In just a few weeks, 11 Israelis have been murdered in three terrorist attacks in Jerusalem. The majority of the attacks have been carried out by minors, including a 13-year-old from Shuafat. The series of attacks has left Israelis asking: What’s driving this spike of violence and what can be done to stop it?
In interviews and statements on that question, the keyword being repeated by defense experts in Israel is “incitement.”
“More resources need to be allotted to one issue which, in my eyes, is the heart of the problem, which is the incitement on social media. A 13-year-old or 14-year-old boy is picking up a knife and going to commit a stabbing attack not because their parents asked them to, and not because that’s what they taught them in school.”Amos Yadlin
“More resources need to be allotted to one issue which, in my eyes, is the heart of the problem, which is the incitement on social media,” Amos Yadlin, former head of the Military Intelligence and former head of the Institute for National Security Studies, told Army Radio earlier this week.
“A 13-year-old or 14-year-old boy is picking up a knife and going to commit a stabbing attack not because their parents asked them to, and not because that’s what they taught them in school.”
The defense expert stressed that while there is no “magic solution,” the first steps to combat the violence should be to set up a heavier presence of police and security forces on the streets of the capital and to allot more resources to combat incitement on social media.
While during the wave of violence in 2016 known as the knife intifada, many terrorists posted about their intent to carry out an attack on Facebook, giving security forces a possibility to notice the post and thwart the attack, today many “lone wolf” terrorists no longer do so.
“Even cyber efforts are not a weapon that you activate once and achieve great things. Now cyber experts need to analyze how to block the incitement, and this isn’t easy. I’ll tell you that regimes that we really don’t want to be similar to, like the Chinese or the Iranians, do it much more efficiently,” said Yadlin. “We are a state with human rights. When you block a certain social media platform, you block it not just for the residents of east Jerusalem.”
Yadlin pointed out that while fighting incitement will take time and effort, the State of Israel has shown that when it applies itself to an issue, it always finds a solution. The defense expert pointed to the military’s successes in combating Hamas’s terrorism tunnels from the Gaza Strip, after years in which it was thought there was no solution.
In an interview with KAN Reshet Bet on Wednesday, Dr. Michael Milstein, an expert on Palestinian affairs at Tel Aviv and Reichman universities and former adviser to the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, agreed that incitement on social media has increased dramatically in recent years.
Incitement on social media has spiked
“The Internet of 2023, especially TikTok and all the wild incitement running around it, is not similar to what there was a decade ago,” said Milstein, explaining that the inciting videos tend to focus on two things: attacks on Jewish passersby and praise for terrorists.
“For example, the 13-year-old boy who carried out the attack in Silwan two weeks ago has been made up to be a ‘model to be admired,’ and I would say that in some of the videos, especially those that Hamas in Gaza is behind either openly or in secret, there are really instructions to operate, like ‘You need to be just like him. This is an act of heroism. This is an act you need to do.’”
The results of the widespread incitement in east Jerusalem were easy to see in an interview filmed by KAN near the Damascus Gate of the Old City recently.
An older east Jerusalem resident told the interviewer that the youth in the city are “good kids who have aspirations, want to study and develop.” When the interviewer turned to two boys who were standing nearby and asked whether they agreed, they said, “We want Hamas and riots. To die as martyrs, that is what is most important.”
“We want Hamas and riots. To die as martyrs, that is what is most important.”East Jerusalem kids
The two youths added that the terrorist who murdered civilians in Neveh Ya’acov “frightened the Jews,” and that “it would have been better if he would have killed more.”
When the interviewer asked, “What if the [terrorist] had killed me?” the youths responded, “God willing.”
The two boys, along with two other east Jerusalem residents suspected of incitement, were later arrested by the Israel Police.
S., an Arab father in east Jerusalem, told Army Radio last week that he was shocked to discover that his son, in an elementary school in east Jerusalem, was being taught that he should kill Jews.
“In the past year, the boy started to ask all sorts of questions. I didn’t understand; I thought it was coming from kids who are part of the population who learn there.”
The questions included “Dad, why is it okay to kill Jews? Why are we not allowed to buy things from the Jews? Do we need to fight for al-Aqsa and to free the homeland?”
S. stressed that he was shocked that his son, who is only 12 years old, is being taught that he needs to “sacrifice his life for the freedom of Palestine and al-Aqsa.” The children are also taught to admire Palestinian terrorists who carried out attacks, added the father.
“I am raising my son to be a doctor or an officer in Israel Police, not to expect that my son will come tomorrow and carry out a terrorist attack. We live in coexistence in the land.”S.
“I am raising my son to be a doctor or an officer in Israel Police, not to expect that my son will come tomorrow and carry out a terrorist attack. We live in coexistence in the land,” S. told Army Radio, adding that he had sent a letter to the Education Ministry about the issue and that the ministry did not deal with it.
