Every few weeks, the Israeli public receives a painful reminder that the most violent, deadly and complex sector is not the Gaza Strip or Lebanon, but Judea and Samaria. It happened two months ago, when two Israelis were murdered in a terrorist attack in the Barkan Industrial Park, and it happened again on Monday night, in the shooting attack at the bus stop in Ofra.
These terrorist attacks made headlines because they pull at the heartstrings. The Barkan industrial zone had been a symbol of tranquil coexistence, while in Ofra a young pregnant woman was critically wounded and underwent an emergency Caesarean section to save her baby.
This degree of drama is needed for the public to turn its attention to Judea and Samaria. Events simply pass under the radar if they lack an element of drama.
But in Judea and Samaria, reality does not involve an occasional “uptick” in terror attacks; they are part of the routine. On a nightly basis, dozens of army and police teams, mainly under the direction of the Shin Bet security agency, operate to thwart terrorist attacks.
From the beginning of the year until Tuesday morning, more than 530 significant terrorist attacks—bombs, abductions, car-rammings, stabbings, shootings—have been prevented, and more than 4,000 Palestinians have been detained. During this period, 10 Israelis were murdered and 76 wounded in Judea and Samaria.
By comparison, although the northern and the southern sectors have occupied the most attention these past two months, the situation in them is far safer. There have not been any casualties along the borders with Lebanon and Syria, while in the Gaza sector two Israe Defense Forces’ officers have been killed and a Palestinian living in Ashkelon was killed in a Hamas rocket attack.
While the potential for a dangerous escalation in the north and south is considerably greater, in Judea and Samaria the routine is one of consistent bloodshed. It is barely news when Molotov cocktails and stones are thrown at IDF troops, and localized clashes—some of them instigated by radical elements in the settlement movement—are hardly noticed.
Meanwhile, thwarted attacks only receive coverage when they are out of the ordinary, such as when Israeli forces uncovered Hamas’s terrorist infrastructure in Hebron in November. Otherwise they, too, fly under the radar. The Israeli public and media now take this success for granted.
But the area of Judea and Samaria is far from tranquil. The number of thwarted and actual terrorist attacks attests to this, as are the motives behind them. Hamas, via its headquarters in Gaza and Turkey, is investing tremendous energy in carrying out attacks. While the terrorist group has sought to reduce the flames in Gaza, it wants to ignite a powder keg in Judea and Samaria.
To this end, it is trying to exploit a situation that is already unstable for numerous reasons: the lack of a successor to Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, the stalled peace process, economic frustrations. In actuality, Hamas’s achievements have been sporadic and minor due to the scope of Israeli countermeasures, but also because the Palestinian public does not have a strong desire to take to the streets in protest.
Still, there will never be 100 percent success when it comes to terror prevention. There will always be that one cell or lone terrorist who sneaks through the cracks.
And sometimes, after an attack, security forces are still left with a complex puzzle. Almost two months on and despite the vast resources invested, the Barkan terrorist still has not been caught. Similar resources are now being thrown into finding those behind the shooting attack in Ofra on Monday. Security officials believe the attack was carried out by an organized cell, and the clock is ticking before it strikes again.
Yoav Limor is a veteran Israeli journalist and columnist for Israel Hayom.