The pallor of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu upon arriving at the illegal Jewish settlement of Neve Yaakov in occupied-East Jerusalem reflected the utter shock of Israelis over the death of seven Israelis – and another ten injured – in the deadliest attack the occupation state has seen in 15 years.
In carrying out his retaliatory attack, the young gunmen Khairy Alqam evoked Palestinian memories from the height of the 2002 Second Intifada, when resistance operations resulted in hundreds of Israeli deaths.
But in the years since the 2005 Al-Aqsa Intifada and the late-2021 start of the current wave of resistance activities, there exists an entirely new generation of Israelis who have no firsthand experience with random gun or stabbing deaths. Some may have heard about those bygone attacks from their parents – such as the 2002 resistance operations in Hadera, Bnei Brak, and Megiddo, in which over 20 Israelis were killed.
However, today’s growing Israeli death toll will reopen the deep wound in Jewish consciousness and memory, filled with a history of displacement, killing, and expulsion. The Jewish Agency’s propaganda machinery spent years trying to erase this history by promoting immigration to Palestine as a “secure” sanctuary filled with the promise of “prosperity.”
Minimizing Israeli losses
Over the course of the 75-year Arab-Israeli conflict, Israel invested heavily in developing a security doctrine which maximized adversary deaths while minimizing losses among Israeli civilians and military personnel alike.
Aside from casualties in wars with Arab armies, statistics from the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the US-based Anti-Defamation League indicate that 1,194 Israelis and foreign tourists were killed in “confrontations and terrorist operations” between 2000 and 2010, most of whom died during the Second Intifada (2000-2005).
It can be argued that the fear of being violently killed declined in Israel to its lowest point in the post-intifada years. In 2012, for instance, a statistic from the Israeli General Security Agency (Shin Bet) revealed that a mere 10 Israelis (6 settlers and 4 soldiers) were killed compared to 174 Palestinians.
This trend has continued over the past 18 years. Young Israelis today are clueless about political violence in their own streets, despite witnessing four devastating wars with the Gaza Strip that killed over 4,549 Palestinians. Israel’s lengthy “casualty lull” was ironically also accompanied by an aggressive expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank – wresting control over 70 percent of Area C, and leaving only 15 percent of historical Palestine under nominal Palestinian control.
Between 2005 and 2021, with a security complaint Palestinian Authority (PA) governing the West Bank, Israel managed to establish a high level of stability and well-being for its Jewish citizens – unseen since 1973. Apart from Tel Aviv’s devastating wars waged against Gaza, the West Bank remained largely free of conflict until May 2021 when settler events in Jerusalem kicked off the nationwide Palestinian Sayf Al Quds battle. Since then, the West Bank has remained highly restive, experiencing almost daily clashes with Israeli forces and settlers alike.
Israel’s “withdrawal” from Gaza in 2005 also served to reduce direct Palestinian friction with occupation forces. The Israeli army established a wide buffer zone along the eastern border separating the Gaza Strip from 1948 Palestinian territories, reinforced with advanced cameras and automatic rifles, and minimizing Israeli human presence. This deprived the Palestinian resistance of direct military engagement and reduced its ability to inflict casualties on the occupation army.
Preventing a ‘Gaza model’ in the West Bank
In 2007, Israel and the US fueled a bloody divide between Fatah and Hamas the West Bank, causing a deep and enduring split within Palestinian society.
US General Keith Dayton, tasked with building a “professional” security service for the ruling PA, capitalized on the animosity between the two Palestinian parties. This divide-and-rule strategy effectively erased the achievements of the Second Intifada, during which PA security service leaders defected to leadership roles in resistance groups. They mainly transferred into the top ranks of Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades – Fatah’s military arm – which received funding from the late PLO leader Yasser Arafat, and support from the Lebanese resistance movement Hezbollah and Iran.
The PA was driven by Dayton’s ambition to prevent the “Gaza model” – ongoing, daily, organized resistance – being replicated in the West Bank, which culminated in the arrest of hundreds of Hamas members and the suppression of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) movement. Fatah’s Al-Aqsa Brigades cadres in the West Bank faced the hard choice of either being assassinated by Israeli security services or laying down their arms and re-joining the PA security forces.
