The combination of recent clashes initiated by Palestinians over access to the Temple Mount and the frightening number of seemingly unrelated attacks on Jewish civilians, several of them fatal, have Israelis worried that they could be in for another lengthy and violent siege. Two Jewish men were stabbed to death walking through the Old City in Jerusalem late Saturday night on one of the most patrolled streets in the country. The 19-year-old killer had posted a Facebook message that said, “the third intifada has begun.”
That attack that came only days after a Jewish husband and wife in their 30s were shot to death in their car, witnessed by their four horrified children in the back seat.
The husband, Rabbi Eitam Henkin, was an American citizen, though he and his wife, Naama, lived in the West Bank community of Neira. The fact that Eitam was the son of Rabbi Yehuda and Rabbanit Chana Henkin, two prominent former Americans, hit home harder for those who know and admire the senior Henkins and their work. The senior Rabbi Henkin is a Torah scholar and authority on Jewish law; his wife is founder and head of Nishmat Center for Advanced Torah Study for Women, which has strong support in the U.S. Jewish community.
Arrests have been made among Hamas members in the Henkin killings, an act that Hamas has praised.
The spate of violence unsettled Israelis during the Sukkot holidays, amid signs that Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, may be losing control over militant elements. In addition, the Palestinian economy has slowed and there is little hope of serious movement on the Israeli-Palestinian front anytime soon. Still, there have been previous periods of sporadic attacks on Jews that have not widened into the kind of sustained terror that marked the first two intifadas. The first began in the late 1980s, and the far more deadly second intifada, marked by suicide bombings and drive-by shootings, resulted in more than 1,000 Jewish deaths and more than twice as many Palestinian deaths in the early to mid-2000s.
Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has pledged to crack down on those seeking to stir up violence. But in the logic of the volatile Mideast, which can be a motivation for terrorists whose goal is to foment unrest, knowing that a strong Israeli response creates increased empathy for Palestinians and further isolates Israel diplomatically.
Short-term resolutions are hard to come by in such conflicts, especially ones that have a religious overtone, like the battle over the Temple Mount. Israel has sought to avoid this problem ever since it captured the Old City in the 1967 Six-Day War, allowing Muslim clerics to control the Temple Mount and preventing Jews from praying there. But Abbas added fuel to the fire by making false accusations about Israeli actions in recent weeks.
He has threatened to shut down the P.A. altogether, which would force Israel to control the entire West Bank population. Yet Abbas knows full well that it is Israel that protects him and the P.A. from a military takeover by Hamas. Israel continues to challenge the Palestinian leader to come to the negotiating table. One hopes that Abbas has not concluded that a third round of stained violence is the path to statehood.