As Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) approaches on Thursday this week, the mood here in Israel has been oddly “schizoid.” On one hand, the usual rush on apples, honey, pomegranates and the like for the holiday; on the other, a rush on gas masks as Syria and Iran threaten “retaliation” against Israel for a possible U.S. strike on Syria.
This week there was more news on the grim side of the ledger. It turned out Israel’s Shin Bet (internal security service) had arrested five Hamas operatives who were planning a terror attack on a Jerusalem mall—timed for, and exploiting, the holiday season (reports here and here).
The leader of the cell was 22-year-old Hamdi Romana of Ramallah in the West Bank. He recruited two other West Bankers to make the explosives—and two East Jerusalem residents with Israeli ID cards, who worked as maintenance men in the mall, to plant the bomb.
The plan was to “cover the bomb in wrapping paper to make it look like a present, then place it in a restaurant, cafe or store while the mall was filled with shoppers….” The “explicit aim” was to “kill…the maximum number of Jews.”
The cell was also
planning other attacks, including planting a bomb in Ramallah that would target Israeli soldiers, firing homemade rockets at Israeli settlements near Ramallah, and firing at soldiers stationed at [a] checkpoint in northeast Jerusalem.
A few things are worth pointing out here:
● The West Bank remains a terror tinderbox. The Shin Bet said the cell’s discovery “demonstrates that terrorists in the West Bank, led by Hamas, are highly motivated to carry out terror attacks in Israeli territory….”
In other words, even with the West Bank under Palestinian Authority rule and ultimate Israeli security control, Hamas remains strong there. This at a time when, intensively pushed into it by Secretary of State John Kerry, Israel and the PA are engaged in “peace talks” aimed at an Israeli withdrawal from the area. But if Hamas remains potent and dangerous there even when Israeli security forces are active, one is hard pressed to understand why, or how, anyone thinks Hamas’s takeover could be prevented if those forces were gone—any more than upheavals and takeovers have proved preventable recently elsewhere in the region.
● While the cell’s three operatives from the West Bank are part of a population widely regarded in the West as living under “occupation” and having a grievance against Israel, the two East Jerusalem bearers of Israeli ID cards had—rationally speaking—no such grievance. While the reports don’t mention whether they had taken out Israeli citizenship, as East Jerusalem residents they had that option. Indeed, as I’ve noted,
the numbers of [East Jerusalem Arabs] requesting Israeli citizenship have dramatically climbed in recent years. Polls find that, even if the Palestinian state was established, most East Jerusalem Palestinians would prefer to remain Israeli.
And yet, in the wake of this incident, the Shin Bet warned of a high risk of West Bank-based terrorists “exploiting those who have Israeli identification and enjoy freedom of movement, and using them to carry out terror attacks inside Israel.”
The two East Jerusalem members of the cell, in other words, were representative of the Arab world’s real, fundamental grievance against Israel: its existence, not its control of any specific territory.
● As Rosh Hashanah nears, Israelis can look back at another year in which lethal terror attacks have been kept to a minimum. But as the Shin Bet keeps emphasizing, the reason is not any drop in motivation or attempts to commit them but because Israel retains security control over the land between the Jordan and the Mediterranean. There could be no more fervent prayer than that situation should continue.
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