The year 2015 was a year in which the West Bank was marred by Palestinian and Jewish violence. It was also a year that exposed the danger of Jewish extremism as well Europe’s intolerance for the settlement enterprise or indeed any Israeli activity over the pre-1967 lines.
Wave of Palestinian violence In the absence of a peace process, and with the admission by the US that any such diplomatic push is unlikely until 2017, the West Bank saw its bloodiest year since the second intifada ended over a decade ago.
Security officials were loath to call the almost daily attacks a third intifada, preferring instead to refer to it as a wave of violence.
It was sparked by Palestinian fears that Israel was violating the status quo at the Temple Mount. Assurances that such charges were false did little initially to quell the attacks, which began on September 13, but whose pace picked up dramatically in October.
Some 25 people, on both sides of the Green Line, were killed and over 250 wounded in those attacks.
Overall, according to the Foreign Ministry, there have been 99 stabbings, 35 shootings and 21 vehicular attacks.
For many in Israel, and in Judea and Samaria in particular, the wave of violence began on October 1 with the murder of Eitam and Naama Henkin, who were shot by Palestinian terrorists as they drove home with their four children from the Itamar settlement.
While the Palestinian attacks, which in many cases involved stabbings or car-rammings, were initially focused on Jerusalem, they spread to the West Bank. Unrest in Hebron led to a spate of attacks in the area of the Kiryat Arba settlement, down Route 60 and through the Gush Etzion junction.
There were two particularly highly publicized terrorist attacks in that southern area of the West Bank.
The shooting death of Yaakov Litman, 40, and his son Netanel. Yaakov was driving in the South Hebron Hills with his wife, Noa, and their children on Friday, November 13. Their oldest daughter, Sara-Tehiya, who was at home in the nearby Kiryat Arba settlement, was due to be married in a few days. When she held her wedding, almost two weeks later, she opened the Jerusalem event to the Israeli public. It was attended by thousands, including people from abroad who, inspired by her story, flew to Israel just to support the newlyweds.
On November 19, a Palestinian gunman who shot at cars stuck in traffic at the Gush Etzion junction killed American Ezra Schwartz, 18; Yaakov Don, an Israeli educator; and Shadi Arafa, a Palestinian man.
The death of Schwartz made waves in his home state of Massachusetts, where the New England Patriots held a moment of silence for the young man, who had been an ardent fan of the team. The family also received phone calls from President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry.
Alongside the violent attacks, Palestinians also stepped up their protest against the continued occupation of the West Bank. Palestinians have held violent riots in which they have thrown rocks and Molotov cocktails at IDF forces, who have responded with tear gas, rubber bullets and in some cases live ammunition.
Israeli security forces have killed over 140 Palestinians during the wave of terrorism, two-thirds during terrorist attacks and one-third during violent clashes between Palestinian rioters and the IDF.
Thousands more Palestinian protesters were injured in the clashes, many from tear gas inhalation.
Duma Jewish extremist violence against Palestinians also became more severe in 2015.
A terrorist attack in the West Bank Palestinian village of Duma – in which two homes were torched and three members of one family were killed – placed the issue of Jewish violence in the uncomfortable spotlight of the nation’s conscience.
It was one of the most serious hate crimes in a phenomenon that has become known over the last decade as “price-tag” attacks, in which Jewish extremists sought revenge against innocent Palestinians for the actions of the IDF against settlers in the West Bank.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon almost immediately blamed Jewish terrorists for carrying out the attack that killed Sa’ad Dawabsha, 32, his wife, Reham, 27, and their 18-month-old son, Ali.
The security cabinet approved a series of measures that allowed the Shin Bet and the National Crime Unit to crack down on Jewish extremism by placing suspects in administrative detention or holding them in custody for investigation for prolonged periods of time without charges.
Ya’alon has since explained that there is a group of Jewish terrorists whose actions go beyond hate crimes and who have plans to overthrow the state. He has linked the Duma attack to those terrorists.
By the year’s end, the spate of arrests had not led to any charges. It created a schism in the settlement community and the national-religious camp between those who are ready to denounce extremists among their own and those who believe that the government is on a witch-hunt. Charges that the Duma suspects have been tortured by the Shin Bet added fuel to the stiff and angry debate.
