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All Quiet in Jerusalem

An uneasy calm hangs over the city

With large numbers of police on the streets of Jerusalem, attacks by Palestinians on Israelis have disappeared in the last week. The storm of violence centered on the city since the start of October appears to have moved its focus to the West Bank, where attacks are now taking place on a daily basis. Jerusalem gives the impression of a city holding its breath, waiting to see what comes next.

Previous experience has taught Israel’s police force that more boots on the ground and the hardening of security around public spaces curbs terrorism, Simon Perry, co-director of the program in Policing and Homeland Security at Hebrew University, told The Media Line.

According to information on the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs website, since October 22, a single stabbing took place in Bet Shemesh and a second incident was foiled in Jerusalem, when two Palestinian men were arrested carrying axes and knives. The remainder of security incidents, which have occurred on average more than once a day, took place in the West Bank, particularly in the Hebron and Gush Etzion areas. This represents a dramatic fall in the number of attacks taking place in Jerusalem.

Additional security reduces the opportunity to carry out an attack but, significantly, it also reduces a person’s willingness to attempt one, Perry suggested. “In the beginning (attacks) were much more deadly for the attacked, and now they are a lot more deadly for the attackers,” the academic and former police officer with thirty years of experience in intelligence operations said. “When the kill ratio is against the terrorist, it brings down motivation,” he concluded.

Heightened security measures was “absolutely” the cause of the reduction in attacks in Jerusalem, Micky Rosenfeld, spokesperson for the Israeli police, told The Media Line. Jerusalem is now a harder place for attackers to get into and consequently incidents are more commonly taking place in the West Bank, Rosenfeld said. This raises the question of what happens after police reduce their numbers on the street.

Rosenfeld said that police can and will maintain staffing at their current heightened levels for as long as necessary. “The Israeli police have been through difficult periods of times before,” the spokesperson said. But such an option impacts on more than just police resources.

The possibility exists that Jerusalemites, already familiar with the presence of armed police on their streets, will have to adapt to the heightened levels of security becoming the new norm. For those living in Arab neighborhoods in east Jerusalem, many of which have been ringed by police checkpoints in recent weeks, this is likely to be more significant than for their neighbors on the other side of the city.

Both the police and society pay a toll for living with this sort of security arrangement. Perry said it can cause a rise in extremism. But if necessary this option can be taken.

“The police can maintain a high level of activity with a price for a long period of time, like in the Second Intifada (from 2000 – 2005),” he said.

Other experts put the reduction in attacks in Jerusalem down to more than just police actions. Although a heavy police presence on the streets certainly helped, a reduction in incitement from the Palestinian Authority (PA) had also contributed, Mordecai Dzikansky, a retired New York Police Department Detective and author, told The Media Line. Dzikansky argued that the PA had called off attacks following negotiations between Israel, Jordan, the Palestinians, and the United States.

“The fact that the attacks have stopped is an excellent sign that there is a puppet master and somebody out there is pulling the strings… we are seeing the control the Palestinians have over their people,” the former detective argued.

Rosenfeld on the other hand insisted that incitement from the PA was ongoing. “We know that the Palestinian Authority is still putting out information calling on Palestinians to take part in terrorist attacks. Incitement is also widely spread among the social media,” he said. Rosenfeld characterized those taking part in attacks as “lone wolves” and said that there was little suggestion that the wave of stabbings was connected to terrorist cells that were being directed from afar.

Claims of incitement make an easy excuse for Israeli leaders and distract from the actual root causes of violence, “the denial of rights for Palestinian people,” Xavier Abu Eid, spokesperson for the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), told The Media Line. Abu Eid charged that media attention only focused on violence when Israelis were being killed.

“It’s not that violence started on October the 1st. We’ve had violence on a daily basis,” he said. “The main source of violence for almost half a century has been the Israeli occupation.”

Abu Eid pointed to the firebomb attack on the home of the Dawabsha family as an example of violence that Palestinians face. The attack which took place in July killed 18 month-old Ali Dawabsha and was linked to far-right Israeli nationalists. Both of the toddler’s parents died of their wounds in the weeks following the attack. The perpetrators have not been arrested despite Israeli officials suggesting that they have identified who was involved.

This attack was only noticed by international media because three members of the family were killed, Abu Eid argued.

Felice Friedson contributed to this article.