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JERUSALEM ISSUE BRIEF

Vol. 3, No. 11     18 December 2003


Lethal Gestures

Dan Diker


  • Despite increasing Palestinian terror, U.S. Middle East envoy David Satterfield "slammed" Israel on December 11 for continued "restrictions on the movement" of Palestinian civilians, according to a report in Ha'aretz. In addition, Secretary of State Colin Powell urged Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom on December 12 to do more to alleviate Palestinian hardship, according to the Washington Post.

  • Israel continues to pay a high price if it automatically accedes to American pressure in this regard. On December 3, at the last minute, Israeli security forces prevented two Palestinian suicide attacks in Israel by Islamic Jihad terrorists, one against a school in Yokneam and another in Beit She'an. Since the unilaterally announced Palestinian hudna (cease-fire) of June 29, 2003, 85 Israelis have been killed and 417 wounded in Palestinian terror attacks.

  • Among those killed in the Cafe Hillel attack in Jerusalem on September 9, 2003, were Rabbi Dr. David Applebaum, head of Shaare Tzedek Hospital's emergency room, and his daughter Nava, who was to have been married the following day. Dr. Applebaum's death was a particularly profound loss for the Jewish state since he was widely recognized as a global authority on emergency medicine and had personally cared for thousands of victims of Palestinian terror since 1981. Applebaum was murdered by a Palestinian who had been released from detention on February 2, 2003, as a "gesture."

  • Despite Israel's repeated goodwill gestures and the prime minister's recent public statements indicating his intention to take unilateral steps to improve the humanitarian situation among the Palestinians, senior Israeli security officials warn that such moves could create a terrorist "wonderland," enabling them to "rest, rearm, and upgrade."

  • Israeli gestures in the absence of Palestinian security measures have had proven lethal consequences for Israeli civilians and soldiers alike. Improving the economic situation of the Palestinians is important, but the precipitous removal of security measures can cost lives. This point should be remembered before Israel is asked again to undertake similar risks in the future.


On December 14, 2003, Palestinian terrorists launched twenty mortars and seven anti-tank missiles at Jewish communities in the Gaza district.1 This followed a Palestinian shooting attack that wounded seven Jewish worshippers returning from prayer at Joseph's Tomb in Nablus on December 12. While security officials report receiving 52 separate warnings of impending terror attacks as of December 17,2 the IDF announced it would continue to ease restrictions on the movement of Palestinians throughout the West Bank.

The Israeli moves followed sharp criticism by U.S. Middle East envoy David Satterfield who on December 11 "slammed" Israel for continued "restrictions on the movement of Palestinian civilians" and "the consistent failure to issue permits to Palestinians identified as critical to the success of the reform effort," according to the Israeli daily Ha'aretz.3 In addition, Secretary of State Colin Powell urged Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom on December 12 to do more to alleviate Palestinian hardship, the Washington Post reported.4


The Lethal Cost of Premature Gestures

Israel continues to pay a high price for acceding to American pressure to ease West Bank restrictions. On December 3, at the last minute, Israeli security forces prevented two Palestinian suicide attacks in Israel by Islamic Jihad terrorists, one against a public school in Yokneam and another in Beit She'an. According to news reports, the terrorists, under the direction of Islamic Jihad headquarters in Damascus, sought to enter Israel through the northern Jordan Valley after the easing of security restrictions.5 Because of Israel's new security fence that separates Yokneam from the terrorists' staging area in Jenin, they were forced to travel a much longer route around the fence to the Jordan Valley, providing the IDF with critically needed time to learn of their plan and thwart it. While the security fence has already repeatedly proven its utility, U.S. officials continue to express their reservations about the entire project.

On November 18, IDF sergeants Shlomo Belski and Shaul Lahav were shot and killed at close range by a Palestinian terrorist as they stood guard at a checkpoint near Bethlehem on the tunnel road linking Jerusalem to the Gush Etzion communities south of the capital. The attack was carried out by Jabbar al-Ahmad, 21, a member of the Palestinian security services as well as the Al Aksa Martyrs Brigades, a Fatah terror group under the direct control of Yasser Arafat. According to IDF sources, this attack was only the latest in a series of Palestinian terror actions against Israeli targets in the area since Israel turned over full security control of Bethlehem to the Palestinian Authority on July 1, 2003, as a goodwill gesture to former PA prime minister Abu Mazen in exchange for promises that the PA would combat terrorism and maintain security control.6 On October 24, a Fatah terror cell originating in Bethlehem opened fire at IDF soldiers guarding the same checkpoint. Samir Amir, an officer in the Palestinian military intelligence, was later arrested by the IDF for participating in the attack.7 According to Israeli security sources, "In the five months since the IDF turned over security control of the Bethlehem area, Palestinian security agencies have yet to prevent terror activities emanating from the area, despite PA statements to the contrary."8

In the first three weeks of November 2003 alone, Israeli security sources recorded 203 terror attacks against Israelis throughout the West Bank, as well as four Kassam rocket attacks from Gaza on Israeli towns within pre-1967 Israel.

