Israel was in a state of lockdown this week after four Israeli Jews were killed and several others injured by Palestinian suspects – with five Palestinians shot and killed in response, writes Stephen Oryszczuk.
The country moved onto a virtual war footing after violence erupted in Jerusalem and the West Bank, following the murder last Thursday of Rabbi Eitam and Naama Henkin, a Jewish couple who lived in the settlement of Neria. They were shot and killed in their car, in front of their four children aged between six months and nine years.
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President Reuven Rivlin vowed to “reach the killers, reach their inciters and their dispatchers, and deliver them a stinging blow,” but as a huge manhunt got under way, ‘price-tag’ reprisals by Jewish settlers were reported.
Five men were arrested in Nablus on Monday, confessing to the killing and to being members of Hamas, but not before the situation deteriorated on Sunday, when Aharon Bennett, an Israeli settler, and Rabbi Nehemia Lavi, an army reservist, were stabbed and killed in the capital.
The Palestinian perpetrator was shot and killed at the scene. There were several more stabbings in and around Jerusalem this week, including an attack yesterday morning by an 18-year-old Palestinian woman, who stabbed and wounded a 35-year-old Jewish man in the back.
She was shot and critically injured by her victim, her family later clashing with police who denied them entry to the hospital at which she was being treated.
Yesterday afternoon, there was another incident. A Palestinian man in Kiryat Gat stabbed and lightly wounded an Israeli soldier, grabbing his gun before being shot and killed by pursuing soldiers.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who relaxed Israel’s live-fire laws two weeks ago, convened his security cabinet on Sunday and cancelled a trip to Berlin.
Blaming “Palestinian incitement” for the attacks, he said: “We will act with a very harsh hand against terror and also against incitement. We will not give any rioter or any inciter immunity in any place, and so there are no limitations of the actions of the defence forces.”
He announced a series of measures aimed at heading off what some say may be the start of a third Intifada, including the demolition of suspects’ homes, the increased use of detention without trial, and reinforcing security.
Hours later, bulldozers razed two east Jerusalem homes. In an unprecedented step, non-resident Palestinians were banned from entering Jerusalem’s Old City, and Palestinian men under the age of 50 were banned from worshiping at Al-Aqsa Mosque, a flashpoint in recent weeks.
However, the extra measures were not enough to stave off protests, with nationalist politicians – including Likud’s Oren Hazan and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked from the Jewish Home Party – joining thousands of people who marched on Netanyahu’s home, accusing him of inaction and demanding more settlement building in the West Bank by way of punishment.
“The right answer, the only answer for terror, is to build and build and build,” said Hazan.
The US State Department “strongly condemned” the attacks and called for calm, yet there was little sign of that, as both Palestinian and Jewish settler protests erupted across the country.
More than 400 Palestinians have now been injured since Sunday, the Palestinian Red Crescent said, with more than 200 people treated for the effects of tear gas.
Palestinian medics have treated injured protesters across the country, including in the Tel Aviv district of Jaffa, where demonstrators marched in protest at Israeli actions at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, and in the usually quiet desert town of Jericho, where two teenagers were shot in the legs. In several instances, force has been deadly.
On Sunday, 19-year-old Fadi Aloun was shot and killed by police near the Old City. Video later posted to YouTube purported to show an unarmed Aloun – alleged to have stabbed and wounded an Jewish Israeli teenager – walking past a group of ultra-Orthodox Jews shouting “shoot him” in Hebrew. Moments later, police arrive and shoot. “They didn’t even try to arrest him,” his father said.
On Monday, Israeli forces shot and killed Huthayfa Soliman, 18, at a West Bank checkpoint near Tulkarm. Later that day, Abdul Rahman Obeid Allah, 13, a refugee camp resident in Bethlehem, was shot and killed near an Israeli base.
The army said both teenagers had been throwing rocks, but witnesses said Obeid Allah had been outside a community centre away from the stone-throwing when he was killed. The IDF later admitted that he had been shot by accident, At the boy’s funeral, hundreds of Palestinians fought Israeli forces, in what eyewitnesses described as “a riot”.
Elsewhere on Wednesday a terrorist stabbed several people near a shopping mall in Petah Tikva. One person was lightly injured.
And an 18-year-old Palestinian teenager was shot by Israeli police as he threw stones at an IDF convoy near Beit Sahour, on the road between Jerusalem and the settlement of Tekoa.
Ayman Odeh, leader of the Arab Joint List, the Knesset’s third largest party, cancelled a trip to the UK this week, citing a “new wave of violence in our region costing the lives of Palestinians and Israelis”. In an ominous warning, he said: “This violence brings us back 15 years to the bloody clashes of 2000 and the second Intifada.”