The recent uptick in terrorist attacks in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria requires us to distinguish between two parallel phenomena underpinning the violence. One is the ongoing incitement, intended to create a consciousness of struggle in the general public, particularly among Palestinian youth. The second is Hamas’s interest in increasing terrorism within and emanating from Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria. The connection between the tangible expressions of these two trends has ignited a multitude of attacks, sparking fear that Israel is facing another terror wave.
The first element, incitement and the preaching of hatred aimed at creating a consciousness of struggle against Zionism, takes place on an ongoing basis. It is intended to instill in the Palestinian public that:
1. There is no Jewish People, so Jews have no right to self-determination and a state of their own.
2. The Jews had no sovereign history in the Land of Israel/Palestine, unlike the Palestinians, who claim to be the indigenous people of this region, as descendants of the Canaanites. In this context, the Palestinians must believe that there was no Jewish Temple on the Temple Mount. The Palestinians also promote this message in the international system through international institutions such as the U.N. General Assembly, UNESCO, and others.
3. The Jews, especially the Zionist ones and, more specifically, the settlers, are intolerable by definition. The European colonialists, who sought to get rid of the Jews and prevent the spread of Islam, imposed Zionism on the Jews and established the State of Israel, ignoring the rights of the Arab inhabitants over the entire territory.
The Palestinian identity is based primarily on a commitment to fighting Zionism until its disappearance. All types of “struggle” toward this end are legitimate (thus the Palestinian Authority pays comfortable salaries to all terrorists serving time in Israeli prisons, seeing them, under Palestinian law, as the fighting cadre of the Palestinian people).
However, the P.A. believes that due to “cost-benefit” considerations, the struggle, beyond the political, economic and cultural arenas, should be focused on “popular resistance” (sometimes adding the term “peaceful”), which means avoiding the use of firearms and explosives. Instead, they focus on demonstrations, stone-throwing, firebombs and sometimes stabbings and vehicular attacks.
Hamas and other terrorist organizations, of course, believe that it is also appropriate to use firearms and explosives in attacks emanating from Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria, including from areas controlled by the P.A.
4. The Palestinians are the only victims of the conflict. As such, they must perpetuate and leverage their victimhood until the cause is eliminated, i.e., Israel ceases to exist as a nation-state of the Jewish people. As victims of the occupation, Palestinians have the right to exercise all types of “resistance,” and those responsible for their situation, especially Israel and the West, have no right to criticize them.
5. The Palestinian struggle is nationalist and Islamic at the same time. The defense of the al-Aqsa Mosque in the face of Israel’s alleged attempts to harm it is the ultimate justification for this dual campaign.
6. The Palestinian commitment to all of Palestine is indisputable, even if, according to the PLO’s “Phased Plan” (1974), a hiatus on the way to the final destination is allowed. Therefore, it is unthinkable to agree to the existence of a Jewish nation-state, even if it is democratic and guarantees the civil rights of all its residents, or to concede even a single grain of soil to Israel.
The consciousness of the struggle is embedded in various ways, including statements by senior Palestinian figures, study materials, religious messages and social media, the latter of which is particular effective among Palestinian youth.
From the time this consciousness is set, there will always be some Palestinians, especially young ones, who feel they are required to act. Their sense is that they are fulfilling what is required of them by Palestinian society. They believe that even if they lose their lives, it is no disaster since they will become heroic martyrs, with all the benefits promised to the “shahid.” After all, according to the Koran (Sura 3, verse 169): “Do not think that those who are killed for Allah are dead; they live with Allah’s grace.” If they surrender, are taken alive and imprisoned, they and their family will receive great respect and a generous salary.
When the Palestinian leadership explicitly or implicitly calls on the public to carry out attacks, the number of Palestinians responding increases significantly, to the point of creating a “wave of terrorism” (for example, in the wave of attacks of October 2015 to March 2016). Even when there is no such explicit call, there will always be Palestinians who will take it upon themselves to act. Most will be satisfied with participating in riots, demonstrations, stonings and firebombings. Indeed, scores of such events take place throughout Judea and Samaria every week, and are not mentioned even in the Israeli media.
There are always a few Palestinians who will want to go further (especially if they are affiliated with Hamas, like Fadi Abu Shkhaydam).
In parallel with the ongoing phenomenon of incitement and the creation of the consciousness of the struggle, which translates into individual attacks, we are also witnessing efforts by PIJ and Hamas to establish organized terrorist cells capable of carrying out mass-casualty attacks. Four such cells, some of them extensive, have been uncovered and broken up recently. One such cadre ambushed an Israeli car in Samaria on Dec. 16, 2021, killing a yeshiva student and wounding two others. The squad was captured two days later, and the IDF reported they are members of PIJ.
This effort is also not new, being a permanent element of Hamas’s and PIJ’s policy, which is aimed at harming as many Israelis as possible, undermining national resilience in Israel and demonstrating these movements’ adherence to the path of struggle, unlike Fatah.
This is despite Israel’s (and the P.A.’s) efforts to degrade Hamas in the areas controlled by the P.A. In fact, these steps act to strengthen Hamas’s position on the Palestinian street as the leader of the struggle against Israel and for Jerusalem and al-Aqsa, thereby embarrassing and weakening the P.A. Given the sense of Hamas’s achievement in the May conflict and against the background of the P.A.’s growing weakness, Hamas has stepped up its efforts.
Although the P.A. works to limit Hamas’s freedom of action, it is being dragged by the competition into increasing incitement, heaping praise on the perpetrators of the attacks, and accusing Israel of “executing” them. Thus, the P.A. itself is guilty of fanning the flames.
Beyond strengthening the intelligence-security response, the way to address the problem is not only to ensure the quality of life of Palestinians in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza, but also to create deterrence mechanisms and weaken the ideological and economic incentives that drive the attacks. Israel’s decision to loan the P.A. a sum offsetting the tax revenues the country is withholding over the P.A.’s salary payments to terrorists is the opposite of what is required. Not only did it make a mockery of Israeli law, but it presented Israel as being under duress. The loan achieved precisely the opposite of its goal; terrorism did not diminish but increased.
It should also be made clear to the Palestinians and their supporters that the incitement must stop. The United States may cooperate in such an effort, and even the European Union and some of its members have recently shown a willingness to move in this direction, for example, by stopping funding for inflammatory P.A. textbooks. The phenomenon will not disappear in the blink of an eye, but the more the Palestinians realize that it harms them, the greater their ability to restrain it.
IDF Brig. Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser is director of the Project on Regional Middle East Developments at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.