Home Update The PA and the current round of stabbing violence

The PA and the current round of stabbing violence

Update from AIJAC

March 10, 2016
Number 03/16 #02

This Update focuses on recent pieces relating the latest wave of Palestinian violence – which led to a day of particularly brutal violence on Tuesday, including five attacks with dozens wounded and an American tourist killed – and the role of the Palestinian Authority (PA), led by Mahmoud Abbas.

The key story is an analysis of the role of the PA in the violence – which has now gone on for more than a hundred days – by Brig.-Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser, a former senior intelligence analyst for the IDF. He says the PA is effectively encouraging, but not directing, the current wave of terror, seeing it as part of a strategy in place since 2009 of combining unilateral diplomatic effort in the international arena with so-called “popular resistance”, viewing it as a way to return international attention to the Palestinian cause, and assessing the violence as relatively cost free from the PA’s point of view, with no serious pressure resulting from it. He argues that the the only way to make the PA re-assess its strategy – which its leaders view as successful – is for Israel to make the Palestinian leadership pay a price for it. For his complete analysis, CLICK HERE. Kuperwasser’s report is actually part of a larger monograph, edited by Kuperwasser and Hirsh Goodman, on 100 days of stabbing violence, which is highly recommended and can be downloaded here. The opening chapter, by Goodman, detailing what has happened in those 100 days, including the role of the PA, is here.

Next up is an interesting piece suggesting what Palestinian leaders could be doing to stop the violence, by Times of Israel Palestinian Affairs correspondent . He visited the West Bank town of Sa’ir, which had seen the highest per capita number of teens killed in carrying out attacks on Israeli – but which seems to have now reversed this phenomenon. While the locals continue to worship their martyrs, the solution appears to have been a campaign from town leaders, as described by the mayor, to urge young people to stay alive, and that studying hard is the better way to support Palestinian aspirations than getting themselves killed as “martyrs.” For this valuable look inside the incitement and lack of employment behind the attacks, and how they can be countered if there is a will, CLICK HERE.

Finally, another veteran Palestinian Affairs journalist, Khaled Abu Toameh, explains what the latest teachers’ strike in the West Bank is showing donors to the PA about its human rights behaviour and poor financial accountability. He points out that not only has the PA engaged in a heavy-handed crackdown on the strikers, the striking teachers have apparently exposed that the PA is paying them less than it claimed it was in reports to international donors. Donors are now reportedly demanding payroll figures to clarify the situation, but the PA, according to Abu Toameh, is planning to prevent the donors from obtaining the figures with an obfuscatory report. He argues that the strike and its aftermath may finally lead to a long overdue new era of accountability by the PA for the money it is being given for services for Palestinians. To read it all, CLICK HERE.

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The Palestinian Knife Campaign

A Policy of Limited Liability

Brig.-Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser

Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs

 

Five months into the stabbing terror campaign, the Palestinian leadership keeps evaluating its costs and benefits to date and the prospects for its future. As described by Hirsh Goodman, the decision to embark on this course of action was a result of a combination of several factors:

  1. The availability of the stealth terror tool, which is a result of the long-time and ongoing incitement and the inculcation of the people in the pillars of Palestinian national identity,1 with particular impact on children’s psychological make-up.
  2. The ease of turning this option into action almost instantly by introducing religiously sensitive issues into the discourse such as the fate of the al-Aqsa mosque.
  3. The need to employ this activity to restore international attention to the Palestinian issue and compensate for the damage done by the regional turmoil to Palestinian attempts to present the case that Israel’s attitude is the main reason for the tension between the Islamic and Arab world and the West.
  4. The existence of a comprehensive Palestinian strategy adopted in the Sixth Fatah conference in 2009, which is based on a combination of unilateral diplomatic effort in the international arena and “popular resistance,” of which the current stabbing campaign is an example.
  5. The assumption that the costs to the Palestinians for this kind of terror campaign will be limited and the benefits will be much greater.