Since the unilaterally announced Palestinian hudna (cease-fire) of June 29, 2003, 85 Israelis have been killed and 417 wounded in Palestinian terror attacks, as of December 16, 2003.9 The hudna came to a violent end on August 19 when a Hamas suicide bomber blew up a Jerusalem city bus, murdering 23 Orthodox Jewish worshippers returning from evening prayers at the Western Wall, many of them children, and wounding nearly 150. One Israeli official noted immediately following the attack that the bomber had "first looked into the eyes of his victims before detonating his explosive belt."


Unilateral Gestures Have Cost Israel Some of its Most Treasured Citizens

On September 9, 2003, Hamas terrorists struck twice more, murdering 16 people and wounding over 80 in two suicide bombings within the space of six hours. Ihab Abdel Kader Salim, 19, killed nine Israeli soldiers and wounded scores of others at a soldiers' hitchhiking post near Tel Aviv. Israeli security sources confirmed that Salim had been released from Israeli administrative detention on March 3, 2003.10

That same evening, Ramez Fahmi Az Aldin Salim, 22, detonated an explosive belt that killed seven Israelis and wounded 50 others at Cafe Hillel in Jerusalem. The bomber had been released from IDF administrative detention on February 2, 2003.11 Among those killed in this attack were Rabbi Dr. David Applebaum, head of Shaare Tzedek Hospital's emergency room, and his daughter Nava, who was to have been married the following day. Dr. Applebaum's death was a particularly profound loss for the Jewish state as he was widely recognized as a global authority on emergency medicine and had personally cared for thousands of victims of Palestinian terror since 1981.


Israel is Still Taking Risks for Peace

Despite Israel's repeated goodwill gestures and the widespread easing of travel restrictions on Palestinians, as well as the prime minister's recent public statements indicating his intention to take unilateral steps to improve the humanitarian situation of the Palestinians, senior Israeli security officials warn that such moves could create a terrorist "wonderland," enabling them to "rest, rearm, and upgrade."12 With Yasser Arafat once again in control of the PA's armed forces and his encouragement of numerous splinter terror groups, there is little doubt that additional gestures Israel may be compelled to make could have a lethal impact on Israeli citizens in the future.

It is easy to conclude a U.S.-Israeli diplomatic meeting with a call for seemly innocuous gestures on the part of Israel intended to improve the everyday life of Palestinians. The betterment of Palestinian living standards is an important goal. However, Israeli gestures in the absence of Palestinian security measures have had proven lethal consequences for Israeli civilians and soldiers alike. This point should be remembered before Israel is asked again to undertake similar risks in the future.

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Notes

1. Ha'aretz, December 14, 2003.
2. Margot Dudkevitch, "IDF Forces Unscathed from Powerful Bomb Blast Near Rafah," Jerusalem Post, December 17, 2003.
3. Nathan Guttman, "U.S. Envoy Meets Qurea, Calls for Sides to Resume Talks," Ha'aretz, December 13, 2003.
4. Peter Slevin, "U.S. Urges Israel to Ease Burdens," Washington Post, December 13, 2003.
5. Margot Dudkevitch, "IDF Not Surprised by Failed Cairo Talks," Jerusalem Post, December 9, 2003.
6. Margot Dudkevitch, "Two Soldiers Killed at Gush Etzion Tunnel Roadblock," Jerusalem Post, November 18, 2003.
7. Israeli security sources, November 18, 2003.
8. IDF sources, November 18, 2003.
9. IDF website, December 16, 2003.
10. Israeli security sources, November 22, 2003.
11. Israeli security sources, November 22, 2003; see also Ministry of Foreign Affairs, http://www.mfa.gov.il/mfa/go.asp?MFAH0nra0
12. Mathew Gutman, "Analysis: Another 'Hudna'?" Jerusalem Post, November 18, 2003.

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Dan Diker is a Knesset and economic affairs reporter for Israel Broadcasting Authority's English News. He is also media affairs consultant at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs/Institute for Contemporary Affairs, founded jointly with the Wechsler Family Foundation.


Dore Gold, Publisher; Lenny Ben-David, ICA Program Director; Mark Ami-El, Managing Editor. Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (Registered Amuta), 13 Tel-Hai St., Jerusalem, Israel; Tel. 972-2-5619281, Fax. 972-2-5619112, Email: jcpa@netvision.net.il. In U.S.A.: Center for Jewish Community Studies, 5800 Park Heights Avenue, Baltimore, MD 21215 USA, Tel. (410) 664-5222; Fax. (410) 664-1228. Website: www.jcpa.org. © Copyright. The opinions expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of the Board of Fellows of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

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