Institute for Contemporary Affairs
Founded jointly with the Wechsler Family Foundation
- The recent uptick in terrorist attacks in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria is the result of ongoing incitement among the Palestinian public, combined with Hamas’ interest in increasing terrorism to challenge Israel.
- The central themes of the Palestinian narrative are intended to create a consciousness of struggle, particularly among Palestinian youth. The Palestinians’ identity is based primarily on the individual’s commitment to fighting Zionism until its disappearance.
- As the consciousness of the struggle is embedded in their minds, there will always be some Palestinians who will feel they are fulfilling what is required of them by Palestinian society. They believe that even if they lose their lives, it is no disaster since they will become heroic martyrs. If they surrender and are imprisoned, they and their family will receive great respect and a generous salary.
- There are some Palestinians who are under mental stress and may seek to overcome their personal problems by carrying out an attack. However, this is not the motive for the attack, but the additional circumstances that helped them make the decision to act in this way.
- In parallel with the ongoing incitement, we are also witnessing Hamas’ and Islamic Jihad’s efforts to establish organized terrorist cells capable of unleashing attacks with a significant number of casualties. Recently, four such cells, some extensive, have been uncovered. This effort is a permanent part of Hamas’ and Islamic Jihad’s policy aimed at harming as many Israelis as possible, undermining national resilience in Israel, and demonstrating these movements’ adherence to the path of struggle.
- These steps act to strengthen Hamas’ position on the Palestinian street as the leader of the struggle against Israel, dragging the Palestinian Authority into a competition to increase its incitement and heap praise on the perpetrators of the attacks, while accusing Israel of executing the terrorists killed during the attacks.
The recent uptick in terrorist attacks in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria necessitates distinguishing between two parallel tracks that underpin the violence. One is the ongoing incitement, intended to create a consciousness of struggle in the general public, particularly among Palestinian youth. The second is Hamas’ interest in increasing terrorism within and emanating from Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria. The connection between the tangible expressions of these two trends has ignited a multitude of attacks and has unleashed fears that Israel is facing another wave of terrorist attacks.
The first element, incitement and preaching hatred aimed at creating a consciousness of struggle against Zionism, takes place on an ongoing basis. It is intended to instill in the Palestinian public the “Seven Themes of the Palestinian Narrative,” according to which:
- There is no Jewish People, so Jews have no right to self-determination and a state of their own.
- The Jews had no sovereign history in the Land of Israel/Palestine, unlike the Palestinians, who claim to be the indigenous people in this region as descendants of the Canaanites. In this context, the Palestinians must believe that there was no Jewish Temple on the Temple Mount. The Palestinians also promote this message in the international system through international institutions such as the UN General Assembly, UNESCO, and others.
- The Jews, especially the Zionists and, more specifically, the settlers, are intolerable creatures by their nature. This is also reflected in their behavior towards the Palestinians, which is said to be characterized as apartheid, ethnic cleansing, etc. The European colonialists, who sought to get rid of the Jews and prevent the spread of Islam, imposed Zionism on the Jews and established the State of Israel, ignoring the rights of the Arab inhabitants over the entire territory.
- The Palestinians’ identity is based primarily on the individual’s commitment to fighting Zionism until its disappearance. All types of struggles are legitimate (therefore, the Palestinian Authority pays comfortable salaries to all terrorists serving time in Israeli prisons, seeing them, under Palestinian law, as the fighting cadre of the Palestinian people). However, the Palestinian Authority believes that for “cost-benefit” considerations, the struggle, beyond the political, economic, and cultural arena, should be focused on “popular resistance” (sometimes adding the term “peaceful” to this term), which means avoiding the use of firearms and explosives. Instead, they focus on demonstrations, stone-throwing, firebombs, and sometimes stabbings and vehicular attacks. Hamas and other extremist organizations believe that it is also appropriate to use firearms and explosives in attacks emanating from Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria, including from Palestinian areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority. In Gaza, violence of any kind should be used only when necessary.
- The Palestinians are the only victims of the conflict. As such, they must perpetuate and leverage their victimhood until the cause of this sacrifice is eliminated, i.e., Israel will cease to exist as a nation-state of the Jewish people. As victims of the occupation, Palestinians have the right to exercise all types of resistance, and those responsible for their situation, especially Israel and the West, have no right to criticize them.
- The Palestinian struggle is nationalist and Islamic at the same time. The defense of the al-Aqsa Mosque in the face of Israel’s alleged attempts to harm it is the ultimate justification for this dual campaign.
- The Palestinian commitment to all of Palestine is indisputable, even if, according to the PLO’s “Phased Plan” (1974), a hiatus can be made on the way to the final destination. Therefore, it is unthinkable to agree to the existence of a Jewish nation-state, even if it is democratic and guarantees the civil rights of all its residents, and to concede even a single grain of soil to Israel.