Apparently, not much thought was given by the Palestinian leadership to the potential dilemmas that a long terror campaign may eventually present. One reason is that a previous attempt to embark on such a policy, in the second half of 2014, was quite successful. At that time, PA President Mahmoud Abbas called for such a campaign, raised the al-Aqsa alarm, and quoted a well-known verse from the Quran,2 enabling him to halt the campaign after things went out of control following the November 18, 2014, attack in a Jerusalem synagogue in the Har Nof neighborhood where five rabbis were brutally murdered.

The Palestinian leadership was also not worried that the terror campaign would spin out of control and turn into something similar to the second intifada. This option, termed “the militarization of the intifada” (Askarat Al-Intifada) in internal Palestinian debate, was considered to be Hamas’ goal, but eventually was hard to execute because of Israel’s proven capability to thwart most of the terror attempts of this kind. Israeli security cooperation with the PA also helped prevent such violence.

In fact, the terror campaign so far has gone according to the characteristics designated by the leadership without the need for their direct, guiding involvement. The Palestinian leadership regained attention to the Palestinian issue in the international arena and in Iran, though, ironically, much less so in the Arab world which is totally preoccupied with its own problems.

Despite the vicious incitement and inhumane terror attacks that have provoked some criticism of the Palestinians, no threats or pressure has been directed at the Palestinian leadership. Rather, the international media and Western leadership echo the Palestinian claim that the attacks stem from Palestinian frustration due to the ongoing Israeli occupation and its settlements policy. No price was to be paid by the Palestinians for their support for the terror campaign. Moreover, due to the wide popularity of this campaign within the Palestinian community, the support of the Palestinian leadership for the campaign helps it mitigate public criticism and resentment for its conduct on all fronts (corruption, lack of governance, economic dysfunction, etc.) and raises its nationalist posture.

Israelis have shifted positions in recognizing that the Palestinian leadership is not a partner for a real peace, but the alternatives raised by some in the Israeli center-left – a unilateral separation – can also be interpreted as a sign of weakness and readiness to make concessions to the Palestinians unilaterally, without the Palestinians having to change any of their basic positions.

It is not surprising, then, that up to this point the Palestinians are quite satisfied with the results of the campaign, and in discussions held by the Fatah Central Committee and other leaderships forums, the decision was made to continue supporting and encouraging this effort unabatedly. The assumption of the leadership is that the terror campaign would continue as long as there is no decision to stop it. This is based on the assessment that the psychological inculcation of the Palestinian youth will guarantee that at any given time there will still be young Palestinians who will decide to go out and stab a Jew. Just like popcorn kernels explode in the microwave at random with no indication when the first will explode and which will not, so are the Palestinian youngsters randomly ready to explode when the indirect message comes from their leadership.

Will the leadership be able to control the level of violence if they so decide in the future? It might not prove to be that easy. It could put them in direct confrontation with a considerable part of the Palestinian public who support the continuation of the terror campaign. In a way, the leadership is short of options other than supporting the continuation of the terror campaign. Fortunately for them, for the time being, this campaign is paying off for them.

So what should Israel do in order to end the campaign and force the Palestinian leadership to move out of its complacency? So far Israel has taken direct steps against the terrorists and their families, adopted enhanced security measures, and criticized the Palestinian Authority, but it has refrained from taking any measures against the Palestinian leadership itself. Recently, Israel announced it is going to deliver half a billion shekels to the Palestinians in order to improve economic conditions in the Palestinian Authority, and has raised the number of permits for Palestinian workers in Israel. As long as this soft-glove attitude is adopted, it is hard to see any incentive for the Palestinian leadership to reconsider their policy. If eventually the Palestinian leadership decides to stop the attacks, they may still be able to do it, but only if the general population feels the price for the continuation of the campaign is too high. This was the case in most previous rounds of Palestinian terror and violence.

