By: Cooper Dutton
Jerusalem—At least 17 Israelis and Palestinians were killed in a series of attacks on January 26 and 27.
Two weeks ago, Israeli forces raided an apartment building in the Jenin refugee camp in the West Bank, killing 9 Palestinians and wounding 20 more. A Palestinian man was also shot dead by Israeli forces in the town of al-Ram, just outside Jerusalem. In what may have been a response to these attacks, a Palestinian gunman shot and killed 7 Israelis in occupied East Jerusalem in one of the deadliest attacks by a Palestinian in over a decade.
The rising violence comes as an extreme far-right government took power earlier this month, reinstating Benjamin Netanyahu as Prime Minister, whose election promised a harder line against Palestinians, including the expansion of Israeli settlements, which are considered by many to be illegal under international law.
In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, the security cabinet doubled down on those campaign pledges, vowing to expand firearm licensing for citizens and to “take steps to strengthen settlement” in West Bank.
The Jenin refugee camp raid which sparked the violence was executed Thursday and included the death of an elderly woman. In a statement, the Palestinian Ministry of Health said that most treated injuries at the hospital were in the head and chest area, going on to say “this means that the shooting of live ammunition towards residents was with the intent to kill.” The head of the hospital, Wissam Baker, told Al Jazeera that Israeli soldiers also delayed the transport of victims via ambulance with gunfire.
The Palestinian Authority decried the raid as a massacre. Israel said that the apartment building raided contained an Islamist Jihadist terrorist cell.
On Friday evening, a Palestinian gunman shot at least 10 people outside a synagogue in Neve Yaakov, killing 7, before being shot and killed by police. No Palestine militant groups have claimed responsibility.
Police vowed to aggressively pursue any who may have aided the gunman.
The attacks come in a year that has already seen unprecedented lethal violence toward Palestinians. More than one Palestinian a day has been killed so far this year, double the rate of lethal violence in the West Bank last year, the highest on record.
Experts have tied this year’s increase in violence to the new, extremist, right-wing government which was elected in November.
Sarah Leah Whitson, the director of advocacy group Democracy for Arab World Now, said, “The death toll over both in the West Bank and now in Jerusalem is in fact the entirely predictable result of an extremist Israeli government that is propagating violence.”
Career ambassador Tom Pickering voiced concern that Israel’s actions show that the government’s ultimate goal is for a no-state outcome where there is no viable possibility for any sort of Palestinian state.
Other experts specifically called out Netanyahu’s plan to arm Israeli citizens as something that will further escalate the violence. The area has also recently seen an increase in intercommunal violence, with Israeli settlers burning the cars of Palestinian residents in Nablus.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned the synagogue attack as an act of terrorism.
The UN Human Rights Office called for an end to the “endless cycle of violence,” noting its concern by the rise in Palestinian fatalities this year.
Palestinian Leader Mahmoud Abbas announced a three-day period of mourning for those killed in the Israeli raid. He did not mention the synagogue attack.
Israel’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Eli Cohen, on Twitter said, “A very difficult Shabbat for all Israelis. I send my condolences to the families of those murdered in the dreadful attack on the synagogue and pray together with all Israelis for the recovery of the injured. We will act firmly to restore security to the citizens of Israel.”
Joe Biden said he spoke over the phone with Netanyahu about the shooting. According to the White House readout of the call, Biden deemed the shooting “an attack on the civilized world” and reiterated the US’s commitment to Israel’s security.
US Representative Rashida Tlaib, the only Palestinian-American in Congress, released a statement saying, “Tonight, far too many families, both Palestinian and Israeli, are going to be broken, without loved ones. If there is no immediate de-escalation, I fear countless more families will suffer the same fate.”
In a tweet from her personal account, Tlaib said “I may be the only Palestinian American in Congress, but I will never stop reminding folks that our country is funding an apartheid regime that is killing Palestinian children & families. We honor the victims of the Jenin massacre by telling the truth about the apartheid gov’t.”
Tlaib’s assertion that the Israeli government is an apartheid regime is controversial. Israel’s supporters decry those claims as anti-Semitic. However, the two largest international human rights organizations, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, have declared the government an apartheid regime, as have several Israeli human rights organizations and the UN Human Rights Commission’s Special Rapporteur for human rights in Palestine.