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West Bank unrest escalates following violent riots by Jewish protesters in Huwara

Mar 1, 2023 | AIJAC staff

Screenshot from a video showing radical Israeli rioters torching Palestinian homes in the West Bank town of Huwara (Image: Twitter)
Screenshot from a video showing radical Israeli rioters torching Palestinian homes in the West Bank town of Huwara (Image: Twitter)

Update 03/23 #01

This Update focuses on the increasing unrest in the West Bank – with three Israelis murdered in highway shootings since Sunday, and violent riots by Jewish protesters in the town of Huwara on Sunday evening which left dozens of homes and cars set alight, and resulted in numerous injuries to local residents, and one killed. These events followed a summit held in Aqaba, Jordan on the weekend, bringing together officials from Israel, the Palestinian Authority (PA), the US, Jordan and Egypt to discuss arrangements to calm tensions in the West Bank.

The first piece is a good general summary and backgrounder from BICOM. It explains exactly what happened in the terror attacks and the Huwara violence, and details what exactly was agreed at the Aqaba summit. It also discusses Israel’s military responses to the latest violence. For this essential background information on recent events, CLICK HERE.

Next up is a more detailed look at the security challenges ahead from military affairs correspondent Yossi Yehoshua. He discusses the option of trying to get the PA to take more responsibility for countering terror in the northern West Bank, as the Aqaba summit urged, and as the US supports – and the questions being raised about the viability of this approach. He also looks at the reasons for the IDF’s failure to prevent the violence at Huwara on Sunday night. For all the details of his analysis about the military options to deal with the West Bank unrest,  CLICK HERE.

Finally, US analyst Jonathan Schanzer looks at the costs to the Palestinians if the West Bank unrest continues. In a piece written before the latest violence, he responds to predictions of a new “Intifada” on the West Bank – and to some activists who are rooting for this to happen. Schanzer reviews the history and overall human costs of the first and second intifadas – which began in 1987 and 2000 respectively – as well as the Arab revolt against the British in 1936-39. For his valuable and convincing warning about what such an outcome could cost Palestinians and Palestinian society, CLICK HERE. Schanzer and his colleague Joe Truzman also had a good article correcting some myths and explaining some facts about the development and origins of the current wave of West Bank violence.

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Deadly riot in Huwara follows killing of two Israelis

BICOM, Feb. 27, 2023


Brothers Yagel and Hallel Yaniv –  killed in a shooting on their car near Huwara on Sunday

What happened: Two Israelis were killed in a shooting attack yesterday near Huwara in the northern West Bank.

  • The victims, brothers Hallel Yaniv, 21 and Yagel Yaniv, 19, were residents of the settlement of Har Bracha. They were traveling on Route 60 when a Palestinian gunman opened fire from close range at their car and then fled the scene. An initial probe suggested the gunman took advantage of traffic to carry out the attack.
  • In the aftermath of the shooting, a group of settlers rioted in Huwara and other villages near Nablus. Palestinian medics reported that one man was killed while thirty homes were set on fire. Nine Palestinian families were rescued from their burning homes by Israeli security forces. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas condemned what he termed “the terrorist acts carried out by settlers under the protection of the occupation forces.” Some Israeli journalists criticised the IDF for not being more prepared to prevent the violence in Huwara by beefing up their forces in the village to separate the sides and reduce the violence.
  • State Department spokesman Ned Price said the US condemns the West Bank violence, “including the terrorist attack that killed two Israelis and settler violence, which resulted in the killing of one Palestinian, injuries to over 100 others, and the destruction of extensive property.”
  • Both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Isaac Herzog criticised the settler response to the shooting. “I am asking, while blood is boiling and winds are high – don’t take the law into your hands,” Netanyahu wrote, adding “I ask that you allow the IDF and security forces to do their work.” Herzog expressed his “forceful condemnation” writing that “taking the law into one’s own hands, rioting, and committing violence against innocents – this is not our way.”


Violent rioters who entered Huwara and torched buildings and cars, and attacked local residents, on Sunday night (Photo: Twitter). 

Context: The attack took place during a summit in Aqaba to discuss calming tensions, especially ahead of Ramadan, which this year partially overlaps with Passover.