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Notes

1 The antecedents of these pillars can be found in the PLO’s Palestinian National Charter of July 1968 (http://www.iris.org.il/plochart.htm) and the Hamas Covenant of August 1988 (http://avalon.law.yale.edu/20th_century/hamas.asp). They reflect the concept that the essence of being a Palestinian is to deny Zionism. The first pillar claims that Judaism is only a religion and not a nationality or peoplehood, and hence the Jews are not eligible to a right of self-determination. The second pillar denies any sovereign history of the Jews in Palestine (Eretz Israel). Based on those two pillars, the Palestinians believe that there is no place for a state for the Jews in Palestine and that its disappearance is inevitable. The third pillar is that the Jews are the vilest creatures ever created, which explains why stabbing them is an acceptable course of action for Palestinians, including youth. The fourth pillar states that the struggle against Zionism is on-going and diverse, and all its various means, including violence and terror, are legitimate. The fifth emphasizes the unbreakable bond between the Palestinians and the land of Palestine in its entirety and is reflected in the commitment to the eventual return of the Palestinians to their homes and the establishment of the Palestinian state over the entire territory. And the sixth is the identification of the Palestinians as victims, which spares them any accountability or responsibility.

2 Verse 39 from the 22nd Sura – ‘Al-Haj’.

Brig.-Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser is Director of the Project on Regional Middle East Developments at the Jerusalem Center. He was formerly Director General of the Israel Ministry of Strategic Affairs and head of the Research Division of IDF Military Intelligence.

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Why has a Hebron village, home to 12 recent ‘martyrs,’ suddenly gone quiet?

 

‘We want our children alive,’ says the mayor of Sa’ir, which has contributed a record-high number of attackers, explaining what the authorities did in recent weeks to try to calm things down

Times of Israel, March 7, 2016, 2:45 pm

SA’IR, West Bank — It is early afternoon in the center of this village near Hebron — a village that was home to the highest number of Palestinians killed in violence against Israel over the past five months (in proportion to the population). Twelve youngsters from Sa’ir, a village of some 18,000 that lies five miles northeast of Hebron, have died in this latest wave of terror and violence, some when carrying out attacks, others in clashes with Israeli troops.

Surprisingly, at first, however, we see no posters of shahids, or “martyrs,” on the village walls. In most every village, city and refugee camp, posters hail the local shahids. But not here.

Three youngsters are the first to approach us. One of them introduces himself as Muataz Shalada. He is 20 years old, and knew two of the 12. “Their brother was a friend of mine,” he says. Although he works in Israel, Shalada does not hesitate to say what everybody in Sa’ir says when asked about the “martyrs”: “We are proud of them. They defended the homeland.”

A group of 10 to 15 young people stands on an incline at the side of the road nearby, watching the goings-on in the center of the village. They seem bored, but many of them refuse to be interviewed.

Khaled, at 32 the oldest of the group, married and the father of four, is drawn in when I ask what has made Sa’ir such a source of attackers.

“Do you see all these young people around us?” he says. “They’re all unemployed. Sometimes they enter Israel illegally (to seek work), but they have no work permits. I don’t have one either. I never did anything wrong. I’ve never been in jail. Nobody in my family has been in jail or done anything, but they won’t give me a work permit.” How does he make a living? “I drive people around in this car.” Khaled points to a vehicle with yellow Israeli license plates — a stolen car that has become an illegal taxi.

He launches into a diatribe against Israeli soldiers: “I tell you, today they are shooting people for no reason. Anyone who has a knife gets killed. Anyone who drives a little fast near soldiers gets shot. If I could make a decent living, why would I stab anybody? For Netanyahu? For Abu Mazen? What do I care about them?”

In the circle of friends, many nod in agreement.

Why are the attackers in this latest violence using knives, I ask. What happened to the symbols from the past — stones and rifles?

“Every home has knives. That’s all. Same with cars. They’re right there, they’re convenient. But it’s not because of the influence of Islamic State, like people say sometimes. That’s nonsense.”

And these attackers, these are heroes? Why?

“For us, anyone who shoots or stabs Jews is a hero. Why? Because they resisted the occupation. We don’t want violence; ultimately, we want peace. But these shahids resisted the occupation, so we consider them heroes. And again I say to you: If these people had jobs, there would be no problems at all. I knew some of them, and I know what I’m talking about.”

