The intense focus on the Iranian issue, and in recent months on a possible military escalation in Gaza, has distracted us from a simple fact: The most complicated front Israel must contend with is Judea and Samaria.
The constant friction between millions of Palestinians and hundreds of thousands of Israelis, the need to defend hundreds of communities and thousands of kilometers of roads and maintain access to the country’s center—all these factors continuously foster terrorism, whether by organizations using weapons and explosive devices or lone attackers who need nothing more than a knife.
The reason attacks like Sunday’s lethal stabbing outside the Gush Etzion Junction shopping mall do not happen every day is because of prevention. Every night, usually based on intelligence from the Shin Bet security agency, IDF forces raid the homes of dozens of young Palestinian men and women suspected of planning to carry out attacks. Last year, some 4,000 such Palestinians were arrested; for many others, a warning or reprimand to their parents was able to achieve the same effect.
Sunday’s attack is frustrating not only because of its deadly result, but because it was very nearly thwarted. Intelligence officials did not have preliminary information on the terrorist. Absent some electronic signature, it is difficult to know what is going through a person’s mind. But just as the teen arrived at Gush Etzion Junction, his distraught mother showed up at one of the area checkpoints and told security forces of her son’s intention to carry out an attack. The information was relayed to all the forces in the area, but it was already too late.
The mother’s actions are indicative of an interesting atmosphere that has taken hold among the Palestinian public. They are worried about the repercussions of the attacks. Beyond a parent’s natural concern for their child’s life, they also know that an attack may lead to the demolition of the family home and the revocation of their permits to work in Israel.
It turns out that the terrorist left his home in Yatta and traveled to the Hebron area. After wandering around for a while and not finding a target, he continued on to Gush Etzion Junction. It may be that given the increased security presence at the junction—the result of a series of lone-wolf attacks in 2014 and 2015—the terrorist preferred to carry out the attack at the nearby mall.
Ari Fuld, who heroically fought back against his attacker, is the eighth victim to die in the seven terrorist attacks this year. Seven of the victims were attacked in Judea and Samaria, and one in the Old City of Jerusalem. Given the relative ease with which tensions can flare between the Jewish and Arab populations in Judea and Samaria, this can be seen as both an indication of the security forces’ control of the area and the relative difficulty for terrorists to operate beyond the Green Line.
As this type of stabbing has been known to spur copycat attacks, security forces must now ramp up their counter-terrorism efforts, in particular given that the Jewish holiday season is upon us and recreational centers are packed with Israelis. As is the case every year, the territories will be sealed off from the night before Yom Kippur until the end of the holiday. Unfortunately, this does nothing to mediate the threat to Jewish residents in the area, in particular given the open call by terrorist organizations, Hamas at the forefront, to increase efforts to carry out terrorist attacks.
These calls have so far gone unanswered. The Palestinian public has shown very little interest in the matter of the national struggle. Despite concerns that events in Gaza or the relocation of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem would lead to widespread protests in the territories, this has not been the case. Even the recent American moves against the Palestinians have not really served to inflame the average Palestinian, who is busy trying to put food on the table.
The Israeli interest is to ensure this remains the case in the future. Populist proposals that Israel take punitive steps against the Palestinians in the West Bank, as was suggested on Sunday, are in direct opposition to this interest.
Yoav Limor is a veteran Israeli journalist and columnist for Israel Hayom.