After a Palestinian Authority staff sergeant was shot dead when he allegedly opened fire on and wounded three Israeli soldiers at a checkpoint on Sunday, Israel’s leading newspaper described the incident as “the nightmare scenario that has worried Israel for months.”
Israel has since put the Ramallah area of the occupied West Bank, where the incident took place, under indefinite closure.
The incident will deepen the divide between Israel’s political leadership and its military, which have failed to find consensus on how to respond to four months of sharply increased and unending deadly confrontation between Palestinians and Israeli soldiers and settlers.
“Abbas did not condemn the attack carried out by one of his men. While Israel is fighting terrorism, the international community must stop the hypocrisy and demand that the Palestinian Authority stop incitement that fans the flames of terrorism,” the Israeli prime minister added.
Built on Palestinian land, Beit El houses the Israeli Civil Administration, the bureaucratic arm of the military occupation, and its district office. It has been a site of regular confrontation by Palestinian youths protesting against both the Israeli occupation and the PA’s security coordination with Israel.
Netanyahu has previously blamed media incitement and PA leader Mahmoud Abbas for the alleged attacks at settlements and checkpoints, while the Israeli military and intelligence establishment maintains that continued security coordination with the PA is essential for preventing a further escalation of violence.
Majid Faraj, the head of the PA’s General Intelligence Service, recently boasted to Defense News that since October, the PA has “prevented 200 attacks against Israelis, confiscated weapons and arrested about 100 Palestinians.”
The Israeli government confirmed this claim to Haaretz, which added that “most of those arrested were Hamas operatives, whom the PA views as no less a threat than Israel does.”
PA officer opens fire on soldiers
Witnesses described Sunday’s attack to the Ma’an News Agency, saying that “a Palestinian vehicle approached the Israeli checkpoint and stopped for inspection. When an Israeli soldier approached the driver’s window, the driver opened fire, immediately shooting the soldier.”
Two of the three wounded soldiers were reportedly in severe condition, while one was mildly injured, according to Israel’s emergency medical service, Magen David Adom.
The slain Palestinian officer was identified as Amjad Sukkari, a 34-year-old father of four from the Nablus area in the northern West Bank.
The Israeli military installation where Sukkari allegedly shot at soldiers before he was killed is known by Palestinians as the VIP checkpoint, as only authorized persons are able to cross it. Sukkari, a driver and bodyguard for the PA’s chief prosecutor, reportedly held a permit to travel through the site.
He is not the first member of the PA’s security forces – which are trained and armed under the auspices of the US and European Union and have collaborated with Israel to extrajudicially execute political and armed resistance leaders in Gaza – to have been shot dead during an alleged attack on soldiers in recent weeks.
As Defense News reported earlier this month, Mazen Oraibi, “an officer under Faraj’s command, was shot dead by Israeli soldiers after he allegedly opened fire with his legally issued handgun at a checkpoint, wounding two.” The publication added that Oraibi is a relative of Saeb Erekat, the PA’s chief negotiator with Israel.
Haaretz noted on Sunday that both Sukkari and Oraibi “served in jobs that required them to be vetted by the PA intelligence services.”
The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights reported that after Oraibi was dead, soldiers shot at his head at point-blank range.
More than 100 Palestinians, including 25 children, and 25 Israelis were killed in Palestinian attacks and alleged attacks against Israelis in the West Bank and Israel between 1 October and 25 January, according to the United Nations monitoring group OCHA. Dozens more Palestinians have been killed while participating in demonstrations or being in the vicinity of protests.
Human rights groups have criticized Israel for reflexively using lethal force when alleged attackers do not pose an immediate threat to anyone’s life, saying that many such incidents amount to extrajudicial executions.
In other cases, Palestinians may not have been attempting any attack when they were slain.
The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem has blamed Netanyahu for “the transformation of police officers, and even of armed civilians, into judges and executioners.”
With Netanyahu’s tacit consent, public security minister Gilad Erdan’s threat that “every terrorist should know that he will not survive the attack he is about to commit” has become a deadly reality, with children being shot and killed instead of being apprehended.
Among the youngest of those children, Ruqayya Abu Eid, 13, was shot dead by a security guard in Anatot settlement near Jerusalem on the morning of 16 January.
Haaretz journalist Gideon Levy reported that security camera footage of the incident shows Abu Eid chasing the security guard while brandishing a knife, the two blurry figures a few meters apart.
He added that the video does not show the girl get close to the security guard, and the moment that the guard shoots a single bullet into Abu Eid’s heart is not shown in the released footage.
Palestinians shot in alleged attacks
Another Palestinian teenager, 19-year-old Ahmad Hussein Toba, was shot dead on Monday after allegedly attempting to stab a soldier near a settlement in the Tulkarem area of the West Bank. No soldiers were reported to have been injured.