“Ultimately they want peace.” Does that mean alongside or in place of Israel? When I ask whether they are in favor of the two-state solution, they repeat what young people are saying in every corner of the territories.

“We want one state,” says Issam, one of the youngsters, who sports a pointy hairstyle that requires even more styling gel than the norm. “That would be better. I have no problem living with Jews.”

I ask how much of a role official and unofficial media played in inciting Sa’ir’s young “shahids.”

“It’s true that Facebook and the various television stations play a role,” Khaled says. “But there would still be problems even if Facebook didn’t exist. You see the things on the Al-Aksa channel, or on Al-Quds (the Hamas television station), and it’s infuriating.”

What is the most popular channel?

“The Playstation,” says Issam, getting belly laughs from the whole group.

Stopping the terror attacks

The first resident of Sa’ir to carry out a knife attack on an Israeli target last year was 22-year-old Raed Jaradat. He was killed by the Israeli troops who thwarted him on October 26, 2015. His cousin Iyad Jaradat, who allegedly tried to attack Israeli soldiers, was killed later that same day. Fadi al-Frugh was killed several days after that, in early November. At 27, he was somewhat older than the others.

The attacks continued. Another young man was killed in late November. After a lull lasting slightly more than a month, another eight young people from the village were killed in a series of incidents and terror attacks in a matter of weeks through mid-January. Perhaps the best-known of these, which took place on January 7, was an attempted terror attack by three teenagers from the same family: brothers Mohannad and Ala Kawazbe and their cousin Ahmed Kawazbe, armed with knives, who were caught on security cameras at the Etzion bloc junction coming from the direction of the village of Beit Fajjar toward the soldiers at the junction. They were shot dead. That same night, another young man from Sa’ir tried to stab soldiers at the nearby Beit Einun junction and was killed as well. As of this writing, there had been no more incidents or fatalities since mid-January.

The mayor of Sa’ir pronounces himself baffled by the surge, but has explanations for the decline.

“There was no visible reason why these young people chose the path that they did,” says Ka’id Jaradat, a former colonel in the Palestinian Authority’s security agencies who was elected mayor on the Fatah list in 2012.

“I have no doubt that the story of the Al-Aksa Mosque” — the PA-disseminated allegation that the holy site is in danger — “as well as other videos circulating on the Internet, had an influence on many of the young people here,” says Jaradat, who also served as a PA diplomat in several African countries, in an interview in his office in the municipality building. “One video showed a young woman who had been killed and her body disrobed when it was searched,” he charged, “and that got people very angry. The slogan ‘Defend your sister’ spread on Facebook, and that got the young people up in arms.”

Jaradat echoes the accusation that Israeli troops fire readily at all suspects, and says soldiers behave coarsely at the roadblocks, which fuels attacks.

But why Sa’ir? What made all those young people from this village do what they did?

“I don’t rule out any possibility,” Jaradat says. “Most of them were unemployed. On top of that, they had no political horizon. I tell you: I want peace, and I see Israel as a partner. But when I’m unable to bring any achievements to my constituency, they tell me: Get out of the way, let me act, you haven’t managed to do a thing.

“The economy is ruined. The closures on the village have had their effect. And remember: all those people who were killed did not go to Tel Aviv or to (Jerusalem’s) Jaffa Road (to carry out attacks). They did it here, at the entrance to the village. So what made them do it? Despair. Lack of hope. You see it all over the Middle East.

“And if Israel uses only force, that harms coexistence and only makes the despair more powerful. The military pressure on the population here has made the situation even more tense. Social media has had a damaging effect as well. So has the concept of the blood feud. Since most of the (attackers) were members of the same families, that possibility cannot be ruled out.”

And why have the attacks halted of late? Jaradat describes an unusual measure taken by the Palestinian Authority, in coordination with the local village municipality, to try to prevent future attacks — a measure that seems to be working.

