Lone stabbing attacks: Is the third Intifada underway in Palestine?

Published September 26th, 2016 - 01:28 GMT
A masked Palestinian hurls rocks towards Israeli soldiers during clashes following the funeral of Mohammed Fares al-Jaabari on Oct. 10, 2015, in the center of the West Bank town of Hebron. (AFP/Hazem Bader)
A masked Palestinian hurls rocks towards Israeli soldiers during clashes following the funeral of Mohammed Fares al-Jaabari on Oct. 10, 2015, in the center of the West Bank town of Hebron. (AFP/Hazem Bader)

A series of knife attacks in Israel in mid-September has the country feeling a sense of deja vu, a rising dread that a wave of violence seen last October is about to swell once again.

It was this time last year, around the Jewish New Year and Yom Kippur, that saw the beginning of the so-called third Intifada.

In October 2015 alone, more than 600 attacks were reported by Israel's security agency, Shin Bet.

The seemingly daily stabbings or car rammings were blamed on the new Palestinian generation's increasing frustration with peace talks.

A year on, nothing seems to have changed.

Nonetheless, this uprising - also known as the knife Intifada or Lone Wolf Intifada - has shown far different characteristics from previous versions, reflecting changes in terrorist attacks in general.

Most stabbings are carried out by lone Palestinians, many in their teens or early 20s with no known membership in militant groups. The attackers are inspired by calls on social media or by radical leaders.

"The second Intifada wasn't similar to the first, and now the third is not similar to the first or the second," Ariel Merari, a former professor at Tel Aviv University, recently told dpa.

The past two uprisings were marked by the deaths of hundreds of Israelis and Palestinians. The first centred on confrontations between Israeli security forces and Palestinian protesters, while the second dialled up the violence with suicide bombings and increased use of military weapons.

"So far, the third Intifada is characterized by being based on individual action and limited in its scope regarding lethality. Therefore, Israel can live with it for a long time without resorting to extreme measures," Merari said.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry reported that, in the 11 months since September, 40 Israelis have been killed and more than 500 injured, with stabbings, at 157 incidents, being the most common form of attack.

Writing in The Jerusalem Post in May, the executive director of the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism at the Interdiscplinary Centre Herzliya in Israel argued that these numbers didn't constitute an Intifada.

"The phenomenon that Israel is currently facing is a severe wave of terrorist attacks," wrote Boaz Ganor. "The number of people taking part is small compared with the number of Palestinians who took part in the Intifadas."

Indeed, after the uptick in attacks in October, that number began to decrease in January, Shin Bet figures show, to 103 in June, when the last report on terrorist activity was released.

A poll in June by the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey reflected confusion on the Intifada's status, with Palestinian respondents split on whether the current popular uprising had ended.

"There's still significant majority support for attacks," said pollster Khalil Shikaki, but the use of knives to carry them out was increasingly seen by Palestinians as an ineffective way of "inflicting the amount of pain and suffering most Palestinians believe Israelis need to feel to understand the status quo."

But while it's true that the Palestinian extremist organization has expressed support for the Intifada, the Palestinian Centre for Policy Research and Strategic Studies argued in a paper in July that the uprising is at risk of losing momentum precisely because it lacks any type of clear guidance from a political entity.

The attacks protest perceived Israeli violations - vehemently denied by Israel - at a disputed Jerusalem holy site, as well as the ongoing occupation of Palestinian territories and disillusionment with peace negotiations that collapsed two years ago.

Regardless of whether the ebb and flow of attacks since October constitutes an Intifada, the return of violence has dispensed with the illusion that things were going to stay peaceful.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday ordered police forces to be increased in Jerusalem's Old City and the Temple Mount area, to prevent any violence. Israeli army officials have said that they are expecting a rise in attacks and are preparing accordingly.

However, because most stabbings are carried out by lone Palestinians, the ability of Israeli law enforcement to predict or prevent the random attacks can go only so far.

"What's the difference, psychologically, between those who share the views but do nothing, and those who carry out attacks?" asks Merari. "If you want to know what makes these [lone wolves] tick, the only way is to interview these people."

The first Intifada, in 1987, which began with mostly peaceful protests against more than 26 years of Israeli military occupation, ended with the Oslo peace agreement in 1993. A visit by Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon to the holy site Temple Mount in 2000 triggered the second uprising, kicking off a five-year wave of violence.

By Miranda Lee Murray

© 2019 dpa GmbH

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