ABC Religion & Ethics – 15 October 2015
A spate of violent attacks in Israel in the past weeks have gone from bad to worse.
News alerts of stabbings, killings and the attempted murder of civilians occurring within Israel and the West Bank are turning up on my phone with an eerie, morbid regularity.
On Tuesday morning in Jerusalem, two men boarded a bus and stabbed and shot Israeli civilians, killing two and wounding sixteen, while across town, a Palestinian man drove his vehicle into a bus stop, exiting the car to attack the wounded with a meat cleaver.
In the city of Ra’anana, two additional stabbings took place at a bus stop and a cafe. That was Tuesday.
These are only a few of the attacks that have occurred in Israel since the start of October when an Israeli couple driving through the West Bank were shot and killed in front of their four children. On Sunday, a police officer and a woman were injured when the latter yelled “Allahu Akbar” and attempted to detonate explosives in her car.
Between last Thursday and Friday alone, seven separate attacks took place targeting Israelis, including a stabbing attack in central Tel Aviv where five people were injured with a screwdriver.
According to Al-Jazeera, at least 27 Palestinians have also been killed amid the violence, among them men and women who were shot by police on-site when they targeted the Israelis in the above attacks. Other Palestinians, including children, have been killed in violent clashes with the Israeli army during protests. Included in the death toll is a 13 year old boy who on Monday was shot by Israeli forces during clashes near the Palestinian capital of Ramallah – one of several children to die.
The violence and stabbings targeting civilians has escalated, and has in turn fuelled ongoing violence. Reports have contrasted the current “lone wolf” attacks to the first and second intifadas (or “uprisings”), which saw a co-ordinated series of attacks and suicide bombings by organised terror groups, especially during the early 2000s. While an Israeli security official has been quoted as saying the latest attacks in Jerusalem were a “planned and timed assault,” most of the attacks appear uncoordinated and independent, carried out by individuals fuelled by incitement, rendering successive attacks harder to predict.
Australia is no stranger to individuals radicalised by incitement and extremist teachings, with NSW Police Accountant Curtis Cheng murdered earlier this month by Farhad Jabar. This attack takes place following last year’s assault on the Lindt Cafe in Sydney. Following wide condemnation of radical group Hizb ut-Tahrir’s leader Ismail al-Wahwah, who stated that “the ember of Jihad against Jews will continue to burn,” NSW Attorney General Gabrielle Upton indicated the government was “considering” changes to our laws to protect against incitement by hate preachers.
With the Australian government seeking a pro-active and consultative approach to combating radicalisation and incitement, concern remains that incitement within the Palestinian territories is fanning the recent violence. Several Arab states, including Egypt and Saudi Arabia, have pushed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to calm tensions and prevent the escalation of violence. Yet reports say that leaders of Abbas’s own Fatah faction are “unhappy with the PA’s failure to play any role in or support the current wave of attacks on Israelis.”
Abbas has reportedly told his security forces to address the violence and stated this week that he supports “a popular, non-violent struggle” – a statement which tragically contrasts with the incendiary remarks he made on Palestinian television on 16 September:
“We bless every drop of blood that has been spilled for Jerusalem, which is clean and pure blood, blood spilled for Allah … Every Martyr will reach Paradise, and everyone wounded will be rewarded by Allah. The Al-Aqsa Mosque is ours, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is ours, and they have no right to defile them with their filthy feet.”
Abbas’s remarks regarding the Al-Aqsa mosque arise from significant clashes which began last month with Israeli police following the discovery by police of stockpiles of firebombs and pipe bombs in what is known as the Temple Mount in Israel, which is where Al-Aqsa is located.
The Israeli government have been accused of attempting to change the status quo at the Temple Mount where, according to long-standing arrangements, non-Muslims are not allowed to pray or enter Al-Aqsa, but are allowed to visit during restricted times. In response, the Israeli government has not only repeatedly ruled out changes to these arrangements, but went so far as to ban Israeli ministers and Members of Parliament from visiting the Temple Mount.
This arrangement has drawn criticism within Israel, given the site of the Temple Mount is considered the holiest site in Judaism. In 1967, Israel relinquished control over this site to maintain peace in the very troubled region, a move which fuelled a widely-held view within Palestinian society that Israelis have no attachment to the area and no right to be in Israel at all. Peaceful co-existence requires mutual recognition by Palestinians and Israelis of each party’s connection to what is now Israel and the Palestinian Territories, while the proliferation of the view that Jews have no claim to the land or right to be there will fuel hate and dehumanisation and justify continued violence against the population in the minds of extremists.
Palestinian and Arab leaders within both the West Bank and Israel should be lending their voices to the unequivocal condemnation of the recent spate of attacks and send a strong message that incitement to violence is not acceptable – just as groups within Australia have joined together to promote community harmony and combat radicalisation. Such an example was set when leaders in both the Palestinian and Israeli society condemned the firebombing of a Palestinian family in the West Bank earlier this year and the extremism associated with this act, labelling it in no uncertain terms an act of terrorism.
Australia and other countries currently battling extremism on their own soil can work with the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships to ensure the incitement and radicalism empowering the attackers is condemned unequivocally and extremism marginalised, lest the already horrific violence continues and further impede the path to a two-state outcome.
Glen Falkenstein is a Policy Analyst at the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council.