March 9, 2023
The past two months have been a particularly volatile period between Israelis and Palestinians. Tragically fifteen Israelis have been murdered so far this year by Palestinian terrorists – close to half the number killed in terror attacks in all of 2022. In late February, violent riots by Jewish extremists seeking vigilante justice – especially in the West Bank town of Huwara – further inflamed tensions between Israelis and Palestinians. In order to engage constructively for the welfare of Israelis (as well as Palestinian civilians), we need to understand what’s happening.
Here’s what you need to know about the ongoing wave of terrorism, the riots in Huwara, and the overall security situation in the West Bank.
When did this wave of terrorist attacks in Israel begin?
Over the past year, Israel has experienced one of its deadliest periods of terrorist violence in Israel since the Second Intifada in the early 2000s. This year’s spike in Israeli fatalities from terror attacks came after a deadly toll of 33 Israelis murdered in such attacks in 2022. In late January, a terrorist murdered seven Israeli worshippers after Sabbath prayers at a Jerusalem synagogue. On February 26, two Israeli brothers were fatally shot by a Palestinian man in the town of Huwara, south of Nablus. The very next day, on February 27, an Israeli-American was murdered outside of Jericho while on his way to a wedding. On March 9, a terrorist affiliated with Hamas opened fire at people at a cafe in Tel Aviv, wounding at least three.
What is the security situation in the West Bank?
Over the last decade, the Palestinian Authority (PA) has increasingly lost control of the security situation in much of the West Bank amid the Palestinian population’s widespread discontent with the PA and its leader Mahmoud Abbas. As confidence in the PA has declined, terrorist groups including Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and the Lion’s Den have stepped up their efforts to gain influence within the West Bank.
Terror attacks on Israelis are occurring more frequently, with many assaults originating in northern West Bank cities, such as Jenin and Nablus.
In a bid to de-escalate, Israeli and Palestinian officials held a rare meeting in Aqaba, Jordan, on February 26, in which both sides agreed on steps to reduce tensions in the West Bank and Jerusalem.
What is Israel doing to prevent terror attacks?
Israeli security forces have been conducting near-daily counterterrorism operations throughout the West Bank. This is in large part due to the declining effectiveness of the Palestinian Authority security forces and their inability to maintain security. While these operations, which began during the terror wave that started in the spring of 2022, have focused on neutralizing terror cells in the area and preventing further and sometimes imminent attacks, they have also led to a small number of unintentional deaths among Palestinian civilians caught in the crossfire.
Israel’s counterterrorism operations are done with precision to minimize Palestinian civilian casualties. While indiscriminate terror attacks targeting Israelis seek to cause as much destruction and loss of life as possible, through wide-scale attacks such as rocket fire at Israeli towns and cities, as well as knifing, suicide bombing, car-ramming, and shooting, such as the recent assaults in Jerusalem.
There is simply no moral equivalence between Israel’s anti-terrorist operations and terrorists' deadly attacks on civilians. Click here to read three key examples as to why this comparison is unequivocally false.
What happened in Huwara?
Following the murder by a Palestinian terrorist of two Israeli brothers – Hillel Yaniv, 22, and Yagel Yaniv, 20 – on February 26 along a road in the West Bank town of Huwara, a mob of dozens of Jews took part in violent riots in Huwara, with some setting fire to property and provoking clashes with the local Arab community.
During these riots, a Palestinian was killed after being shot in the stomach. Dozens more were wounded.
What has been the response to the riot in Huwara?
Israeli President Isaac Herzog stated: “Taking the law into one’s own hands, rioting and committing violence against innocents—this is not our way, and I express my forceful condemnation.” AJC joined President Herzog in condemning the violence.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also said that “I ask—even when the blood is boiling—not to take the law into one’s hands.”
Netanyahu added, “Let the IDF complete its pursuit and do not take the law into your hands; together we will defeat terrorism.”
Further, AJC condemned Israeli Minister of Finance Bezalel Smotrich for encouraging Jewish violence in Huwara.
Military chief Herzi Halevi said "The grave events of lawlessness in Huwara after the severe attack will be thoroughly investigated."
On March 7, Israel Defense Forces carried out an operation in Jenin in the West Bank, where at least six terrorists were killed, including a Hamas member suspected of murdering the two Israeli brothers on February 26.
Unpack the findings from AJC's Latest Report
How has the international community responded?
On February 28, the UN Security Council held behind-closed-doors consultations on the events in Huwara. The Palestinians and their supporters in the Council wanted to promote a UNSC statement to the press but the U.S. instead encouraged the parties to de-escalate the situation through the Aqaba Forum, which convened on February 26, with representatives from Jordan (the host country), Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Egypt, and the U.S. In addition to other announcements and commitments, at the Forum, the Palestinians and Israelis affirmed their commitment to work toward a just and lasting peace. They reaffirmed the necessity of committing to de-escalation on the ground and to prevent further violence.