Most of the Arab schools in east Jerusalem still teach using the curriculum of the Palestinian Authority, which includes a plethora of forms of incitement against Israeli civilians and security forces. Last year, the ministry put six schools in east Jerusalem on conditional temporary licenses after discovering textbooks including material deemed as incitement against the State of Israel and against the IDF.
Despite claims by some politicians and activists that intensifying penalties such as widespread arrests, stricter home demolition policies, the nullification of citizenship, deportations and more intense demolitions of illegal construction would generate deterrence against terrorism in east Jerusalem, both Yadlin and Milstein agreed that this is a flawed assumption.
Yadlin rejected calls made by National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir for an “Operation Defensive Shield 2,” saying “whoever suggests Defensive Shield 2 only shows to the public how ignorant he is on the subject he’s responsible for.”
Operation Defensive Shield in 2002 involved Israeli forces entering the PA to take down organized terrorist groups that had specific command centers and explosives labs as part of their chain of production of terrorism.
Such an operation would be irrelevant in the reality of east Jerusalem in 2023, explained Yadlin, stressing that a systematic effort is what’s needed.
“Before you get into forces and missions, you need to understand the special problem of east Jerusalem,” he said, pointing to the fact that there are 370,000 Arabs in east Jerusalem who have blue identity cards, which grant them complete freedom of movement.
“We can’t do to them what we do to the Gaza Strip, where we set up a border that no one crosses, so there the terrorism is only rocket fire that the IDF learned how to deal with. Here we’re dealing with residents of the State of Israel, who have complete freedom of movement. Therefore, in terms of dealing with a population such as this, you cannot use collective punishment, because 1) it isn’t legal; and 2) it just doesn’t work.”
Yadlin noted that Jerusalem is the “heart of the conflict” and that Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar’s strategy has been to link the situation in Jerusalem to the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and Israeli-Arabs.
“He, by the way, doesn’t want even one rocket to fly from Gaza. The ones firing rockets are not Hamas, not even the established Palestinian Islamic Jihad; it’s those who are rebels in Islamic Jihad. [Sinwar] wants the fire to spread in Jerusalem.
“If we don’t want to pour gas on the fire of terrorism, and if we don’t want it to spread from Jerusalem to Gaza, mixed cities and Judea and Samaria, we need to be very cautious with our responses, without collective punishment, without provocations on the Temple Mount, which is the most sensitive site, and, of course, without all sorts of annexation moves, because there we are going further than our conflict with the Palestinians; we could shoot ourselves in the foot in issues that are much more important for us,” stressed Yadlin.
Milstein noted that the policy of deportations and arrests already practiced by Israeli authorities has created a vacuum of authority in east Jerusalem.
“We are after many years in which Israel, through many efforts, has arrived at a situation in which there is no leadership in east Jerusalem. There is no political leadership because we either deported them or took away their citizenship, or we took care to put them in prison, and there is no real public leadership either.”
Milstein added that it is important to understand the situation in east Jerusalem.
“There are 370,000 people who, on the basic level, in terms of social and economic and educational considerations, have very serious gaps. Today in east Jerusalem there are 120,000 students, tens of thousands of them are defined as absent, meaning that there is not really certainty or supervision about what exactly is happening with them. There are some estimates that say there are 40,000 students like this.”
Ir amim, an organization that advocates coexistence and equality in Jerusalem, has repeatedly warned that collective punishment measures against Arabs in east Jerusalem only increases violence, noting in a series of recent posts that “those who are now demanding ‘deterrence measures’ against the residents of east Jerusalem should be reminded that house demolitions and police violence are the norm in the east of the city.”
According to Ir Amim, 49 buildings have been demolished by the Jerusalem Municipality in east Jerusalem since the beginning of the year, including 18 residential units. The organization stresses that Arabs in east Jerusalem encounter extreme difficulties when trying to obtain building permits and are almost always refused permits by the municipality.
“The truth is that one does not need to be a great security expert to understand that these demolitions cannot provide deterrence but only generate misery, hatred and acts of revenge,” wrote Ir Amim.
“A house provides security, a roof over your head. This is a basic right. Instead of investing a lot of resources in defense and reserve forces, it is necessary to prepare up-to-date outline plans for the Palestinian neighborhoods in east Jerusalem, to grant building permits, and to allow the residents of the eastern part of the city to build houses legally.
“Decisions to impose collective restrictions and collective punishment have been proven wrong, time and time again,” noted the organization, pointing to spikes in violence in 2014 and 2015, when access to al-Aqsa Mosque was restricted, and in 2015 when authorities blocked the exits from Palestinian neighborhoods and imposed fines on residents and merchants after the “knife intifada” broke out and the violence only intensified.
“Further repression not only increases the violence and does not bring peace, but it is a violent step against the Palestinian residents, [against] adults, women, men, girls and children whose only sin is being born into the wrong nationality and on the wrong side of town.”