Palestinian citizens of Israel fear reprisals in wake of deadly attacks

Israeli police forces at the site of an attack in the city of Hadera that left two Israeli Border Police officers dead (AFP)

Lubna Masarwa & Huthifa Fayyad

Middle East Eye  /  March 28, 2022

The Israeli government, as well as armed far-right groups, have announced several measures which have raised concerns for the country’s Palestinian minority.

Almost immediately after Sunday’s deadly attack in Hadera, Israeli forces descended on the nearby city of Umm al-Fahm while an Israeli armed civilian militia began to mobilize.

Looking for clues into the shooting that left two officers killed and ten more wounded, police and special forces raided the Palestinian-majority city in central Israel, erecting roadblocks and arresting residents. 

Their presence continued into Monday, as did the arrests which have reached five.

The two attackers, Palestinian citizens of Israel who hail from Umm al-Fahm, were killed by undercover officers in a gunfight following their shooting spree.

Palestinian citizens, known as 48 Palestinians, in Umm al-Fahm and across Israel, were quick to condemn the attack, as fears of Israeli reprisals against them rose, both from the state and armed Jewish militia. 

“This attack does not represent the people of the city, nor our society, nor our values that call for a decent and tolerant life, a society that seeks security and peace,” the Umm al-Fahm municipality said in a brief statement released on Sunday.

But now a tense feeling in Umm al-Fahm prevails, said journalist Taha Ighbariya, a resident of the city.

The swift arrival of police units, coupled with growing incitement in the media, has left Palestinians fearful and anxious about what’s to come.

“Israel, both on the left and the right of the political spectrum, always uses events like this to incite against the 48 Palestinians,” Ighbariya said. 

“Last night we saw Knesset member Itamar Ben-Gvir shout ‘death to Arabs’ in [demonstrations that followed the shooting].

“He even dared to shout at the minister of public security, [Omer Barlev], and incited against him and Arabs,” Ighbariya added. “There is no one stopping him.”

Arrests and reinforcements

Since Sunday’s shooting, several measures have been announced by the government, as well as armed far-right groups, which have raised concerns among Palestinian citizens in Israel who make up almost a fifth of the population. 

On Monday, police said they had called in six reserve police units, with the possibility of more being called into active duty. 

The announcement came just hours after the Israeli army said it was sending reinforcements along the 1967 borders separating Israel from the occupied West Bank. 

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said that administrative detentions for “terrorist operatives” were to be used “in appropriate cases when there is a proper legal basis”, without elaborating further.

Administrative detentions are a controversial Israeli policy used almost exclusively against Palestinians from the occupied territories. It allows for the indefinite detention of prisoners without trial or charge. 

Authorities have already arrested five residents from Umm al-Fahm, including the brother of one of the attackers. 

The Haifa magistrate’s court extended their detention on Monday to 10 days, after the public prosecution requested they be kept for 15 days, pending investigations.

Armed militia 

Far-right along with settler incitement against Palestinian citizens appears to have risen within Israel and occupied territories following Sunday’s shooting. 

In the occupied West Bank on Sunday, Palestinians in Nablus and Ramallah came under attack by settlers, who set ablaze vehicles and damaged properties. 

In the southern region of Negev (Naqab), where another Palestinian citizen of Israel killed four people in a stabbing and car-ramming attack earlier in the week, an armed militia announced on Monday that they had set up squads across the area to defend it from any future attacks. 

“Since the terrorist attack, we have begun setting up armed squads [of volunteers] on stand-by. They are deployed so far in Omer, Meitar, Lehavim, Dimona, Carmit, and Beersheba,” the group said in posts published on their Facebook page

“An anti-terror team will also be present in the sector to deal with any scenario,” the group said. 

The “Barel Rangers unit” militia was launched last week to “save the Negev from problematic absence of personal security”, amid heightened tensions. 

A similar group was announced earlier in the month in the central city of Lod/Lydd, the epicentre of most of the violence that rocked Israeli cities in May last year. 

On Sunday morning, Israeli public broadcaster Kan TV reported that another group of armed settlers from the West Bank plan on raiding Sheikh Jarrah during the month of Ramadan and increasing their presence in the occupied East Jerusalem neighbourhood. 

The formation of armed militias, the government crackdown, and the settlers’ attacks in the West Bank will mean one thing in Ighbariya’s view: more pressure on Palestinians and more pushback. 

“In light of this radical Israeli mentality, which views its Palestinian citizens as dangerous, the system will continue to push us into a corner, with more restrictions and arrests.”

“When people are pushed into a corner, they are naturally sought after by violent groups,” he warned. 

Islamic State motivations?

The two assailants of Hadera’s shooting, cousins Ibrahim Ighbariya and Ayman Ighbariya, are both believed to have links to the Islamic State group (IS).

Ibrahim was arrested in 2016 for attempting to join the group in Syria via Turkey, while Ayman was arrested for three weeks but never charged in 2017 on suspicion of weapons violations. 

Mohammed Abu al-Kiyan, the assailant behind the stabbing attack last week, also allegedly had links to IS. 

The apparent link to the militant group and the proximity of attacks have raised questions about whether Israel is now facing a new threat.

But Ameer Makhoul, a Haifa-based writer who spent 10 years in Israeli prison for his activism, has questioned if IS motives can explain these attacks. 

Having spent time in jail with prisoners who were detained over suspected link to IS, who numbered no more than 87, Makhoul said IS inmates did not believe in Palestinian liberation and therefore did not care to attack Israel. 

Their priority was mainly to kill Muslims they deemed as infidels to establish a state based on extreme religious views.

He said the difference between their ideology and that of other prisoners belonging to groups like Fatah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad was so stark that Palestinian prisoner committees strongly resisted integrating them into their wings.

However, prisoner authorities pushed for their inclusion with the rest of the Palestinian prisoners, Makhoul said, and showed them favourable treatment.

At times, it felt that boys who threw stones at soldiers in the West Bank were getting stricter punishment than IS inmates, the former prisoner said. 

“IS prisoners were dealt with leniency by the establishment… including the security apparatus, the public prosecution and the judiciary,” Makhoul said.

The ideology of IS is rejected by the Palestinian society across the board, Makhoul added, but that should not divert from the reality faced by Palestinians in and outside of Israel in the wake of the attacks and ahead of the holy month of Ramadan, which will overlap with Jewish holidays and possibly spark tensions in Jerusalem and beyond. 

And as incitement and a crackdown seem to be growing, Palestinians must be ready for a “firm popular response”, Makhoul said.

“We should not forget that the victims in Israel are the Palestinian society, victims of the bloody incitement, murderous policies, and ethnic cleansing.”

Lubna Masarwa is a journalist and Middle East Eye’s Palestine and Israel bureau chief, based in Jerusalem

Huthifa FayyadMiddle East Eye