in the attack in Jerusalem. I conducted a security assessment and ordered an increase in forces, to carry out arrests and act immediately to seal the terrorist’s house and demolish it,” Netanyahu said in a statement. 

Videos circulated showed Israeli forces raiding Qaraqe’s home in al-Issawiya and arresting dozens of his family members, including his father, brother, and wife. Palestinian media reported that confrontations erupted in the neighborhood between local residents and Israeli forces. 

Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir of the far-right, ultranationalist Jewish Power party, told reporters on the scene that he instructed the police to impose a closure around al-Issawiya, and erect checkpoints throughout the neighborhood “and to stop everyone one by one, and just check each vehicle.”

Ben-Gvir also said he wanted to impose a “full lockdown” on the neighborhood, but because “there’s a legal question to that…we’ll discuss it.” Ben Gvir also doubled down on previous calls he has made to institute the death penalty for “terrorists,” and for easing gun restrictions for Israeli citizens — which he also called for following the Neve Yaacov operation. 

Additionally, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Fallant signed an order imposing economic sanctions on the families of 87 Palestinian prisoners from East Jerusalem. The order would seize any funds, totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars, received by prisoners and their families from the Palestinian Authority. 

Finance Minister Bazalel Smotrich, a far-right extremist and leader of the Religious Zionism party, also vowed to continue rapidly developing illegal settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory, promising “tremendous momentum of construction and development throughout our country that will make it clear to the enemy that he will never achieve his goal of expelling us from our country.”

‘Operation Defensive Shield 2’

Among the many calls Ben-Gvir made for punitive measures against Qaraqe’s family and for the collective punishment of the general Palestinian populace was a call for Israeli police, whom he oversees in his position as National Security Minister, to prepare for “Operation Defensive Shield 2.”

Ben Gvri was referencing the Israeli army’s large-scale military re-invasion of the West Bank in 2002 during the Second Intifada, which lasted for 45 days. During Operation Defensive Shield, Israeli forces invaded and besieged towns and cities across the West Bank by land and air, focusing heavily on Jenin refugee camp, Ramallah, and Nablus. 

The Operation was justified as a “defensive” measure following the killing of over 100 Israelis in one month during the Second Intifada. In addition to the hundreds of Palestinians who had already been killed and injured during the same period, the operation saw the killing of hundreds more by Israeli forces, the injury and arrest of thousands of Palestinians, and the total destruction of entire communities. 

Operation Defensive Shield is thought to be the largest military assault against Palestinian civilians since the slaughters of 1948. The military strategy behind the aggression was developed by then Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who set off the Second Intifada in September 2000 during a provocative raid on the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound. 

Earlier in January of this year, Itamar Ben-Gvir had attempted to recreate Sharon’s provocation by invading the compound again, as a precursor to laying claim to the site and further inflaming tensions in Jerusalem.

Ben Gvir’s call for an “Operation Defensive Shield 2” hopes to use the pretext of security and defense to launch a new military invasion of the West Bank. These calls started last October, when settler groups across the West Bank held several protests demanding the reoccupation of Palestinian cities. 

This is not only a call by right-wing settlers in the West Bank.

During a commemoration of Operation Defensive Shield last year, the former chief of the Israeli military, Aviv Kochavi, said that “operations that stop terror daily are the continuation of the operation.” 

And earlier in January, Benjamin Netanyahu’s former top security advisor, Meir Ben-Shabbat, questioned the existence of the Palestinian Authority if it cannot prevent “terrorism,” making a backhanded comment that “Abu Mazen remembers well the days of Operation Defensive Shield.”

“He doesn’t want to get there, but it will get there,” he said.

Yumna Patel is the Palestine News Director for Mondoweiss

Mariam Barghouti is the Senior Palestine Correspondent for Mondoweiss