With Israel’s attention focused on the Gaza Strip over the past seven months, a volcano of violence is at risk of erupting in the West Bank.
A drive-by shooting outside the West Bank settlement of Ofra on Sunday night left seven civilians injured, including a 30-week pregnant 21-year-old woman who gave birth in an emergency cesarean section. The mother and baby are fighting for their lives. The father, who was also shot in the attack, is in stable condition.
It was the most serious attack in the West Bank since the deadly attack at the Barkan industrial park in October.
Several months ago, IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eisenkot warned that there was a high probability of escalation in the West Bank.
In November, Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) director Nadav Argaman echoed Eisenkot’s warning, saying the relative calm in the area was “deceptive” as “Hamas is trying very hard to carry out terror attacks in and from Judea and Samaria.”
While there has been an overall drop in the number of attacks in the West Bank in the first six months of 2018, six Israelis were murdered by terrorists
during that time and, according to Shin Bet, October saw a significant rise in attacks.
There were 109 attacks in the West Bank and Jerusalem in October, according to Shin Bet, compared to 80 in September. The attacks included 15 improvised explosive devices (including gas tanks and pipe bombs), 80 firebombings, four stabbings, two shootings and eight arson attacks.
Two Israeli civilians, Kim Levengrond-Yehezkel, 29, of Rosh Ha’ayin, and Ziv Hagbi, 35, from Rishon Lezion, were murdered in October by 23-year-old Ashraf Walid Suleiman Naalwa in the Barkan Industrial Zone near the city of Ariel.
The deadly attack served to inspire Palestinian youths, especially since Naalwa, who is from the West Bank village of Shweika near Tulkarm, escaped the scene of the attack with the Carl Gustav weapon he used and is still on the run from Israeli security forces after more than two months.
Shooting attacks are undoubtedly the main challenge facing the IDF on all fronts, but especially in the West Bank where the military, along with the Shin Bet and Border Police, have been working to confiscate illegal weapons and shut down weapons factories in near-nightly raids.
The majority of shooting attacks in the West Bank and throughout Israel have been carried out with locally produced weapons, most commonly the Carl Gustav submachine gun.
While the military’s efforts have greatly reduced the number of illegal explosive devices and other weapons that could end up in the hands of potential attackers, it is impossible to confiscate all of them.
In Argaman’s November briefing to the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, he said that security forces have thwarted 480 terrorist attacks in the West Bank, including 219 attacks planned by Hamas cells and 590 planned by so-called “lone wolves.”
While Monday’s attack outside Ofra is not thought to have been committed by a sole attacker, the lone-wolf terrorist has emerged as the face of the latest waves of violence that began in October 2015, in which Palestinians have stabbed, run over and shot IDF soldiers, Israeli civilians and some tourists in the West Bank and Israel.
Attacks by individuals working alone, the IDF has admitted, are much more challenging to thwart than attacks planned by groups. Without an organization, there is no signature of the preparedness of the specific attack. Despite the challenges, the great majority of attacks have been thwarted by security forces. But that high number indicates that flames of violence are growing in the West Bank.
While the economic situation is much better in the West Bank than it is in the Gaza Strip, it has gotten much worse since US President Donald Trump’s administration stopped funding for the UN Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA.
In August, when the $200 million cut to UNWRA was announced, a senior IDF officer in the West Bank warned that the aid being stopped “is a big blow to Palestinians” and that the military was “concerned that if the schools aren’t funded, the youth will go out and carry out attacks.”
With employment rates at 27.4% (the highest in the world as per Reuters), and with half of Palestinians under the age of 30 being unemployed, youths the West Bank are losing hope and becoming more desperate. Incitement in Palestinian media against Israel, including by PA President Mahmoud Abbas, has not helped calm the situation.
There is no reason that Israel cannot handle the military aspect of quelling the unrest in the West Bank, but the overall temperature in the West Bank is rising. And as long as Palestinians have little hope and have nothing to lose, they are easy pickings for terrorist groups to radicalize and use to carry out more deadly attacks.
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