  • The summit, the first time such a forum of four states plus the Palestinians has been convened, was attended by Shin Bet chief Ronen Bar and National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi, PA intelligence chief Majed Faraj, U.S National Security Council officials, and Jordanian and Egyptian security personnel.
  • Its announced outcomes included commitments on:
    • Establishing a joint committee to review renewed security coordination between Israel and the PA.
    • No new Israeli decisions on settlement construction for the next 4 months (the recent announcement to legalise nine unauthorised outposts and to build 9,500 new housing units in the West Bank would not be changed.)
    • Forming a joint civilian committee to advance confidence-building economic measures.
    • Encouraging the PA to reassert its security control in the heart of Palestinian population centres.
  • US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan welcomed the “commitments by the Government of Israel and the PA to de-escalate and prevent further violence. The two sides also affirmed their commitment to all previous agreements between them, and to work towards a just and lasting peace.”
  • Jordan’s foreign ministry says the Israeli and Palestinian representatives at the Aqaba summit agreed to work toward a “just and lasting peace” and affirmed the need to “commit to de-escalation on the ground.
  • There was disagreement over what had been agreed regarding settlement construction. The State Department said that both sides had “confirmed their joint readiness and commitment to immediately work to end unilateral measures for a period of 3–6 months” adding that “this includes an Israeli commitment to stop discussion of any new settlement units for 4 months and to stop authorization of any outposts for 6 months.”
  • Israel denied there was a general commitment to halt settlement expansion. Prime Minister Netanyahu tweeted that “Contrary to the tweets, the construction and regulation in Judea and Samaria will continue according to the original schedule, with no changes. There is and there will be no freeze.” Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich had previously said that he didn’t “know what was or was not talked about in Jordan…there is one thing I do know: there will not be any freezing of building and developments in settlements for even one day (and it’s under my authority).”
27-year-old Israeli-American Elan Ganeles, shot dead in his car near Jericho on Monday  (Photo: Consulate General of Israel in New York/Twitter). 

Looking ahead: The manhunt for yesterday’s shooter continues. The IDF, Israel Police and Israel Border Police forces are currently operating in the Shomron Regional Brigade.

  • The IDF announced that following a situational assessment, it was decided to reinforce the Judea and Samaria Division with two additional battalions. Furthermore, as part of the expanding security activity in the city of Nablus, it was decided to increase the security checks on routes leading in and out of the city.
  • Another Israeli-Jordanian-Egyptian meeting is scheduled before Ramadan in order, according to an Israeli official “to examine progress in the security arena.”

Can Israel stop terror wave with defensive moves alone?

Analysis: At this week’s summit in Jordan, Israel agreed to limit counter-terrorism operations in Palestinian territories to curbing only immediate threats; but IDF could soon go on offensive, which may lead to more bloodshed

Yossi Yehoshua

Ynetnews.com, Feb. 28, 2023


The Jordanians just hosted a summit at Aqaba (pictured) to agree on arrangements to attempt to calm West Bank tensions  – but this is looking increasingly difficult given recent violent events (Photo: Martin Dworschak, Shutterstock).

Israel’s security forces are desperately looking for ways to tame the wave of terror engulfing the West Bank. A task, which is becoming more and more complicated.

One of the major challenges is that the U.S., which has helped us manage the conflict up until now, has begun to doubt its position.

Furthermore, the Palestinian Authority is growing weaker by the hour. It offers no solution to the surge in violence, and even the Palestinian public sees it as corrupt, lacking legitimacy, and losing authority.

We saw the consequences of this in Jenin when last year the IDF pulled back to allow the PA to take control and combat local terror organizations. That only resulted in further violence, and now we see the same scenario being repeated in the Jordan Valley.

Monday’s terror attack outside Jericho and the IDF action against Hamas-affiliated militants there last week, are signs that terror has raised its head in the previously quiet West Bank area, and that the PA has lost all motivation and confidence to respond.

Young Palestinians today are fed up with the PA, acting out against all of its institutions, and even against Hamas while creating a new national narrative thanks to social media. There, they glorify new shaheeds (martyrs), a trend we’ve seen put into play by the “viral” Nablus-based Lions’ Den militant group in recent months.

These young men are determined to fight. We saw that in the deadly gun battle in Nablus last week. They are willing to set out at 4am, in pouring rain, just to throw stones at IDF vehicles as they leave the area.

They are motivated by extreme rage, bolstered by incitement on social media platforms, and the abundance of weapons available to them in the refugee camps, all creating a powder keg set to explode on the eve of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Israel’s participation in Sunday’s meeting with Jordanian, Palestinian, Egyptian and American officials in Aqaba, was important. It was an effort to defuse tensions ahead of the Muslim holiday which begins in three weeks.

The Palestinians wake up daily to the aftermath of Israeli raids, resulting in more than 200 dead within one year, but also to headlines in the media, quoting Israeli ministers, threatening further sanctions on the PA.

Under American pressure, a freeze on West Bank settlement construction was agreed to by Israel, as well as limiting IDF offensive operations in the Palestinian cities to ‘ticking time bombs’ only. The IDF, Shin Bet, and Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) all supported those decisions.

