TEL AVIV, Israel — What’s often summed up as the “cycle of violence” in Jerusalem and the West Bank has suddenly surged to levels not seen in years.
Thursday marked the deadliest Israeli army operation in the occupied West Bank since at least 2005. Troops killed nine Palestinians including gunmen and a 61-year-old woman during a raid against suspects in the crowded Jenin refugee camp. Dozens more were injured.
Friday marked the deadliest Palestinian attack against Israelis since since 2008. A Palestinian gunman killed seven people — and wounded three — outside a synagogue in an Israeli settlement neighborhood of Jerusalem, at the start of the Jewish Sabbath. Saturday saw another Palestinian shooting outside an Israeli settlement enclave in Jerusalem, wounding two.
What may be driving this surge in violence?
Israel’s 10-month crackdown in the West Bank
A series of fatal attacks by Palestinians on Israelis last year prompted a sweeping Israeli military campaign dubbed Operation Breakwater, beginning March 31. Since then, nearly every day, Israel has conducted raids in the Israeli-occupied West Bank to arrest suspected militants and round up weapons. Nearly every week, Palestinians have been killed.
It has resulted in the highest cumulative death toll in the West Bank since 2004. Nearly 150 Palestinians were killed by Israeli troops last year, according to Israeli human rights group B’Tselem. That includes gunmen but also uninvolved civilians and young Palestinians who were throwing stones at troops. It also includes Palestinian American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, also killed in the Jenin refugee camp. Israel says she was probably killed by a soldier’s gunfire unintentionally.
The weakening of Palestinian security forces
Palestinian security forces are trained by the U.S. and international forces to patrol the West Bank, round up Palestinian militants, and coordinate with Israeli officials to prevent attacks on Israelis. But those forces have lost a lot of legitimacy among their own people. Many Palestinians see them as doing Israel’s bidding, maintaining Israel’s military occupation rather than resisting it.
Increasingly, pockets of the West Bank have become no-go zones for the Palestinian Authority forces, who now either refuse to enter or find it too dangerous. That includes the Jenin refugee camp, a dense district of concrete buildings and home to many armed militant groups dedicated to fighting Israel. Israel says it’s stepping in to fill the void and has intensified its arrest raids in these densely populated areas. Its troops are met by emboldened gunmen with groups like Hamas, Islamic Jihad or newer militant groups, leading to deadly clashes.
After Israel’s raid Thursday, the Palestinian Authority said it was officially suspending its U.S.-supervised security cooperation with Israel, but it’s unclear to what extent that will take place.
Israel’s half-century occupation shows no sign of ending
Palestinian leaders want to establish an independent state in the West Bank. But Israel has occupied the West Bank for nearly 56 years and continues to deepen its grip on it. It says Palestinians are not ready to make peace with Israel and that the occupation is a security necessity. But it has also allowed and supported hundreds of thousands of Israeli settlers across the West Bank, and the new far-right government vows to legalize dozens of small settlement outposts deep in the heart of the territory, making it harder to envision a future Palestinian state there.
Younger Palestinians have grown up not knowing anything but Israel’s tough permit regime which controls Palestinians’ entry and movement, and some of their only interactions with Israelis are with often hostile settlers, or occupation-enforcing soldiers, who often raid homes and jail people for months without charges. Some young Palestinians see violent resistance against Israel as their only viable path to freedom, with young militants lionized on social media.
As Palestinian leadership weakens, Israel’s far-right surges
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, 87, one of the Middle East’s oldest leaders, has lost the support of most Palestinians, according to polls. He has tried to promote Palestinian independence through nonviolence and diplomatic negotiations with Israel, but that approach has failed. In the 19th year of what was supposed to be a four-year term, Abbas has lost control of Gaza to the militant Hamas, called off elections for new leadership, allowed government corruption to thrive, and not laid out a clear future for Palestinians.
On the flip side, Israel’s longtime leader Benjamin Netanyahu is back as prime minister with a far-right coalition that has laid out a plan for deepening its grip on the West Bank and taking tougher action against Palestinians. Only one month in office, the government has sparked a series of controversies, including over the status of the sensitive Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem. Israeli officials are already prepping for a tense month of April, when Ramadan and Passover coincide, a combustible mix for potential religious and nationalist fueled violence.