“I’m raising my son to become an engineer, let’s say, or a teacher. He should live in peace with his family, not go out to shoot anybody or engage in a terror attack. That was our message to everybody here in the village after all those shahids,” says Jaradat. “We conveyed a message to the Israeli side as well: that it needed to do everything possible to keep from killing young people, even if they were holding knives.

“The (PA’s) governor of Hebron came to the village, and we arranged a large meeting with all the dignitaries, clerics, teachers, school principals, representatives of the security agencies,” the mayor continues. ““Our message to all of them was: ‘We want our children alive.’ My message as a leader and representative was, ‘I don’t want the young people to commit attacks. I want them to live. Let’s keep our blood. We don’t need or want there to be shahids every day.’

“We conveyed this message to the young people via the schools and the mosques. We’ve tried to calm things down. Our goal was that people would work voluntarily for calm, for quiet. And when the army removed some of the roadblocks around the village, that also helped to calm things down.”

What exactly did the authorities do in the schools? “The teachers and the principals did not speak out against the shahids. We never intended anything like that. But they did convey the message that a pupil who does well in his studies, who gets a full education, is the one who shows true sumud (steadfastness). He is actually the one who is protecting the Palestinians’ right to this land. In other words, those who remain are the successful ones. Not those who die. Those who die are gone, finished.

“The same was done in the mosques. We stated clearly that we wanted our sons alive and the village to go back to being ‘under control.’ We conveyed messages using the local media outlets. We even told the families of the shahids that we wanted no incitement.

“So yes, we are completely disappointed in the political situation. But everybody, including the Israelis, must understand that despite that, we want our children alive. You talk a lot among yourselves about incitement and blame President Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas). But that’s not it. He is working for calm, and speaks and acts without equivocation or vague messages. Our security agencies are working to keep things calm and for a return to nonviolent resistance.”

And yet the shahids are still considered heroes here, I note. “Look: we’re a traditional society. Shahada (martyrdom) is a supreme value. And yes, people’s admiration for the shahids is very high, the highest it can be. For these young people who were killed, the way they saw it is: ‘If I didn’t get heaven on earth while I was alive, I’ll get it when I’m buried.’”

As we leave the municipality building, we see, finally, a poster bearing the images of the three “shahids” from the January 7 attempted terror attack at the Etzion Junction. The poster, which bears Fatah’s logo, reads: “The three martyrs from the heroic Etzion attack.” And here, in one place at one moment, we could feel how equivocal and confusing is the message to Sa’ir’s youth: On the one hand, the municipality is taking a leading role in working against the terror attacks, while on the other, it is here, of all places, that we see a poster extolling the attackers and their deeds.

The children

That confusing, indeed contradictory attitude, is reflected not only in the statements of people like Khaled and Mayor Jaradat. Everybody here hails “our heroes”; everybody emphasizes that most of the village’s inhabitants want to live quietly with the Israelis and avoid more violence.

A group of teenagers stands at the side of the road near the village high school. Mohammed Shalada, 16, also refers to the young people who were killed as “heroes who defended their homeland.”

His friend Ahmed Shalada, 18, agrees. “They showed that we will not allow provocations. Every Palestinian takes pride in them. They felt despair and saw that nobody, not even the Palestinian Authority, could help.”

So would you, too, want to do as they did?

“No, of course not,” says Ahmed. “I have no desire to be a shahid. We gained nothing from these terror attacks. I want to live, and live as well as possible. True, it’s an honor to be a shahid, but what for? Who cares about that? It may have made them be seen as heroes and be thought of as ‘great,’ but I want to live. That’s all.”

So what will put a stop to the attacks?

“What will put a stop to it? Only peace.”

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Palestinians: Have The Donors Finally Woken Up?

by Khaled Abu Toameh

  • The striking teachers are exposing the Palestinian Authority (PA) as playing Western donors for suckers.

  • No one, in fact, knows how many Palestinians are on the Palestinian payroll.

  • Donors might not be aware, for instance, that they are paying over 50,000 employees from the Gaza Strip to not work. This has been the case since 2007, when Hamas seized control over the Gaza Strip. In response, the PA ordered all its employees to boycott Hamas and promised to pay them full salaries for sitting at home.

