“What is expected of you, Israeli citizens? Vigilance and responsibility. To those who have a gun permit, I say this is the time to keep a gun (handy).”
This was the appeal that Naftali Bennett made in a video to the Israeli population, which is usually already heavily armed, after the three attacks – the last one on Tuesday night in Bnei Brak, with five dead – in which, in just one week, eight civilians and three police officers have been killed, in addition to the four attackers. This is the highest Israeli death toll in just seven days since 2006. Two of those killed in Bnei Brak were Ukrainian nationals working on a construction site in Tel Aviv.
Bennett announced that his government has agreed to form a special Border Police Brigade that will operate in mixed Jewish-Arab towns.
Further commitments were requested from the army: 1,000 soldiers will accompany the police forces. The deployment of conscripts in the cities is one of the measures decided by Defense Minister Benny Gantz. Twelve battalions have already been sent to the Palestinian West Bank under occupation, and two more along the border line with the Gaza Strip.
Right now, there is – mostly muted – criticism of the Israeli intelligence apparatus, which underestimated or failed to see the activities of small groups of Salafists linked to ISIS which claimed the first two attacks carried out by three Israeli Arabs. Nobody claimed the attack of two days ago in Bnei Brak, perpetrated by Diaa Hamarsheh, a 27-year-old Palestinian from Yabad, in the West Bank.
The impression is that Israel’s army and police are flailing around instead of having a clear idea of who is behind the three armed attacks. About 30 Palestinians were arrested between Tuesday night and Wednesday; among them was Yazan Hamarsheh, the brother of one of the attackers. On Wednesday, the Israeli military converged on Yabad in numerous jeeps and the local leader of the Hamas Islamic movement, Adnan Hamarsheh, was taken away in handcuffs. Palestinian media also reported arrests in Kufr Qaddoum, Bethlehem and Nablus.
The army closed some gaps in the wall built by Israel in the West Bank and positioned concrete cubes at the Tarqumiya checkpoint, west of Hebron: the soldiers prevented Palestinian workers from going to Israel. There were also reprisals by Israeli colonists in the West Bank. Witnesses said that in the village of Lubban al Sharqiya (Nablus), colonists cut down olive trees and damaged houses and cars belonging to the inhabitants with sticks and stones. Other colonists attacked Palestinian vehicles in Burin, Burqa, Sinjil, Bireh and Deir Sharaf, Marda and Qariut.
On Wednesday, the fear of reprisals and army operations deterred many Palestinians in the West Bank from holding demonstrations to mark Land Day, which commemorates the killing of six Palestinians and the wounding of dozens more by Israeli border police during protests against the confiscation of Arab land on March 30, 1976. Despite the tensions, rallies were held as usual in Galilee, where thousands of Israeli Arabs marched from Sakhnin to Arrabe, and in the Gaza Strip.
There were appeals for calm, while Israel received messages of solidarity from many quarters, starting from the United States and ending with UN Secretary General Guterres. On Wednesday, King Abdallah of Jordan, who a few days ago had met with PNA president Mahmound Abbas in Ramallah, received the Israeli president Isaac Herzog in Amman.
“The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been going on for a long time and the resulting violence is causing much pain, providing fertile ground for the spread of extremism,” the Hashemite ruler said. “The region offers opportunities for cooperation and economic integration. However, this process cannot be exclusive or limited to one group of people. It is necessary for everyone to shape the future of the Middle East, including our Palestinian brothers,” King Abdullah added, in reference to Sunday and Monday’s Israeli-Arab summit in the Negev, from which the Palestinians were excluded.
He also spoke out against any measure that would prevent Muslim worshippers from entering Jerusalem’s Al Aqsa Mosque during the month of Ramadan, which begins in early April. However, the Israeli police are asking the Bennett government to approve restrictions on the access of Palestinians to the Esplanade of Mosques.
Nonetheless, on Thursday, the extreme right-wing Israeli MP Itamar Ben Gvir planned to go there, not facing any limitation. In the climate of tension these days, such a “visit” risked turning into a dangerous provocation.
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