Palestine Pulse

Lone-wolf attacks on Israeli settlers increase

Article Summary
Individual, unorganized Palestinian attacks against Israeli settlers are difficult to prevent and reflect a frustrated Palestinian street.

The April 13 attack against an Israeli vehicle traveling near the Palestinian city of Hebron killed one Israeli soldier, who was traveling as a civilian settler with his family. This action appears to reflect a new Palestinian military strategy that will be harder to control.

Ever since the election of Mahmoud Abbas as the president of the Palestinian Authority, a serious and continuous security coordination effort has taken place. With help from US military and intelligence services, Palestinian-Israeli cooperation has succeeded mostly in stemming the tide of organized attacks against Israel and Israeli settlers. Not only has Abbas reined in his own Fatah militants, but the newly developed Palestinian security and intelligence service made sure that all Palestinian factions — whether left-wing groups such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, or Islamists such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad — are under total surveillance in the West Bank.

But while all known organized groups have either refrained or been prevented from carrying out armed attacks against Israelis in the West Bank, this tight control seems to evade individual attacks. Many Palestinians who have a personal grudge because a relative or a close friend was killed or imprisoned by Israel can and do carry out individual attacks whenever they can and whenever they feel the time is appropriate.

An Israeli army spokesman said the Hebron attack might have been carried out by a single person with no accomplices. No one took responsibility for it, and there is no evidence of any increase in chatter among known militants that would have indicated that their groups were behind the attack.

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Attacks initiated and planned by one individual are almost impossible to control. The most vulnerable groups that are affected by such attacks are soft Israeli targets such as Jewish settlers, especially those who use Palestinian roads to travel to Israel proper and back.

This vulnerability of Israeli settlers living by the force of the gun on Palestinian West Bank lands presents a great challenge to both Israeli and Palestinian security agencies. Palestinian security, on an almost weekly basis, finds lost Israelis in highly populated areas and turns them back to the Israeli military liaison. Early in April, Palestinian security handed over to their Israeli counterparts four settlers who had entered Bethlehem by mistake. The services rarely get any public credit for their actions, which are carried out as part of a policy aimed at removing rather than confronting any tensions between the communities, especially during the current peace talks.

Meanwhile, there are no signs of any political breakthroughs as Israeli media discuss the possibility of new elections. If new elections are announced, the entire process will be frozen for nearly a year.

The combination of individual attacks and a growing unhappiness with the peace talks could potentially produce an increase in anti-Israeli violence. A group of 108 Palestinian intellectuals signed a letter calling on Abbas to resist political pressure from Israel and the United States and not to continue with the current peace talks. Many more Palestinians are being asked to add their names to the original signatories.

In addition to the individual acts that have and will likely continue to take place, a flashpoint of tension continues to be the overcrowded Palestinian refugee camps. The Aida camp in Bethlehem, which is adjacent to the Israeli wall, has witnessed daily clashes, the latest of which resulted in the death of Nuha Qatamesh. The 40-year-old woman suffered from tear gas inhalation, possibly due to excessive use of tear gas. One Palestinian reporter who visited the area called the camp a disaster area, and said the effects of the gas were overpowering.

The individual attacks combined with the rising tension in various Palestinian refugee camps will certainly put more pressure on the Palestinian government to reduce its air-tight security coordination with Israel. Abbas shows no signs of doing that, but if the peace talks falter at the end of April and Israeli revenge actions increase on the population and his government, it is highly possible that this security cooperation will become yet another victim of the failed peace process.

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Found in: security cooperation, security, refugee camps, palestine, israeli settlements, israeli-palestinian negotiations, israel, bethlehem

Daoud Kuttab is a Palestinian journalist, a media activist and a columnist for Palestine Pulse. He is a former Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University and is currently director-general of Community Media Network, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to advancing independent media in the Arab region. On Twitter: @daoudkuttab

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