Israeli security forces raise alert level at West Bank crossings

Move comes in response to a deadly car-ramming attack, the 5th terrorist attack in under three weeks

Israel Border Police officers stand guard at the Damascus Gate (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Israel Border Police officers stand guard at the Damascus Gate
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

Defense Minister Benny Gantz ordered an increase in the alert level at crossings between the West Bank and Israel on Monday following a vehicular ramming attack overnight.

“The defense minister ordered a comprehensive investigation that the lessons are learned and level of alertness and readiness be raised in all crossings in the area of Judea and Samaria,” read a statement released by Gantz’s office, referring to the West Bank by its biblical name.

The attack, which took place shortly after 1 a.m., was carried out by a 16-year-old Palestinian teenager who accelerated into the Te’enim crossing near the West Bank city of Tulkarm with a stolen car. Guards at the crossing opened fire at the driver, fatally wounding him.

A 34-year-old security officer was moderately wounded and taken to Sheba Medical Center with head and chest injuries. The Palestinian youth, identified as Muhammad Nidal Younis from Nablus, was taken to Kfar Saba’s Meir Medical Center where he was pronounced dead.

Gantz, speaking at a faction meeting, praised the forces who “acted swiftly, resolutely and professionally and prevented further damage.”

 POLICE ARREST a Palestinian  youth during a protest at  Damascus Gate, October 19.  (credit: JAMAL AWAD/FLASH90) POLICE ARREST a Palestinian youth during a protest at Damascus Gate, October 19. (credit: JAMAL AWAD/FLASH90)

Wishing the wounded officer a quick recovery, as well as the citizen who was injured in a stabbing attack in Jerusalem on Saturday, he said there will be a “comprehensive” investigation into the attack and an increase in alertness at all crossings.

“We are determined to act against terrorism anywhere and anytime, no matter how it is carried out. Whoever tries us will be hurt.”

The predawn attack is the fifth terrorist attack in the past two-and-a-half weeks, all carried out by lone wolves. Despite the increase in violence, the IDF told The Jerusalem Post that it will not be increasing its troop presence for the time being in the West Bank.

The first attack in this apparent wave took place on November 17, when 16-year-old Amr Abu Assab stabbed two Border Police officers before being shot dead by an armed civilian who had been passing by.

Several days later, Hamas member Fadi Abu Shkhaydam carried out a deadly shooting attack in Jerusalem’s Old City, killing 26-year-old Eli Kay and wounding several others. That attacker was also shot dead by Border Police officers.

That same day, a 67-year-old man was moderately injured after being stabbed repeatedly in the back by an 18-year-old Palestinian from the Jenin area in the West Bank.

Successful attacks like the one carried out by Shkhaydam raise concern that other Palestinians thinking of carrying out attacks would be motivated to actually follow through with their plans.

THE STABBING attack that took place on Saturday near Damascus Gate in Jerusalem, in which an Israeli civilian was moderately injured and the attacker killed, also caused security forces to raise their level of alert following the release of a video that led Palestinians to accuse the Border Police officers of a summary execution.

The video, filmed by a Palestinian couple who were in their car at the time of the attack, showed two Border Police officers, one of them a woman, firing two shots as the attacker, 23-year-old Mohammed Shawkat Salameh, lay moving on the ground.

However, the full video of the attack later released by the Israel Police shows Salameh crossing a street and then turning around and repeatedly stabbing 21-year-old ultra-Orthodox Avraham Elimelech behind him. He then lunged toward the officers who responded to the attack before being shot. The attacker later died of his injuries.

Attacks by lone wolves, the IDF has admitted, are much more challenging to thwart than attacks planned by groups because if there is no organization involved, there is no “signature” of the preparedness for the specific attack.

The last year has seen the West Bank battered by not only the coronavirus pandemic, but compounded by a financial crisis that led to tens of thousands of Palestinians losing their jobs. With unemployment rates at 40% and with half of Palestinians under the age of 30 unemployed, the youths of the West Bank are losing hope and becoming more desperate.

The incitement in Palestinian media against Israel, including by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, has not helped calm the situation.

There is no reason that Israel cannot handle the military aspect of quelling the growing unrest in the West Bank and thwarting attacks, either by increasing troop presence or by carrying out more preventative arrests when they obtain critical intelligence indicating a possible attack.

According to the military, thousands of attacks have been thwarted over the years due to intelligence gathering, an increase in monitoring of social media activity, and preventative arrests of individuals who express their desire to set out on attacks or attempt to inspire others to do so on social networks like Facebook.

But military operations are only one part of solving the issue of lone-wolf terrorists.

Israel must understand that there has to be an intervention on a social level, such as working with community leaders and family members of young Palestinians they consider at risk of carrying out an attack to help dissuade youths from doing so.