Tension between Israelis and Palestinians is rising sharply as reflected in a number of increasingly bloody and violent confrontations since Israel’s devastating war in Gaza at the beginning of the year.
While Gaza, which the Islamic organization Hamas controls, has been a powder-keg for several years, recent attacks in the West Bank, which is under the control of the secular Palestinian Authority (PA) that is Israel’s peace partner, are causing alarm.
"The West Bank is a ticking time-bomb waiting for the right time and the right conditions to explode," Dr. Samir Awad from the political science department at Birzeit University near Ramallah in the West Bank told IPS.
Last week a 16-year-old settler boy from the illegal Israeli Bat Ayin settlement, situated between Bethlehem and Hebron in the southern West Bank, was axed to death by a Palestinian. Another seven-year-old settler boy was hospitalized with a fractured skull in the same incident.
Earlier in the year two Israeli policemen were shot dead at point blank range after they stopped to help what appeared to be a broken down car with a flat tire in the northern West Bank.
Even more serious was the discovery of a car laden with explosives in the parking lot of a large shopping center in the northern Israeli city Haifa last month. The bomb was deactivated in time.
It is believed that West Bankers or possibly Israeli-Arabs were behind this, again pointing to increasing militancy from the West Bank or even within Israeli’s own borders.
Suicide attacks or bombings against Israeli civilian targets within Israel’s borders have over the last few years largely become a thing of the past.
However, settler attacks on Palestinians, leading to serious injuries and numerous deaths as well property destruction, have risen. Over the years these attacks have been meticulously recorded by Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem.
B’Tselem released a report last month expressing concern at a wave of attacks by Israeli security forces on Palestinian civilians this year.
During a three-month period since the end of Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s codename for its war on Gaza, the rights group documented "24 cases of severe abuse during which police officers and soldiers beat Palestinians, using rifle butts, clubs and other means of injury. Sixteen of the cases were especially serious."
In one case Majed Hajahjeh, a merchant from the Bethlehem area, was beaten bloody by Israeli soldiers after they encountered him in the street as he waited for a taxi.
"They beat me all over my body, especially my head. I covered my head with my hands to protect myself. My hands were bloody from the blood from my head. I went down onto my knees and cried out in pain. The soldiers continued to beat me with clubs and to kick me in the neck, back, and hands."
He was left lying bleeding on the road with a broken arm until a passing motorist took the unconscious man to hospital.
According to B’Tselem only a small number of attacks against Palestinians are reported. "Since the outbreak of the second Intifada, in September 2000, B’Tselem has forwarded to the authorities complaints regarding 345 offenses of violence by security forces.
"In only 14 of these cases, to B’Tselem’s knowledge, were disciplinary or criminal proceedings initiated against security forces," the report says.
The new Israeli government of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has only served to harden Palestinian cynicism and underline despair over a better future.
Settlement building and expansion under the previous Israeli government continued unabated, leaving most Palestinians with the belief that Israel is not serious about territorial compromise or peace.
Adding to this volatile situation is the deteriorating relationship between the PA and Hamas, and between the PA and the smaller Islamic Jihad resistance movement.
Many analysts believe Hamas is in the process of rebuilding its infrastructure in the West Bank, and waiting for an opportune moment to strike at both Israel and the PA.
PA security services unearthed a large quantity of explosives in a mosque in the northern West Bank city of Qalqiliya, an hour and a half’s drive north of Ramallah, several days ago.
"There are several reasons why Palestinians are accumulating arms," says Awad. "One is the inability of PA security forces to protect them from settler attacks. Afraid for both their lives and their property, many are taking the law into their own hands.
"Additionally, PA security services have been carrying out sweeping arrest campaigns using excessive brutality against Hamas and Islamic Jihad operatives and their sympathizers in the West Bank during the last few months," said Awad.
"While there have been abuses by the respective security forces of both mainstream groups against their political opponents for several years, the dramatic rise in cases this year has exacerbated Palestinian anger," Awad told IPS.
Palestinian resentment against the PA had already skyrocketed following the Gaza war, with many Palestinians believing that the PA quietly acquiesced to Israeli atrocities on their brethren in the Gaza strip.
Numerous reports surfaced of PA-affiliated Fatah activists providing the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) with intelligence and logistical information, enabling the IDF to hone in on Hamas targets.
While militancy appears to be on the increase in the West Bank, a number of incidents in Gaza recently lay waste to Israel’s theory of its war there bringing the Jewish state more security.
A booby-trapped fishing boat exploded after an Israeli navy ship fired on the vessel situated 300 meters from the Gaza coast on Monday. No one was on board.
Meanwhile, the Egyptian authorities have uncovered Lebanese resistance organization Hizbullah cells in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula. According to the Egyptians the cells were helping smuggle arms into Gaza as well as scouting for Israeli tourist targets.
This development of Hizbullah moving its operations onto Egyptian territory adds a new regional and geopolitical dimension to the inter-Arab and Sunni- Shia battle, with serious implications for both Israel and its Arab neighbors.
(Inter Press Service)