Abdel Bari Atwan
On Friday a gunman opened fire in broad daylight on the streets of Tel Aviv, entering a busy bar where people were celebrating New Year’s Day and killing two Israeli Jews. At least five other people were seriously wounded in the attack; the gunman escaped the scene.
Ynet, an Israeli news site, said that the gunman – whom authorities refuse to name – had ‘expressed support for the Islamic State’ in the past and most commentators believe that the attack was at least inspired by the group.
If this does indeed represent the first attack by Islamic State (IS) inside Israel it could mark the beginning of a new, deadly campaign foreshadowed last week by a rare audio message from IS leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in which he warned Israel ‘we are getting closer to you day by day’.
This attack comes on the heels of a bomb on a Tel Aviv bus and many other ‘lone wolf’ acts of violence inside Israel by Palestinians over the past two months. Dozens of knife attacks, shootings and car rammings have killed 20 Israelis and led some to call this the third intifada.
If IS has indeed come to Israel, one can imagine that it would not be difficult for them to recruit young people to fight the Israeli authorities whose racist, apartheid administration is making life hell for the Palestinians.
Benjamin Netanyahu’s government has done little to rein in the excesses of the illegal settler movement whose unbridled racist hatred for Arabs has caused much of the current unrest. On 24 December, a video shot at a Settlers’ wedding showed Jewish teenagers celebrating the death of Palestinian toddler Ali Dawabshe who was killed along with his parents in an arson attack on their village home earlier this year. Youths stabbed a picture of Ali while dancing and cheering, waving guns, knives and molotov cocktails.
One can hardly be surprised that this extremism meets with extremism in return.
Every day brings fresh instances of the injustice that fans the flames of Palestinian anger. In early December, three settlers were found guilty of torturing then burning alive a Palestinian teenager, Mohamad Abu Khdeir. Palestinian protestors outside the court highlighted that if Palestinians had committed such a horrendous crime their homes would be bulldozed and they would receive the maximum penalty. The murderer’s ringleader, 31 year-old Yosef Ben David, refused to defend himself in court while his lawyer pleaded that his client could not be held responsible as he was not ‘mentally competent’ at the time of the killing. Ben David may well get off and few believe his two accomplices, both minors, will get long spells in prison when they are sentenced in January.
Minor crimes by Palestinians, however, receive the most draconian punishment – and often suspects do not even get to court because they are shot dead or stamped to death by Israeli soldiers on the spot.
Earlier this month, two teenage Palestinian girls were found to be carrying scissors by security guards. Hadeel Awwad, 16, was instantly shot dead while her cousin, Norhan Awwad was beaten with a chair and, when she fell unconscious to the ground, shot by the guards. Since 1 October, Israeli troops and armed Jewish settlers have killed at least 94 Palestinians in their own version of rough justice.
Not that the Palestinian Authority (PA) is without blame for the lamentable situation their people now find themselves in. While it is true that Netanyahu destroyed the peace process with his intransigence over settlement building, the apartheid wall and several other key issues, Mahmoud Abbas has failed to exert any real pressure on Tel Aviv to be more fair.
Despite the fact that he has been without an electoral mandate since his term officially ran out in January 2009, Mahmoud Abbas has continued to assume the mantle of leadership for the Palestinians on the world stage. This is the kind of behaviour adopted by ‘strong-men’ dictators like Gadddafi, Saddam Hussein and Bashar al-Assad but, sadly, Abbas in no strong man.
When Abbas addressed National Assembly on 30 September as the Palestinian flag was raised for the first time at UN headquarters, he barked a great deal and bared his teeth at Israel saying the PA was no longer bound by the Oslo Agreement and that he could walk away from the security co-operation with Israel he had committed to. Nothing has come of this and Abbas has, instead, quietly accepted the hypocritical advice from his friends in the West advocating the virtues of patience.
How shameful, too, that Abbas did not tear up the 1994 Paris Protocol which has crippled the Palestinian economy and made it a slave of the Israeli fiscal system for political reasons. Instead, he willingly renewed it in 2012. The Paris Protocol established a joint external border for Palestinian and Israel, with the latter collecting all import duties and VAT. The Israelis are meant to transfer all taxes due to the Palestinians but frequently withhold them in order to exert pressure on the PA. Israel refused to allow the Palestinians to establish its own economic borders, creating fiscal independence or a free trade zone, because they feared it would set a precedent for political autonomy.
No wonder the Palestinians feel humiliated, frustrated and angry.
Few can deny that America’s disastrous interventions in Iraq, Libya and Syria, provided the incubator for IS and facilitated its expansion.
IS has shown that it is capable of moving swiftly into foreign lands and has ‘branches’, friends and allies in many countries now including Libya, Somalia, Afghanistan, the Philippines, Mali, Nigeria, Yemen and the Caucasus. Closest to Israel is its branch in the Sinai and it has breached security in the heart of Europe with its attacks in Paris.
I do not doubt that IS has ambitions inside Israel and in occupied Palestine; and that it is capable of achieving them.