A series of terror attacks and violent incidents have put Israel and the Palestinian territories on edge again.
In just one week, 11 people were killed in three attacks in Israeli towns and cities. It was the deadliest week Israel had seen in years and follows weeks of rising tensions that saw Israelis targeted in stabbing attacks and several Palestinians shot dead by Israeli forces in the West Bank.
The overlap of three major religious holidays over the next month – Ramadan, Passover and Easter – could heighten tensions further, exacerbating a potent mix of factors that could spark yet another cycle of violence.
Here are five things you need to know about the recent uptick in violence.
Attacks hit deep in Israel
The lethal attacks took place not in the typical hot spots, disputed areas like Jerusalem or the West Bank, much of which is considered by the international community to be occupied territory. Instead they happened in Israeli towns and cities that are not used to such violence.
Unusually, two of the attacks were carried out by Israeli-Arabs. On March 22, an Israeli-Arab killed four Israeli civilians in a stabbing and ramming attack in the southern city of Be’er Sheva, Israeli police said. The attacker had previously been imprisoned for supporting ISIS.
On Sunday, two Israeli-Arab men killed two border police officers and wounded six passersby in the northern city of Hadera, local media reported. The two were also affiliated with ISIS, which claimed responsibility for the incident – the first such ISIS claim for an attack in Israel since 2017.
Then on Tuesday night, a Palestinian from the West Bank shot and killed five people in Bnei Brak, a mostly Orthodox city just east of Tel Aviv. Two of those killed were Ukrainian citizens, two were Israeli civilians and one was a police officer who responded to the scene, according to Israeli police. In all three cases the attackers were shot and killed by either civilians or security forces.
Tensions rising in the West Bank and Jerusalem
Tensions had already been on the rise for weeks, even before the three attacks. There had been several stabbings carried out by Palestinians against Israelis in Jerusalem in March and several Palestinians, including teenagers, had been shot dead by Israeli forces in the West Bank during clashes over the past several weeks.
The security situation is escalating. While many of the recent attacks targeted police or military forces within Jerusalem’s Old City, the most recent stabbing targeted an Israeli out for a jog in a popular neighborhood outside the Old City. Two of the three attacks in the past week targeted civilians.
The cycle of violence has continued since then. On Thursday, two Palestinians – including one teenager – were killed and 15 others wounded during an Israeli police raid in the West Bank city of Jenin targeting suspects connected to the Bnei Brak shooting. The family home of the attacker has also been scheduled for demolition, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said, a standard practice by Israeli forces to “create deterrence” (the Israeli Army says families can try to appeal demolitions).
A few hours later, an Israeli was stabbed on a bus in the West Bank just south of Bethlehem. The attacker, a Palestinian, was shot dead by an armed civilian on the bus, the Israeli military said.
And for months, Palestinian and Israeli activists have warned that violence against Palestinians carried out by Israeli setters is at an all-time high. Israel’s Defense Minister Benny Gantz has vowed to treat settler violence with a “heavy hand,” calling perpetrators “terrorists” and promising special military teams that are supposed to help monitor areas where clashes tend to erupt – although most Palestinians are already wary of the Israeli military, saying they believe they only help protect settlers.
PM calls on civilians to carry firearms as Israel goes on high alert
Israel’s security alert status has been raised to its highest level. That means police are much more visible on the streets, working longer shifts and focusing their presence on schools and popular gathering spots.
Troop presence in the West Bank hand around the Gaza strip has also increased, with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) announcing they are adding 14 battalions and combat soldiers from special forces units. Soldiers who carry a certain class of weapon will also be required to take their weapons with them even while on leave, Bennett said.
Bennett has also made the unusual call to all civilians with a license to carry a firearm to now keep their guns on them at all times, saying Israelis need to be “alert.”
“Open your eyes. Whoever has a license to carry a weapon, this is the time to carry it,” he said in a video statement Wednesday.
Palestinian militant groups mobilize
Palestinian militant groups have praised the attacks and called for further action, especially in reaction to raids in the West Bank and violence from Jewish settlers.
Hamas, the militant group that controls Gaza, said in a statement: “The continuous crimes of the occupation portend a comprehensive explosion, which will be more powerful and more painful, in which our people will be involved in all parts of our occupied land.”
Abu Hamza, the military spokesman for the Al-Quds Brigades of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, announced “the raising of full readiness among our fighters in all military formations.”
Bennett’s government faces a tough test
The violence could threaten Bennett’s razor thin margin in parliament. The current governing coalition is made up of right, left and center parties including, for the first time ever, an Arab party.
Opposition leader (and former Prime Minister) Benjamin Netanyahu and his supporters have been placing the blame for the wave of violence on the coalition government. Former security officials have called the attacks intelligence failures, especially since some of the attackers in the past week had previously been in prison for terrorist-related support or activity.
As top Israeli journalist Barak Ravid wrote in Axios this week, “For years, personal security was one of the main issues Israelis voted on. A feeling of insecurity among the public could erode the very narrow base of support the government has.”