A month after the Temple Mount crisis broke out and turned the world’s attention to Jerusalem in fear of another intifada, the IDF continues to actively struggle to maintain calm in the West Bank.
“Everything that happens in Jerusalem – we feel the effects. The waves end up crashing here,” said one senior officer stationed in the southern West Bank near the settlement of Tekoa.
“The last two weeks have been very quiet,” he continued, voicing cautious hope that calm had returned, but he stressed that “it can all change in a second. It’s all about keeping the balance.”
Clashes on the Temple Mount have often been the spark for deadly violence between Israel and Palestinians, such as the Second Intifada which broke out following rioting on the plaza in 2000 after a visit by former prime minister Ariel Sharon, who at the time was in the opposition.
During the two-week-long crisis the IDF sent reinforcements to the West Bank in addition to the five extra battalions placed on alert shortly after a deadly shooting attack
at the holy complex left two Israeli police officers dead.
Following the attack carried out by three Israeli Arabs from the town of Umm el-Fahm, authorities decided to install metal detectors
at the entrances of the Temple Mount compound leading to days of violent clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security forces.
It was a move that the police had claimed was necessary to prevent future attacks but one that the IDF and Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) argued against, warning that changes to the sensitive status quo could lead to sharp reactions by the Palestinians.
One officer in the southern West Bank explained that the symbolism of al-Aksa is paramount for Palestinians, “all attackers wrote on Facebook that the attacks were in response to what was happening at al-Aksa,” he said.
Violent clashes with Israeli troops during the crisis left several Palestinians dead and an infiltration into a West Bank settlement by a 19 year-old Palestinian saw three Israeli citizens stabbed to death
in their home.
The security of settlements
is the IDF’s responsibility and according to the senior officers it is one of their top priorities. Hence, troops have invested a significant amount of energy and effort into protecting its citizens.
“The troops were not able to stop the attack in Halamish but here we will not, I repeat, will not let that happen. I will not let that happen here,” one senior officer in the northern West Bank told The Jerusalem Post
With dozens of indications of possible infiltration into communities over the past month, any report is considered to be a possible terrorist attack and is treated as such until troops know otherwise. Infiltrations of Israel by Palestinians is just as worrisome for troops, the officer in the northern West Bank said, explaining that while many cross to work illegally in Israel, some have also crossed in order to carry out terrorist attacks.
“There are illegal crossings almost every day, but most don’t succeed,” he said. “We do everything to stop them. The size of the territory is a challenge but there is no spot that isn’t watched.”
Pointing to a blackened section of the security fence near the Palestinian village of Qaffin, the senior officer stated that on Saturday teenage Palestinians came and burnt tires in order to cause damage to the fence. The officer stated that small incidents such as the one on Saturday happen at least once a week by teenagers who “come to say ‘Hi,’” and while the army has still not arrested the suspects, “we will deal with the perpetrators in due time. We know where they live.”
According to the two officers, while the security of settlement residents is one of their main concerns, the biggest challenge is the security of those on the roads in the West Bank, especially from the threat posed by stone throwing and shooting attacks.
The security forces, including the Shin Bet, the IDF and Israel Police have increased their efforts to uncover workshops producing illegal weapons, carrying out near-nightly raids in the West Bank.
According to officers the nightly raids have given the IDF the flexibility and upper hand against terrorist attacks. By confiscating fireworks and arms as well as shutting down weapons factories, the price of weapons has increased significantly and greatly reduced the number of illegal weapons that could end up in the hands of attackers.
Troops have also confiscated vehicles and over NIS 1 million in cash in the past year used for terrorism or smuggling, the officers told the Post.
While there have been significantly fewer vehicular attacks as well as stabbings and shooting attacks against IDF troops, they remain a main threat, especially for drivers on the roads shared by Palestinians and Israelis. According to the IDF shooting or vehicular ramming attacks are more likely to be carried out by young men, and boys are behind many of the cases of stone throwing.
Pointing to an elementary school, the officer said that children at that school are responsible for hurling rocks at cars driving on the road as they walk to school.
The officer said that troops have gone to various schools in the area to inform the teachers of what the children were doing and while one school has cracked down on its students, not all have.
“We must differentiate between civilians and terrorists. Not every Palestinian is a terrorist,” the senior officer in the southern West Bank stated, adding that nevertheless “my mission as battalion commander is to make sure that soldiers understand that the threat is always there.”