Skip to main content

This is not your father's intifada

Israel's response to the current wave of terror attacks is based on the second intifada, but the opponent has changed.
Amit Shabi, an Israeli freelance photographer working for Reuters and
who lives in Sweden, won second place in the general news singles
category of the World Press Photo contest, announced on February 9,
2001, with this picture of an Israeli policeman arguing with a
Palestinian man on October 13, 2000 in Jerusalem. REUTERS/Amit Shabi


“The girl tried to stab a security officer at the entrance to the Anatot settlement in Binyamin, but he dodged the knife and shot her.” That was the laconic police announcement concerning the attempted stabbing that took place Jan. 23 in the Anatot settlement. A short time later, video from security cameras at the settlement entrance was released to the media. The settlement administrator claimed that the footage demonstrates that the guard was in mortal danger and did everything else he could until he was forced to shoot the girl.

Despite the poor quality of the video, however, it clearly shows the great distance between the knife-wielding girl and the guard who pulled his gun on her. The guard, threatened by a knife in the hands of a 13-year-old girl, could have acted according to the rules of engagement for opening fire, which begins with warning shots fired into the air and progresses to firing at the attacker’s limbs. Only after all possible steps have failed to defuse the situation and the guard is in real danger is he supposed to shoot to kill. Instead, the Anatot guard's very first action was to shoot to kill.

When the girl’s father arrived at the scene, her identity and motives became clear. Abu Eid had fought with her family and then fled their home in Anata village, armed with a knife. She evidently wanted to accomplish two things: become a “shahid” (martyr) and take revenge on her family, knowing that their home would likely be demolished by the Israelis as punishment for her actions.

The episode in Anatot is another example of the failure of the working hypothesis of the Israeli security apparatus in regard to deterrence. It turns out that neither killing attackers nor destroying their family homes serves to deter young Palestinians from committing acts of terror. Potential assailants may not be concerned about what will happen to them or their family members if they carry out their intentions. In the case of Abu Eid, as well as others before and after her, deterrence did not work. On the contrary, Abu Eid wanted to die and take revenge on her family, according to the Shai Unit of the police after interrogating her father.

The Palestinian and Israeli security apparatuses have attempted to profile these “lone wolf attackers” to understand what motivates them to get up one day and, without instruction or backing, give up their lives on behalf of what the Palestinians are calling the “supreme goal” — liberation from Israeli occupation. Israelis tend to shrug their shoulders and simplistically attribute the terror to incitement by the Palestinian Authority. The reality, however, is more complicated. In fact, there is a tremendous gap between Israelis and Palestinians in the way they perceive the acts of these attackers, whether male or female.

Israelis, for example, view Morad Bader Abdullah Adais, the 15-year-old who murdered Dafna Meir in Otniel Jan. 17, as a monster who slayed a mother in front of her children. By contrast, many Palestinians, even those who dissociate themselves from this brutal murder, view the boy as the victim of an impossible situation. They see Adais as a victim of the occupation and as someone who was willing to sacrifice his life for the supreme goal shared by the entire Palestinian population.

Palestinian security members have paid visits to the homes of all those who have carried out attacks to create a general profile of these "lone wolves." Palestinian intelligence has collected data from the families of all the attackers, learning about their residential situations, hobbies, friends, social and familial issues and what they did in their spare time. They collected any and all scraps of information that might help them understand what is driving young Palestinians to carry out attacks even when they know that they are unlikely to survive. The data collected on dozens of assailants throughout the West Bank surprised even the security agents.

More than a third of the assailants have been aged 13 to 20. Almost all of them suffered from personal, familial and social problems. It seems they felt that the only way to escape their misery was by perpetrating an attack in Israel or against Israelis, thus becoming an admired and esteemed shahid. In Palestinian society, shahids bring honor to the family for dedicating themselves to the Palestinian struggle and being willing to give their lives on its behalf.

This glorification of shahids closely resembles the national-social code that emerged during the second intifada (2000-2005). At that time, “tahidiya” (self-sacrifice) came to be viewed as a cherished value in Palestinian society. In a society under occupation and suffering from hardship, it was almost the only way to achieve social mobility. Only those who brought honor to their family by sacrificing their lives for the people’s liberation, could improve their family’s situation by raising their status to a high and noble one in their community, with the family also receiving financial compensation for their sacrifice.

Most members of Fatah’s military arm, the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades who took part in the second intifada, had opted for a “career change.” They went from being members in terrifying criminal gangs that sowed fear in their communities through what was called “fawdda” (chaos and anarchy) to being fighters against the occupation. When the intifada erupted and Palestinian society entered into a state of emergency, the criminals, hooligans, car thieves and drug dealers found that the only way to shed their criminal status was to participate in the uprising and perpetrate terror attacks against Israel. Only then did their social status rise (along with their families'). They even received funding from various organizations, including the PA, then headed by Yasser Arafat.

The current intifada is different, and tactics to combat it are quite limited. What the Israel Defense Forces viewed as an effective solution in the second intifada is no longer relevant. Today, there is no organizational infrastructure, and therefore, there is also no operational military deterrence.

The most efficacious and perhaps only solution for Israel is to draw conclusions from the past and change its approach. The killing of terrorists does not create deterrence and neither does the destruction of their family homes. All these steps have not halted the current wave of attacks.

A member of the Palestinian security forces told Al-Monitor that Israel’s mistake is that it does not realize that deterrence will only be achieved once it prevents young Palestinian assailants from becoming shahids — that is, once it stops killing them. In this way, youths will believe that martyrdom is not the answer. The fewer shahids there are, he argued, the fewer youths who will follow in their path and attempt to emulate them.

The Palestinian security officer also said that fewer funerals, pictures and videos of dead people and blood would benefit the Israeli side much more than any other path of action. He says that in security coordination meetings, the Israelis have been given a clear message: Every young Palestinian corpse produces numerous copycats willing to follow in the deceased's footsteps.

What are the chances that Israel will act on this advice? Since the current intifada began, it seems that instructions for opening fire have not been clarified. Conclusions have not been reached that would bring about changes in the assumption underlying responses to the terror attacks. Instead, Israel continues to act based on outdated concepts.

Join hundreds of Middle East professionals with Al-Monitor PRO.

Business and policy professionals use PRO to monitor the regional economy and improve their reports, memos and presentations. Try it for free and cancel anytime.

Already a Member? Sign in


The Middle East's Best Newsletters

Join over 50,000 readers who access our journalists dedicated newsletters, covering the top political, security, business and tech issues across the region each week.
Delivered straight to your inbox.


What's included:
Our Expertise

Free newsletters available:

  • The Takeaway & Week in Review
  • Middle East Minute (AM)
  • Daily Briefing (PM)
  • Business & Tech Briefing
  • Security Briefing
  • Gulf Briefing
  • Israel Briefing
  • Palestine Briefing
  • Turkey Briefing
  • Iraq Briefing

Premium Membership

Join the Middle East's most notable experts for premium memos, trend reports, live video Q&A, and intimate in-person events, each detailing exclusive insights on business and geopolitical trends shaping the region.

$25.00 / month
billed annually

Become Member Start with 1-week free trial
What's included:
Our Expertise

Memos - premium analytical writing: actionable insights on markets and geopolitics.

Live Video Q&A - Hear from our top journalists and regional experts.

Special Events - Intimate in-person events with business & political VIPs.

Trend Reports - Deep dive analysis on market updates.

We also offer team plans. Please send an email to and we'll onboard your team.

Already a Member? Sign in