The consciousness of the struggle is embedded in various ways, including statements by senior Palestinian figures, study materials, religious messages, and the new social media that, for Palestinian youth, is a very effective tool.
From the time this consciousness is set, there will always be some Palestinians, especially young people, who will feel that Israel’s harsh reality and behavior require them to act within the framework of the struggle and within the established boundaries. Their sense is that they are fulfilling what is required of them by Palestinian society. They believe that even if they lose their lives, it is no disaster since they will become heroic martyrs, with all the promised benefits to the Shahid. After all, according to the Koran (Sura 3, verse 169): “Do not think that those who are killed for Allah are dead; they live with Allah’s grace.” If they surrender, are taken alive, and imprisoned, they and their family will receive great respect and a generous salary.
When the Palestinian leadership explicitly or implicitly calls on the public to carry out attacks, the number of Palestinians responding increases significantly, to the point of creating a “wave of terrorism” (for example, in the wave of attacks of October 2015 – March 2016). Even when there is no such explicit call, there will always be Palestinians who will take it upon themselves to act. Most of them will be satisfied with participating in riots, demonstrations, stone-throwing, and firebombing. Indeed, scores of events are carried out throughout Judea and Samaria every week, which are not mentioned even in the Israeli media.
There are always a few Palestinians who will want to go further than that and carry out more violent attacks to harm Jews, such as stabbings, vehicular attacks, or even shootings (especially if they are affiliated with Hamas – such as the teacher of Islam, Fadi Abu Shkhaydam – or other extremist organizations). Among these Palestinians, there are some who are under mental stress and may seek to overcome their personal problems by carrying out an attack, whether they survive or not. However, this is not the motive for the attack, but the additional circumstances that helped them make the decision to act in this way. Some of the perpetrators of the attacks are not under pressure. Moreover, many Palestinians feel stressed, but they do not carry out attacks.
The prevalence of this phenomenon can be learned from the following table, drawn from the weekly summary of the “News of Terrorism and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict” produced by the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center. It describes the number of attacks carried out in the past two years according to month. However, it indicates that there has been no sharp deviation of the norm except for the May 2020 period of fighting in Gaza.
Palestinian Terror Attacks Against Israelis, 2020-2021
In parallel with the ongoing phenomenon of incitement and the creation of the consciousness of the struggle, which translates into individual attacks, we are also witnessing Islamic Jihad’s and Hamas’ efforts to establish organized terrorist cells capable of unleashing attacks with a significant number of casualties. Recently, four such cells, some extensive, have been uncovered and broken up. The latest cadre ambushed an Israeli car in Samaria on December 16, 2021. The squad was captured two days later, and the IDF reported they were members of Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
This effort is also not new and is a permanent part of Hamas’ and PIJ’s policy aimed at harming as many Israelis as possible, undermining national resilience in Israel, and demonstrating these movements’ adherence to the path of struggle, unlike Fatah, while they refrain from acting from Gaza and igniting another war. This is despite Israel’s (and the Palestinian Authority’s) efforts to degrade Hamas in the areas controlled by the PA. In fact, these steps act to strengthen Hamas’ position on the Palestinian street as the leader of the struggle against Israel and for Jerusalem and al-Aqsa, thereby embarrassing and weakening the PA. Given the sense of Hamas’ achievement in the May conflict and against the background of the PA’s growing weakness, Hamas’ efforts have increased. Although the PA works to limit Hamas’ freedom of action, it is being dragged by the competition into increasing incitement, heaping praise on the perpetrators of the attacks, and accusing Israel of executing the terrorists killed during the attacks. Thus, the Palestinian Authority itself is guilty of fanning the flames and leading more terrorists to decide that it is time to act.
Beyond strengthening the intelligence-security response, the way to address the problem is not only to ensure the quality of life of Palestinians in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza, but also to create deterrence mechanisms and weaken the ideological and economic incentives that drive the perpetrators to attack. The decision to transfer to the PA a loan that, in effect, compensates it to offset the freezing by Israel of the sum equivalent to the money it pays for the salaries of terrorists is the opposite of what is required. Not only did it make a mockery of Israeli law on the matter, but it presented Israel as under stress. The loan achieved precisely the opposite of its goal; terrorism did not diminish but increased.
It should also be made clear to the Palestinians and their supporters that the spread of the lies underlying the motivation for the attacks should be stopped. The United States may cooperate in such an effort, and even the European Union and some of its members have recently shown a willingness to move in this direction, for example, by stopping funding for Palestinian inflammatory textbooks with maps in which Israel does not exist. The phenomenon will not disappear in the blink of an eye, but the more the Palestinians realize that it harms them, the greater their ability to restrain it.