  • The Palestinian committee has been tasked to avoid scandal and ensure that donors do not get to the bottom of the case.

Western donors want to see a list of the names of Palestinians who are on the payroll of the Palestinian Authority (PA), and the PA is not happy about it.

What is driving this demand? Thousands of Palestinian school teachers in the West Bank are striking for better conditions. The Palestinian leadership, in response, has ordered a security crackdown on the strikers.

To justify the crackdown, PA officials have claimed that the strike was organized by Hamas as part of a conspiracy to embarrass and undermine the regime of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

What is really happening is that the teachers are blowing the whistle on PA corruption. They have accused the PA Ministry of Education of wasting donors’ funds and deceiving them by inflating the number of teachers. They claim that the list of employees (about 56,000) ostensibly hired by the ministry contains many fictitious names. These include teachers and administrative workers of the ministry.

The teachers also accuse the PA of lying to the donors about their salaries. The information provided by the PA to donors claimed that the PA pays higher salaries to the teachers than the teachers actually receive.

In other words, the striking teachers are exposing the PA as playing Western donors for suckers.

The PA’s Finance Ministry has yet to publish the general budget for the years 2015 and 2016. The last time the budget appeared on the ministry’s official website was in 2014. The striking teachers and other Palestinians say there is something fishy about the Finance Ministry’s failure to make public the annual budget for 2015 and 2016. They call this a lack of transparency.

According to various sources, the donors’ request took PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah by surprise. He has referred the request to the office of Mahmoud Abbas and is now awaiting the president’s personal intervention in the developing scandal.

One report revealed that the PA leadership has formed a secret legal committee, headed by Palestinian official Karim Shehadeh, to prepare a reply to the donors about the discrepancy in the salaries. The committee has been tasked to avoid scandal and ensure that donors do not get to the bottom of the case.

The donors’ request explains the hysterical response of the PA leadership to the ongoing teachers’ strike in the West Bank. In the past few weeks, PA security forces have rounded up dozens of striking teachers and imposed a reign of intimidation against others. When the teachers planned to hold a protest rally in Ramallah last week, the PA deployed hundreds of policemen and set up checkpoints in various parts of the West Bank in a bid to foil the protest and terrify the teachers.

In a typical game of smoke and mirrors, the Palestinian government this week denied that the donor countries demanded to inspect the payroll records. Yet Palestinian sources in Ramallah insisted that the reports were true. According to the sources, this marks a watershed in donors’ demand for accountability from the PA leadership.

Striking teachers is only one of the PA headaches. The donors’ demand for a full report on the names of PA public employees is bad news for Abbas. No one, in fact, knows how many Palestinians are on the PA payroll. Some figures estimate the number of employees at over 160,000, while others have put the figure at 250,000.

According to one study, the Palestinians have one policeman for every 52 people, compared to one teacher for each 72. Since its founding more than two decades ago, the PA has established ten different security services that employ more than 70,000 people.

Some Palestinians have charged that these numbers have been vastly inflated by using names of the deceased, those who live abroad and some who do not even exist. In the main, these salaries are covered by donor governments such as the US and EU, who for years have failed to check the lists of the public employees or verify the sums.

Moreover, donors might not be aware that they are paying over 50,000 employees from the Gaza Strip to not work. This has been the case since 2007, when Hamas seized control over the Gaza Strip. In response, the Palestinian Authority ordered all its employees to boycott Hamas and promised to pay them full salaries for sitting at home.

If the donors are indeed demanding the report, it could mark the dawn of a new era — one in which the PA leadership is called on the carpet for its financial shenanigans. Of course, President Abbas and his friends might still find a way to blame Israel. This tactic has worked wonders in the past.

Thus, the jury is still out on whether the donors will show themselves to be the suckers the PA is hoping for, or if the Palestinians will finally begin to be held accountable for their behavior.

Khaled Abu Toameh, an award-winning journalist, is based in Jerusalem.

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