During this defeatist period, younger Palestinians unfamiliar with the Second Intifada experienced severe alienation. They did not have any organizational know-how, nor the vital connections to experienced Palestinian resistance leaders and intellectuals who had faced down death and life imprisonment for their liberation endeavors.
Meanwhile, Israel and its western allies pumped billions of dollars to cultivate a “post-uprising, divided generation” in the West Bank, characterized by personal self-interest and a passive form of “resistance” – and rife with heavily colonized slogans that embraced “peaceful coexistence,” and “diplomatic solutions” over organized, ruthless, and unified liberation activities. These were the insidious narratives and false promises that lulled the West Bank into a stupor for decades. But no longer.
The post-intifada generation
As a result, Israel’s youthful post-intifada generation lived in blissful ignorance of retaliatory killings, while Palestinian death tolls and incarcerations continued to climb unimpeded.
The West Bank has now awakened after a dormant period of 18 years, and retaliation against the occupation army and armed Jewish settlers is no longer taboo. Once cavalierly described as the “TikTok revolution” by Israeli writers and analysts, Palestinian retaliation has now become a “powder keg” that the army has frantically tried to thwart for 10 months, according to the Hebrew Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper.
Palestinian political researcher Majd Dergham explains this new phenomena to The Cradle: “There is a [Palestinian] generation that has grown up on the stories of heroism and martyrdom in Jenin and Nablus, and after it matured, we are beginning to see its act of resistance.”
“The generation of the second intifada has exhausted all its energy, and it was necessary for a new generation to lead the confrontation. In Jenin, for example, 21 years after the 2002 massacre, those who are fighting today are the brothers and sons of those who were killed when the camp was demolished over the heads of its residents.”
However, the dilemma facing the Israeli security establishment today is not simply within the resistance military cells in areas such as Jenin’s refugee camp and the Old City of Nablus, but rather in the increasing number of lone-wolf operations. “Those who bear arms…Israel knows who they are and monitors them. The problem is with those who have not yet been detected with weapons,” says Dergham.
Yedioth Ahronoth mirrors this view: “What raises more concern is the individual attacks that are difficult to thwart, as is the case with coordinated operations with an organizational infrastructure…the increase of these individual attacks means that there will be many [Israeli] deaths and could cause a larger wave of operations.”
A new generation brings new challenges
Facing this Israeli generation – unaccustomed to death – is a “new Palestinian generation,” according to Tamir Hayman, the Israeli army’s former commander of military intelligence and head of the National Security Research Institute.
Hayman predicts that “Israel is on the verge of a third Palestinian uprising, and is facing a real intelligence dilemma with the new Palestinian generation that takes the initiative to carry out operations in an individual and non-organizational manner. This dilemma will be greatly exacerbated if the power of the Palestinian Authority declines.”
Muhammad Souf (18 years old), who carried out the Ariel attack in mid-November, and Khairy Alqam (21 years old), who carried out the Neve Yaakov operation, are two examples of this developing trend. The two youths carried out solo retaliatory attacks as retribution for family members killed by the Israelis.
Souf’s father was injected with contaminated blood when he was detained during the Second Intifada, which subsequently led to his death. In 1998, three years before young Alqam was born, Israeli terrorist Haim Perelman killed his grandfather, who also bore the name Khairy Alqam.
Souf and Alqam appeared to have prepared carefully, well in advance of their respective operations – neither, for instance, displayed outward or known interest in political issues. The two events began “inside them and ended on the ground. This closed circle complicates any opportunity to abort such matters,” according to Heyman.
On the other hand, the new Israeli generation, according to Dargham, will have to “watch during the coming years, the escalation of their death toll, starting with 31 dead Israelis in 2022. They will have to judge, after 75 years of conflict, the sincerity of the promises made by the Jewish Agency” that Palestine would be a land of “security” for colonizing Jewish settlers.