Background on Security Situation in Israel

December 23, 2015

The Current Situation

The ongoing wave of violence in Israel began with seemingly random, brutal attacks on civilians, notably including the deadly tragic shootings of Eitam and Naama Henkin in front of their four children who were driving along a West Bank road on October 1, and the stabbing deaths of two men in the Old City of Jerusalem on October 3. Over the past weeks, there have been attacks nearly each day - stabbings, rock throwing, fire bombings – which have occurred across Israel. On October 9, there was a vigilante attack by Israeli Jews against an Israeli Bedouin and three Palestinians. On October 16, Joseph's Tomb was firebombed by Palestinian rioters, causing significant damage to the site. There have also been violent confrontations along the Gaza border fence between Palestinians and Israeli soldiers which have resulted in a number of Palestinian casualties, and multiple rockets have been fired from Gaza into Israel. Israelis have reacted with shock and great concern for their personal safety. 

The wave of violence comes in the wake of tensions related to the Temple Mount/Noble Sanctuary in Jerusalem. For years, there have been accusations among Palestinians and across the region of a conspiracy by Israel to “Judaize” Jerusalem, particularly when it comes to this shared holy site (see below for additional information).

In the past couple of weeks, there have been efforts by the US and others to defuse tensions, with Secretary of State Kerry holding meetings and phone calls with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian President Abbas, as well as with Jordanian King Abdullah whose government oversees the Muslim Waqf which administers the Temple Mount.

Select Recent Attacks
  • December 23 - Jerusalem - Two Israelis were killed and one seriously injured when Palestinian terrorists stabbed a number of people outside of Jerusalem's Old City walls. 
  • December 15 - Jerusalem - At least 11 people were injured when a Palestinian rammed his car into a crowd standing at a bus stop. A 15 month-old baby was seriously injured in the attack.
  • December 9 - Avney Hefetz (West Bank) - An Israeli couple was injured when a Palestinian terrorist opened fire at their car. 
  • November 23 - Route 443 (West Bank) - A Palestinian terrorist stabbed a number of Israelis, killing one and injuring two others. 
  • November 19 - Gush Etzion (West Bank) - A Palestinian terrorist opened fire at a number of vehicles, killing two Jews - including one American - a Palestinian, and wounding four others.
  • November 19 - Tel-Aviv - A Palestinian terrorist stabbed a number of Israeli Jews who were in the middle of prayer services in Tel Aviv, killing two and wounding another. 
  • November 13 - Otniel (West Bank) - A Palestinian terrorist opened fire on an Israeli vehicle, killing a father and son and wounding five other family members.
  • November 2, 2015 – Rishon Letzion – A Palestinian stabbed three Israelis wounding two seriously, including an 80 year-old woman.  
  • October 23 – Beit El (West Bank) – Palestinians firebombed a car carrying five Israeli family members, including three children, injuring all the passengers, including a four year-old girl who was moderately burned.
  • October 21 – Beit Ummar (West Bank) – A Palestinian driver rammed his car into a group of Israeli soldiers who had exited their vehicle after it was stoned by Palestinians. At least four soldiers were injured, one seriously. 
  • October 18 – Be’er Sheva – A Palestinian terrorist shot and killed an IDF soldier at the city’s central bus station. He then snatched the soldier’s gun and began firing into a crowd, wounding several others. During the ensuing chaos, an Eritrean man was shot and killed by security personnel after being mistakenly identified as a terrorist. After he was shot, he was physically and verbally attacked by a group of Israelis. Israeli security forces have opened an investigation into the incident and the vigilante attack. 
  • October 16 – Nablus (West Bank) - Joseph's Tomb was firebombed by Palestinian rioters, causing significant damage to the site. 
  • October 14 - Jerusalem - A Palestinian terrorist stabbed a 70 year old woman near the Central Bus Station. He was shot and killed while attempting to board a bus. 
  • October 13 - Jerusalem - A Palestinian driver rammed his car into a bus stop, killing one Israeli and wounding several others. 
  • October 13 - Jerusalem - Two Palestinian terrorists boarded a city bus and began shooting and stabbing passengers. Two Israelis were killed and number were wounded. 
  • October 13 - Ra'anana - In two separate stabbing attacks, Palestinians stabbed a number of Israelis, wounding one seriously.  
  • October 12 - Jerusalem - Two teenage Palestinians stabbed a 13 year-old Israeli boy who was riding his bicycle. The boy is in serious condition.
The Backdrop: The “Status-Quo” in Jerusalem

The wave of violence comes in the wake of tensions related to the Temple Mount/Noble Sanctuary in Jerusalem. For years, there have been accusations among Palestinians and across the region of a conspiracy by Israel to “Judaize” Jerusalem, particularly when it comes to this shared holy site.

The “status quo” arrangement for the site calls for the Muslim Waqf (under Jordanian authority) to be in charge of day-to-day administration, with Israel in charge of security. The arrangement permits only Muslim prayer at the site, but allows non-Muslims to visit.  

For years, there have been some Israelis who have called for greater access to the Temple Mount, and there are some who have called for the Jewish right to pray at the holy site. In recent years, the calls of these individuals and groups have gained wider attention. Throughout, the Israeli government has publicly affirmed that there will be no change to the status quo agreement.

The widespread conspiracy theories about nefarious efforts for Jews to remove Muslims from the site have become a daily feature in the Arab and Muslim world. At the same time, a group of Palestinians formed the Murabitun/Murabitat group, who are supported by the Islamic Movement in Israel, who harass (at times violently) non-Muslims and particularly Jewish visitors to the site.

In recent weeks tensions have intensified even more. There were clashes between visitors and the Murabitun/Murabitat group. In September, Israeli security forces discovered fire bombs, rocks and other potential weapons hidden inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Palestinian leaders fanned the flames with false accusations against Israel. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said on Palestinian television that “Al-Aksa is ours and so is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. They have no right to desecrate them with their filthy feet. We won’t allow them to do so and we will do whatever we can to defend Jerusalem.”  He also dedicated much of his speech before the U.N. General Assembly to the topic with accusations and misrepresentations of history. The Israeli government has blamed this incitement for encouraging the attacks on Israeli civilians. 

The Incitement

What distinguishes this current period of tensions from prior episodes is that social media seems to be driving the violence.  While Palestinian incitement to violence isn’t new – and certainly Palestinian leaders have been poisoning the atmosphere with incendiary rhetoric – it is social media that is spreading misinformation, hate and calls to violence, while upholding terrorists as heroes as martyrs.  There are constant postingscelebrating the attacks against Israelis and encouraging further attacks

There has also been anti-Arab Israeli incitement – including on social media. ADL has condemned this incitement.

Efforts to Reduce Tensions

The Israeli government has taken a number of steps to reduce tensions, including reaffirming their commitment to maintaining the status quo arrangement in Jerusalem.  Prime Minister Netanyahu announced that government ministers and Knesset members will be barred from entering the Temple Mount. The Prime Minister strongly condemned Israeli vigilante attacks and pledged that the perpetrators would be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

US Secretary of State Kerry has also engaged in efforts to quell the violence. He recently held separate meetings with Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas, as well as Jordanian King Abdullah. Following these meetings, Israel announced they had agreed to a Jordanian plan to install surveillance cameras on the Temple Mount which would help refute claims that Israel is breaking with the status quo. 

President Abbas has also made efforts to quell the violence. Israeli security heads report ongoing cooperation with Palestinian security forces to restore calm. Abbas has spoken out against violence.

UN Secretary General also traveled to Israel and the West Bank to discuss the situation with Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas.

This backgrounder will be regularly updated with relevant information on the security situation in Israel.