But hours later, the Huwara terror attack happened, followed by a rampage by Jewish settlers in retaliation.

The violence perpetrated by the settlers represents a failure of the Israeli security authorities. However, in their defense, the regional commanders had only two battalions in the area at their disposal, and two Border Police companies. They did not have enough manpower to carry out a sweeping manhunt after the terrorist who killed two settlers, which entails locking down the cities of Nablus and Huwara while also dealing with the rioting of right-wing delinquents seeking revenge.

It took the IDF a good few hours to send reinforcements. Meanwhile, all hell broke loose.

Senior commanders took responsibility for the failure, which will be further investigated by the IDF. However, experts believe it would have long-term implications, and worry that similar violence would be unleashed in the form of Palestinians breaking into the Israeli settlements.


IDF Chief of Staff Herzl Halevi at a military base in the Jordan Valley on Feb. 28: The IDF admits to failures at Huwara, but is debating the best tactics to confront the rise in West Bank violence (Photo: IDF). 

Just one day after the events of Huwara, terrorists traveling on a West Bank highway shot at passing Israeli cars near Jericho and killed one of the drivers. Attacks on the roads are difficult to deal with as anyone who served in the West Bank during the Second Intifada, knows well.

Not everyone in the IDF agrees that reducing offensive measures to counter terrorisms activity, as promised in Jordan, is the right call. They claim counter-terrorism by nature cannot rely on defensive measures alone.

But military officials, for the most part, are willing to give this strategy a chance if it would bring about long-term calm. The same officials also believe that the PA, despite its weakness, is irreplaceable and essential for maintaining some form of order.

“We don’t want to see Hamas take control, the PA dismantled, or the Fatah-affiliated Tanzim militants becoming involved in terror,” they say, “So, a strong Palestinian Authority is in the interest of Israel and we can minimize the non-essential operational activity in the cities.”

Only time will tell who is right. Unfortunately, it is more likely that the reality on the ground and the continuing incitement will likely compel the IDF to resume offensive operations soon. That will likely lead to even more bloodshed.

Mr. Yossi Yehoshua is a Military Correspondent for Yediot Ahronot.


What Would a Third Intifada Mean for Palestinians?

JONATHAN SCHANZER 

Newsweek 23/02/23


Pro-Palestinian activists calling for a new “Intifada” (like these Canadian protesters), are asking for something that history shows has had disastrous consequences for Palestinians (Photo: Kevin D Jeffrey, Shutterstock). 

“I was a senior U.S. diplomat 20 years ago during the Second Intifada…a lot of what we’re seeing today has a very unhappy resemblance,” CIA Director Bill Burns said recently.

Middle East watcher Dan Byman declares: “The odds of a third intifada are higher than they have been in years.”

A protest march at the University of Michigan in January featured chants of “Intifada! Intifada! Long live the intifada!”

The word “intifada,” which literally means “shaking off,” refers to the recurring effort by Palestinians to expel Israel, through varying degrees of violence, from the territories they seek for their national project. One intifada erupted in 1987. Another began in 2000. Going back, there was also the Arab Revolt of the 1930s—it, too, can be described as an intifada.

Today, the data suggest another intifada is possible. A mapping project by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies identified more than 1,120 violent incidents in the West Bank and Israel since last March.

The young Palestinians who welcome an intifada are too young to remember the last one. A 20-year-old today would have been just two years old when it ended. And crucially, few Palestinians remember that all three uprisings were disasters for their people.

Looking back, several major themes emerge:

Bloodshed. The violence of the Arab Revolt in the 1930s left an estimated 5,000 Palestinians dead, 15,000 wounded, and 5,600 incarcerated. The British colonial authorities were not bound by the vigilant media environment of today; a recently unearthed dossier of British military atrocities is a testament to that. During the First Intifada, an estimated 1,376 Palestinian died and at least three times as many were wounded. Around 175,000 were arrested by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). The Second Intifada, which was a much more violent affair, led to 2,700 Palestinians deaths and thousands more Palestinian injured. The IDF reportedly destroyed more than 5,000 homes as retribution for terrorist attacks.

