Ramallah has suddenly reverted to a terrorist agenda. Hamas has raised its flag in the capital of the Palestinian Authority.
There, in that city of spacious homes, which in recent years has attracted banks and business centers and international organizations and embassies, and where accelerated development has resulted in hundreds of high-rise buildings springing up, Hamas is sticking it to P.A. leader Mahmoud Abbas.
Ramallah and the villages around it, which function as the political and economic center of the P.A., strongly identified with the Palestinian elite and wanted cooperation with Israel. This week, they became the site of a hunt for the terrorists who carried out the shooting attacks in Ofra and Givat Asaf. The raids, the encirclement, the capture of homes and the shots fired at protesters—all in the beating heart of the P.A., which this week resumed full security coordination with Israel—are the last thing the ailing Abbas needs.
In the middle of all this, between the Jewish settlements Halamish, Nachliel and Atarot, lies the village of Kaubar, a hamlet that raises murderers. Kaubar illustrates how shaky Abbas’s stature has become in the region where his own capital lies.
In October 2011, the village hosted a great celebration in honor of four local residents being released from prison in Israel as part of the Hamas-engineered prisoner-exchange deal for captive soldier Gilad Schalit. The prisoners included cousins Nael and Fahri Barghouti, who had served more than 30 years in prison. In 1978, they stabbed bus driver Moti Yakuel to death as he was driving Palestinian workers home to Kaubar and other local villages. The cousins were welcomed by Omar Barghouti, Nael’s brother, who was also convicted for the murder but had been released as part of the 1985 Jibril Agreement, in which Israel freed more than 1,150 security prisoners for three Israelis captured in the First Lebanon War.
Nael has since been imprisoned again in Israel for supposedly violating his parole. His wife, Aman, also has a rap sheet. She served time in prison for planning a terrorist attack on Jaffa Road in Jerusalem, although it was never carried out. Two of Fahri’s sons also served time in Israeli prisons. Eight years ago, the road that leads to Kaubar was stenciled with stars of David, so that cars could drive over them on their way into the village.
Homegrown terrorist and local pride
Kaubar found itself in the headlines once again this week after it turned out that Salah Barghouti, 29, was the terrorist who had opened fired at a hitchhiking post outside the Ofra settlement in Samaria two weeks ago, wounding seven Israelis, including Amichai and Shira Ish-Ran, whose infant son, Amiad Yisrael, was delivered prematurely by emergency Cesarian section and died a few days later.
Salah Barghouti was shot to death in a gunfight with Israeli forces. He is the son of Omar Barghouti, one of the top Hamas officials in the West Bank (not to be confused with Omar Barghouti, the Qatar-born Palestinian activist behind the international BDS movement) and the nephew of Nael Barghouti. Another of Salah’s uncles, Jasser Barghouti, also from Kaubar, was given nine life sentences for killing Israeli soldiers. Released in exchange for Schalit, he is suspected of having used his familiarity with the people of Kaubar to direct—from the Gaza Strip—the cell responsible for the Ofra and Givat Asaf attacks.
Palestinian leader and murderer Marwan Barghouti, who is currently serving five life sentences in Israel, is also a native of Kaubar, as is Omar al-Abed, who murdered Yossi, Chaya and Elad Salomon at the Salomon family’s home in Halamish last summer. So is Muhammad Tarek, who murdered Yotam Ovadia in the Adam settlement last summer.
“The village of Kaubar is shaping its own glory,” the P.A. daily Al Hayat Al-Jadida crowed a year ago after the slaughter of the Salomon family. “During the Palestinian people’s intifada, Kaubar has produced 15 shahids [martyrs], along with dozens of wounded and hundreds of prisoners.”
Kaubar, home to some 4,500 residents, is located in Area B, which is under Israeli security control but Palestinian civil control. The village fields lie next to Area C, which is under full Israeli control. Kaubar has a few schools and four mosques, one of which was built with a donation from the Walsall Kobar Friendship Association. Walsall is a city of 200,000 that lies northwest of Birmingham, England. In 2007, Walsall and Kaubar became twin cities. Kaubar’s sister city doesn’t seem particularly bothered by the long list of killers generated by its evil twin.
Indeed, many in Kaubar see Israel’s very existence as a disaster, and Hamas, whose goal is to destroy Israel, is the strongest political-religious entity in the village. Hamas’s strength makes Abbas’s weakness all that much clearer.
This week, Abbas was so worried about the threat to his rule that he rushed to work more closely with Israel on security, ties that had relaxed. The IDF carried out operations near the Mukata in Ramallah as well as near Abbas’s home to find the car from which the shots in the Ofra attack were fired. Not far from there, the Shin Bet security agency confiscated security footage from cameras at the Palestinian news agency Wafa, and the Palestinian security services did nothing to intervene. Abbas knows very well that Hamas is fighting him as well as Israel. He would be as happy as Israel about every armed Hamas terrorist that is captured. Only this week, his security forces used violent measures to break up demonstrations by Hamas supporters in Hebron and Nablus.
The P.A.’s concern about Iranian involvement is another factor prompting Abbas and his people to resume cooperation with Israel on security matters. Iran is overseeing the policy of splitting Hamas between Gaza—where for now it is sticking to a policy of “understandings” with Israel—and the West Bank, where Hamas is trying to light up the territory through sleeper cells it has established throughout Judea and Samaria.