That same day, a 14-year-old boy was arrested in Jerusalem for carrying a knife and another youth was arrested at the Beit Einoun junction – where several alleged Palestinian attackers have been recently killed by Israeli soldiers – for allegedly possessing a knife:
On Sunday, a Palestinian was reported to have been shot and injured after an alleged car ramming attack in the Beit Horon settlement near Jerusalem. Less than a week earlier in that same place, two young alleged attackers were shot dead after injuring two Israeli women, one of whom later died of her wounds.
On Saturday, a 17-year-old Israeli was stabbed outside Jerusalem’s Old City and sustained moderate wounds. Three Palestinian children, ranging from 12 to 15 years old, are being held in relation to the incident.
Another stabbing took place in Givat Zeev settlement near Jerusalem on Wednesday; a middle-aged Israeli man was reported to have been critically wounded and an 18-year-old Palestinian from the West Bank village of Bir Nabala was arrested on suspicion of carrying out the attack.
Also that day, a 17-year-old Palestinian was arrested after attempting what Israel says was a stabbing attack at the Qalandiya military checkpoint between Ramallah and Jerusalem.
Israel’s army and its domestic spy agency, the Shin Bet, also known as Shabak, have proven unable to prevent such alleged attacks by Palestinians acting independently of the command of armed resistance groups.
Israel unable to stop attacks
The Israeli army’s chief of staff has said that there were no intelligence warnings before any of the approximately 100 stabbing and car ramming attacks the military claims have been waged since October.
However, the vast majority of alleged attacks have taken place inside the West Bank, at Israeli settlements and checkpoints – the symbols of the military occupation.
While calling for a lasting negotiated agreement, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stated last week that “Palestinian frustration is growing under the weight of a half century of occupation and the paralysis of the peace process,” adding, “as oppressed peoples have demonstrated throughout the ages, it is human nature to react to occupation.”
Later in the week Ban expressed alarm over activities by the Qassam Brigades, Hamas’ armed wing in Gaza, which has been rebuilding its military capacity after 51 consecutive days of intensive Israeli bombing in summer 2014.
At least seven Qassam Brigades fighters were killed in a tunnel collapse during a winter storm last week as Israel grows increasingly worried about efforts by the group to carry out attacks in the West Bank.
The administrative arm of Israel’s military has threatened to seal the checkpoint between Israel and Gaza – which most Palestinians are already restricted from crossing – because it says Hamas is recruiting traders, laborers and patients who travel through the crossing for “terrorism purposes.”
The movement of all 1.8 million Palestinians in Gaza is controlled at the Erez checkpoint operated by Israel in the north, and the Rafah crossing in the south, which has been closed by Egypt since late October 2014, with only a few days of partial opening.
Haaretz reported that the widespread belief in Gaza is that the increased delays and questioning at Erez is Israel’s means to recruit people to collaborate with its intelligence agency on a regular basis.
“Gazans with whom Haaretz has spoken have said the questioning and delays at the border are creating and reinforcing an atmosphere of suspicion against various segments of the Gazan population – particularly those with ties to the PA,” the paper added.
The Gaza Strip has been under a devastating blockade since 2007, when Hamas, the surprise victor in legislative elections held the year prior, took control of internal governance of the territory after fierce battles with the rival Fatah party, which maintains its rule via the PA in the West Bank.
In an op-ed published by The New York Times on Monday, the UN Secretary General called on Hamas and the PA to “make political compromises to bring Gaza and the West Bank under a single, democratic governing authority according to principles laid down by their national umbrella organization, the Palestine Liberation Organization.”
Yet there is no way to reconcile the fundamental contradiction between the conciliatory and accommodating stance towards Israel taken by the PA, on the one hand, and Hamas’ armed opposition to Israel, on the other.
During a ceremony honoring the fighters who died in the tunnel collapse, Qassam Brigades spokesperson Abu Obeida praised the attacks in the West Bank, calling them no less important than the activities of the armed resistance in Gaza.
Youth affiliated with Fatah, the faction that dominates the PA, have meanwhile broken ranks with the party to opt for direct confrontation with Israel.
Netanyahu may target his rage at the Palestinian Authority today, but without its enforcement of the occupation, Israel has one less tool in its arsenal to suppress these young Palestinians.
- Palestinian Authority
- Benjamin Netanyahu
- Beit El
- security coordination
- Mahmoud Abbas
- Majid Faraj
- Palestinian security forces
- Mazen Oraibi
- extrajudicial executions
- Ruqayya Abu Eid
- Ahmad Hussein Toba
- Beit Einoun junction
- Beit Horon
- Givat Zeev
- Shin Bet
- Isaac Herzog
- Ban Ki-moon
- Qassam Brigades
- Erez checkpoint
- Gaza siege
- amjad sukkari