The publication in December of a video, dubbed the “wedding of hate,” helped sway skeptics, including politicians from the Bayit Yehudi and Likud parties, as to the dangers of Jewish extremists and terrorists. The video was shot at the Jerusalem wedding of a couple from Judea and Samaria. It showed dancers with guns, knives and mock Molotov cocktail bottles dancing to a song calling for additional revenge killings against Palestinians. At one point in the video, dancers can be seen stabbing a photograph of Ali Dawabsha.
Settlement product labeling The European Union during 2015 made clear its intolerance for any Israeli activity over the pre-1967 lines, including in east Jerusalem.
It published its controversial guidelines informing member states how to place consumer labels on products produced over the Green Line, which state “Not made in Israel.”
For over a decade Israel has placed numerical codes on its exports to the EU, to allow European custom officials to know which Israeli products quality for free trade status. Only those Israeli products produced within the Green Line can be exported to the EU tax free.
This new measure allows member states to inform consumers which of the Israeli products they buy were made over the Green Line.
Israel charged that the new measure gave a moral boost to those who want to boycott Israel altogether, and that such labeling only helped them achieve those goals. It added that the measure unfairly singled out Israel, since out of 200 global conflict zones, this is the only one in which the EU has determined that such labels need to be placed.
The EU’s Ambassador to Israel Lars Faaborg-Andersen said that the guidelines were simply a technical expression of the EU’s long-standing position that the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Golan Heights are not part of Israel.
Attempts to reclassify the Western Wall While Israel failed to sway the EU to rescind the guidelines or even delay issuing them, it had a minor success with the United Nations Organization for Education, Science and Culture.
In October Israel successfully thwarted an attempt by UNESCO’s executive board to reclassify the Western Wall as a Muslim holy site. An initial draft text stated that UNESCO “affirms that the Buraq Plaza [Western Wall Plaza] is an integral part of al-Aksa Mosque/Haram al-Sharif.”
Under pressure from the Europeans, the US and even Russia, and UNESCO’s director-general Irina Bokova, however, that line on the Western Wall was pulled from the text at the last moment by the resolution’s authors – Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.
But the text affirmed for the first time that the Mugrabi Gate, whose ramp is built over the women’s section of the Western Wall, “is an integral part of al-Aksa mosque/Haram al-Sharif.”
It also referred to the area of the Temple Mount solely by its Arabic names and omitted any historical Jewish link with what is Judaism’s holiest religious site.
The term Buraq Plaza remained elsewhere in the text, and there was no mention of the Western or Wailing Wall.
It’s the first time these Jewish names have been left out of Palestinian resolutions at UNESCO with regard to the Temple Mount area.
Building in the West Bank With the swearing in of a right-wing government in May, settlers were hopeful that authorizations for building in Judea and Samaria would follow.
Instead, they have found themselves fighting their own parties to authorize buildings plans in West Bank settlements. The absence of such plans, they have warned, is tantamount to a de facto freeze. Their persistent campaign, particularly by the Samaria Regional Council and the Gush Etzion Regional Council, has gained little traction politically and among the Israeli public.
Data from the Central Bureau of Statistics showed that housing starts have been down for the last two years, when compared to the ground that was broken for 2,872 units in 2013. That number dropped to 1,508 in 2014. Data from the first three-quarters of 2015 showed that the 1,167 starts represented a 5 percent drop, when compared to 1,229 new units in the same period last year.
One of the few significant projects to receive approval in 2015, was the Defense Ministry authorization to renovate eight large empty stone buildings in Gush Etzion, which had been purchased by US millionaire Irving Moskowitz.
He wants to turn the 3.8 hectare (9.39 acres) property into a tourist center. His ability to use the property would create Jewish holdings in the midst of Palestinian farm land, just off of Route 60, in between the Gush Etzion junction and the city of Hebron.
The site was formerly owned by the Presbyterian Church in the United States. At one time it served as a hospital for tuberculous patients.
The battle over Jewish building in the West Bank turned physical in July when the IDF forcibly demolished two 12-unit apartment buildings in Beit El that were only partially completed.
A private contractor, Meir Draynoff, began work on the homes in 2010 without the proper permits.
The NGO Yesh Din, together with Palestinians who claimed land ownership of the property, petitioned the High Court of Justice to force the IDF to halt the project and raze the structures.
The court ordered the unauthorized buildings to be demolished on the basis of the missing permits, without addressing the issue of Palestinian land ownership. It ignored all pleas by politicians, including Netanyahu, to find a way to authorize the structures.
To prevent the demolitions hundreds of young right-wing activists camped out in the empty buildings, before they were removed by security forces.