Last week, in the space of a few days, there was a series of attacks and mutual violence between Israelis and Palestinians the likes of which have not been seen in quite some time.
It all started Thursday with an Israeli army military operation in the West Bank, in the Jenin refugee camp, in which 10 Palestinians were killed, which was followed first by an exchange of missiles and rockets between Israel and the Gaza Strip, and then between Friday and Saturday two attacks by Palestinians in East Jerusalem, the part of the city that has been part of the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel since 1967. In the first, by far the most serious, a 21-year-old man killed gun seven people as they were leaving a synagogue: not so many people were killed in a single attack in Jerusalem since 2008.
Violence between Israel and Palestinians living within Israel itself, or in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, is quite common, and for many years now periods of relative tranquility have alternated with tensions and violence. In recent weeks, tension has risen a lot after the new Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu took office at the end of December. It is the most right-wing government in Israel’s history, and several important ministries and roles have been entrusted to politicians who are highly controversial for their positions of open hostility towards the Palestinians.
Among these is Itamar Ben-Gvir, the new Minister of Public Security, who is in charge of the national police and the border police between Israel and the West Bank. Ben-Gvir is known for his racist positions towards Palestinians and Arab-Israeli citizens and is a well-known supporter of a total and permanent annexation of the West Bank – which according to various international agreements will have to be part of a future Palestinian state – to Israeli territory.
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Since Netanyahu took office, there have been military operations by the Israeli army in the West Bank almost every day. The one with the most serious consequences was carried out on Thursday 26 January in Jenin: the army claimed to have intervened to thwart a potential “terrorist attack” which, according to its reconstruction, some people living in the refugee camp were preparing. During the operation, Israeli soldiers used heavy military equipment and fired on several people who opposed the operation, causing deaths and injuries.
Among the ten Palestinians killed in the clashes there was also a 60-year-old woman, Magda Obeid: according to her daughter, she was watching the clashes from the window of her house. The Israeli army said it only targeted people who tried to forcefully resist the military operation by attacking Israeli soldiers, and that it bears no responsibility for any civilian deaths.
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In the night between Thursday and Friday, in clear response to what happened in Jenin, some rockets were fired towards Israel from the Gaza Strip, a territory on the border between Israel and Egypt controlled since 2007 by the radical group Hamas. Israel in turn responded by firing rockets into the Gaza Strip.
There had been no injuries or serious damage, but the exchange of attacks had been a sign of rising tension. On Friday evening in East Jerusalem, a man shot a group of people as they left the synagogue in Neve Yaakov, a neighborhood about ten kilometers north of the city center inhabited by ultra-Orthodox Israelis.
The man was killed shortly after by the police while he was trying to flee by car: his name was called Alkam Khairi, he was 21 years old and at the moment it seems he had no links with terrorist groups. However, Hamas celebrated the attack by calling it a “natural response” to the military operation carried out by the Israeli army in Jenin. On Saturday there was a new attack, also in East Jerusalem: in this case a 13-year-old boy shot a 47-year-old man and his 22-year-old son near Silwan, a neighborhood populated mainly by Palestinians. The two people were seriously injured and are hospitalized.
Meanwhile, Netanyahu’s government has approved some immediate measures in response to the attacks, such as the seizure of the homes of those responsible for the attacks and the increase in the activities of the security forces in Jerusalem. Among other things, the demolition of the home of Alkam Khairi’s family was decided.
Among Khairi’s own family, some of whom have been questioned on suspicion of aiding him, there were mixed reactions to Friday’s bombing. His father for example, told the New York Times, speaking with some journalists he praised what his son has done and spoke of it in heroic terms.
Even several of his neighbors, in the A-Tur neighborhood of East Jerusalem, said they were “happy” for the attack since “when Palestinians are killed on a daily basis, they see any attack that kills Israelis as something that redeems their dignity,” said a family friend of Khairi. Others instead expressed concern about the repercussions that the attack will have on the lives of many Palestinian people, starting with the decision to demolish the homes of the families of the attackers, and said they did not want a new escalation of violence.
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