Economic Devastation. Israeli researcher Tamir Goren observes: “One of the most grievous outcomes of the Arab Revolt (1936-1939) was the severe economic damage caused to the Arab community.” The local Arab population staged strikes and boycotts to protest the British colonial presence. This crushed the Palestinian economy at a moment when resources were in short supply. During the 1987 Intifada, the Palestinians fared no better. The Israelis imposed economic penalties, including the revocation of work permits (a significant source of income for many Palestinians at the time), and blocked agricultural exports from Gaza. Concurrently, with anti-Jordan sentiment surging, King Hussein relinquished all claims to the West Bank, cutting off crucial social services. During the 2000-2005 Intifada, the Palestinians again faced calamity. Once the darlings of international donors, the Palestinian Authority’s embrace of terrorism in the wake of 9/11 killed donor revenue. Cash dried up and budgets tightened. In 2003, the World Bank noted: “Physical damage resulting from the conflict jumped from $305 million at the end of 2001 to $728 million by the end of August 2002. Between June 2000 and June 2002, Palestinian exports declined by 45% in value, and imports contracted by a third…losses reached $5.4 billion after 27 months of the intifada.”

Political Chaos. During the Arab Revolt, a bitter family rivalry developed between the hardline Husseini family and the more pragmatic Nashashibis. Historian Yehoshua Porath noted how a “terrible blood feud…resulted in a mutual hatred and dissidence so intense that a return to the show of unity…became impossible.” Suspected “collaborators” were targeted, accounting for 494 deaths. Internal rivalries re-emerged during the 1987 Intifada, with Palestinians killing at least 800 of their own. Analyst David Pollock appropriately called it an “intrafada.” The dynamic re-emerged again during the 2000-2005 uprising. Even the far-left NGO Btselem noted: “Palestinians have killed dozens of Palestinian civilians on suspicion of collaboration with Israel. Some of the victims were killed in assassinations conducted by organizations; others died at the hands of Palestinian Authority security forces as a result of being tortured or when attempting to escape, while other were lynched by crowds of people.”

Religious Extremism. During the 1930s-era Arab Revolt, nearly 500 Jews were murdered in what can only be described as a religiously incited jihad. A key player was the grand mufti of Jerusalem and head of the Arab Higher Committee, Hajj Amin al-Husseini. The mufti was not just an Islamist extremist; he was also an outright Nazi collaborator. The Arab Revolt was also influenced by a radical cleric, Izzeddin al-Qassam, who organized guerrilla units to attack the British. The British killed Qassam in 1935, but not before he built a movement. Today, Hamas has a fighting unit that bears his name. The Hamas charter, issued months after the First Intifada erupted, lays bare the organization’s fanaticism for all to see. As Hamas gained power, according to author Don Peretz, the group attacked women perceived as immodestly dressed and broke up weddings featuring Western music and dancing. Hamas and other Islamist groups also led the way in the Second Intifada, with a campaign of suicide bombings and other gruesome forms of jihad. The embrace of such violence has undeniably left a scar on Palestinian culture over the decades.


The Arab revolt of 1936-39 presaged later disastrous decisions by the Palestinian leadership: British soldiers remove participants in the Arab revolt from Jerusalem in 1938 (Photo: Wikimedia commons)

A Lost Generation. During the Arab Revolt, Palestinians recruited children as combatants. Authors Baruch Kimmerling and Joel S. Migdal note that the “Palestinians had the young, brown- and black-shirted fascists to emulate.” In the 1980s, Palestinian kids were known as “Children of the Stones.” Of the estimated 1,376 Palestinians killed in the First Intifada, 281 were children, Btselem has observed. Palestinian society as a whole—with help from Western media—encouraged the Palestinian youth to confront Israeli soldiers on the front lines. Each age group had discrete tasks, from burning fires to throwing stones. During the Second Intifada, at least 250 Palestinian children were killed. Many of these children were encouraged to fight by the various factions—along with several Arab states that paid stipends to the families of “martyrs.”

Mission Failure. The Arab Revolt was a Palestinian disaster. The resulting power vacuum enabled surrounding Arab countries to deprive the Palestinians of agency for decades. Some assert the First Intifada was a success because it led to the creation of the Palestinian Authority. History, however, is less kind: Despite ample resources and international interest in their cause, the Palestinians failed to transition to formal statehood. Palestinian strongman Yasser Arafat instead launched the Second Intifada. As a result, the West decreased its (oftentimes still-considerable) support. Moreover, the Israelis gave up on two-state diplomacy, refusing to negotiate under fire. Since then, no Israeli prime minister has been willing to directly engage in formal peace talks.

Undeniably, the intifadas have harmed Israel, too. Loss of life, injuries, property damage, and scarred psyches were among Israel’s myriad burdens. But Israel has not only endured—it has thrived.

The same cannot be said for the Palestinians. This is due, in no small measure, to disastrous decisions by Palestinian leaders in the 1930s, 1980s, and the turn of the century.

Those warning of another intifada are right to sound the alarm. Those advocating for one either don’t know the history or choose to ignore it.

Jonathan Schanzer is senior vice president at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and author of Gaza Conflict 2021: Hamas, Israel and Eleven Days of War (FDD Press 2021).

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