Writing in Haaretz this week, Amos Harel referred to “the two banks of Hamas,” hitting the nail on the head. Hamas indeed differentiates between Gaza, where it wants to recover and shore up its rule, and the West Bank, where it wants to create chaos and kill two birds with one stone: attack Israel and topple Abbas.
Hamas leader in Gaza Ismail Haniyeh, who this week spoke before tens of thousands of Gazans in honor of Hamas’ 31st anniversary, made the organization’s priorities very clear: “The renewed intifada in the West Bank will be the cemetery of Trump’s ‘deal of the century’ … the new awakening in the West Bank is a response to all the occupation’s attempts at humiliation in the West Bank and Jerusalem. … I say to the Zionists: Operatives of Hamas and Fatah and the other groups in the West Bank do not need to be remote-controlled from the Gaza Strip to carry out attacks.”
Haniyeh characterized the resurgence of terrorism in Judea and Samaria as “the most important area, which will decide the conflict with the Zionist enemy.”
This past year, the Shin Bet has exposed numerous attempts by Hamas abroad to direct attacks by cells in the West Bank. These include a plot in Nablus to carry out attacks in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv and another plot out of the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Zur Bahar, where two cell members visited Turkey and were supplied with thousands of dollars to use for attacks in western Samaria. Leaders of the Hamas infrastructure in Hebron maintained contact with Hamas in Turkey and sent female operatives there to collect money and instructions.
Don’t let the numbers fool you
In the face of this concerted effort by Hamas, Israel’s security forces are maintaining a “pincer” policy that opposes collective punishment of the Palestinian population, which it sees as doing more harm than good. The IDF and the Shin Bet see cooperation with the P.A. on matters of security as an asset, not a burden. The Shin Bet also opposes the idea of deporting families of terrorists, believing that it would encourage terrorism instead of deterring it. The Shin Bet was furious over claims made this week that is was lackadaisical in its use of human intelligence sources and overly dependent on cooperation with the P.A., and denied the allegations.
In conjunction with the Shin Bet, the IDF is taking advantage of its pursuit of the Ofra and Givat Asaf terrorists to clear as many Hamas operatives as possible out of the area and reduce the potential for more attacks. More than 150 suspects have been arrested thus far. In at least one instance, an imminent attack was thwarted. Soldiers from the Golani Brigade arrested two Palestinians who were driving not far from Kiryat Arba. They had three automatic weapons in the car, including a loaded M-16 rifle and an Uzi.
The thwarted attacks and preventative tactics come on the heels of a year of wide-scale activity by the IDF and the Shin Bet to counter Hamas’ attempts to unleash terrorism in Judea and Samaria. Only recently, head of the Shin Bet Nadav Argaman informed the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that 201 Hamas cells had been arrested over the course of 2018 and 480 major terrorist attacks prevented, including dozens of planned abductions. A total of 590 individual terrorist operatives were arrested. Argaman described a state of “false calm,” and pointed to somewhat confusing statistics that would appear to indicate that terrorist attacks in Judea and Samaria are down compared to the past few years.
The reason for the confusion is simple. Yes, there have in fact been fewer major attacks: 54 as of Dec. 16 this year, compared to 82 by the same date in 2017 and 142 by the same date in 2016. But if we look at the breakdown of the 54 attacks in 2018, we discover that almost half (26) were carried out between September and December, compared to only 12 in the same period last year.
The misinformation and incitement continues
Even as the P.A. cooperates more closely with Israel on security, it continues to allow incitement against Israel, possibly to create balance and reassure the Palestinian public that it is not cooperating with the “occupation.” The Fatah movement, of which Abbas is the official leader, held prayers this week for the souls of the killers of Ziv Hajbi and Kim Levongrond-Yehezkel, who were shot to death in the attack at the Barkan Industrial Park in October, and the infant Amiad Yisrael. Fatah described the killers as “pure-hearted,” and prayed that they might win “immortality and glory.”
This terminology is familiar from similar attacks in the past, but there is one difference worthy of note, and it pertains to Hitler and the Holocaust. The nonprofit monitoring group Palestinian Media Watch published a video this week of a sermon that ran on Palestinian state TV. The preacher in the video explains that Hitler was one of a series of people throughout history sent by Allah to punish the Jews for their “bad behavior” and teach them a lesson. The sermon was given in a tent in the illegal tent city Khan al-Amar, which Israel has delayed plans to demolish.
This is not the first time that Hitler has had a guest role in Palestinian texts. A few years ago, a P.A.-funded monthly children’s magazine ran an essay by a teenage girl who portrayed Hitler as a positive figure “because he killed Jews to make the world better.”
Last April, political commentator Hani Abu Zeid said on Palestinian TV that Israelis “cried over the made-up Holocaust in the time of Hitler,” and that “the numbers weren’t that big. It’s a lie they [Jews] spread throughout the world. A lot of Israelis had ties to Hitler to open the gates to Palestine so they could bring in settlers.”
In the more distant past, Palestinian TV aired a children’s program that taught its young viewers that Israel had burned Palestinians in ovens. In an exhibit in Gaza, children set up dolls in a model oven embellished with a Star of David and a swastika. Another Palestinian “historian” claimed on TV that “Dachau never existed, nor did Auschwitz,” and at the same time said that the two camps had been “purification sites.”
We may have accepted Palestinian incitement as routine, but when they bring in Hitler and the Holocaust, that is hard to hear. And the lack of an Israeli response is even more jarring.
Nadav Shragai is a veteran Israeli journalist.