From our special correspondent
His stroll through the streets of the Old Town owes nothing to chance. “I do my little inspection to take the measure of the safety device. I expected worse, I was able to pass without control, ”slips Adnan, a young resident of East Jerusalem. In front of the stairs of the Damascus Gate, tourists listen to their guide with a learned air and the inhabitants who have arrived from the suburbs of the Holy City make their way to do their shopping. “It’s a calm madness”, summarizes the young man while passing in front of Israeli soldiers. A deceptive normalcy in which police sirens and helicopter overflights have given way to incessant horns and the chirping of bells.
Here, nothing lets foresee the spiral of violence which seized in a few hours of several districts of East Jerusalem. But no one was really surprised by the two attacks which targeted the Jewish inhabitants of this eastern part of the city, annexed by Israel since 1967 and in which more than 300,000 Palestinians coexist with 210,000 settlers. “When people are locked up in cages and controlled constantly for years, how can this not happen?, judges an Arab trader from Damascus Gate. That’s what the Israelis don’t understand. »
The first attack occurred Friday, January 27 in a settlement perched on a hill north of the city. A concentrate of complexity since it was established in the 1970s on the ruins of a village built in 1924… In Neve Yaacov, the inhabitants, attracted by more affordable rents, do not identify with settlers. Tsahal, the Israel Defense Forces, even has a regional headquarters here.
This is where a 21-year-old man opened fire on passers-by after Shabbat prayers near a synagogue. Seven people, including a couple and a 14-year-old boy, were killed and three seriously injured. The killer, fatally neutralized by the police, was not known to the security services. He was from the Shouafat refugee camp, a tangle of buildings behind the separation wall, a few hundred meters from Neve Yaacov. The attack, which the most observant Jews only discovered the horror of the following day after Shabbat, was the deadliest in the city since 2008, when eight yeshiva students were murdered by a Israeli Arabic.
After a tense night, marked by explosions of joy in Ramallah, Bethlehem, as well as in the Gaza Strip, a second attack occurred in a completely different Palestinian neighborhood of East Jerusalem. Located on the edge of the Old City, below the esplanade of the Mosques and the Wailing Wall, Silwan has been the subject of an offensive colonization policy since the 1990s, with real estate battles and evictions, in particular around the City of David, an archaeological site popular with Jews. A cable car project has been discussed for years. “The developers want to ensure that Jewish settlers do not have to cross a single Palestinian between their house and the Wailing Wall,” says a Western observer.
It was in this inextricable context that a 13-year-old Palestinian boy opened fire on five religious Jews, including two children. The terrible scene was filmed in its entirety, without the author of the video or his motives being known. We see the assailant shoot without hesitation, wounding a father and his soldier son, before being hit by an armed man.
How was he able to obtain a weapon and what complicity did he benefit from? The question remains open, but like Neve Yaacov’s killer, the teenager was not part of any organization. A sign of a change in Palestinian militancy and the challenge that these isolated assailants represent for the Israeli intelligence services. The main armed groups (Hamas and Islamic Jihad, or the newer and younger Lions) profusely hailed and celebrated both attacks, but did not claim responsibility for them. “The 13-year-old shooter did not need to go on TikTok and take instructions from an armed group to know that he has no future! », Estimates Daniel Seidemann, founder of the Israeli NGO Terrestrial Jerusalem. “There is blood where there is no hope. And there are none for the young Palestinians of East Jerusalem”, adds this Israeli lawyer.
Anger has been simmering in the West Bank for months where, alongside accelerating settlements, near-daily military raids have taken place since a wave of Palestinian attacks in the spring of 2022. In January alone, at least 32 Palestinians died in violence with Israeli security forces or civilians. But the detonation occurred with an operation carried out by the Israeli army on Thursday January 26 in the Jenin refugee camp, where nine people were killed. Deaths that the assailant of Neve Yaacov would have wanted to “avenge”, according to his father.
From Saturday evening, January 28, the security forces were at work to seal his house, before its imminent destruction. This is one of the first measures taken by the Israeli government, under the impetus of the Minister of National Security, Itamar Ben Gvir, known for his anti-Arab rhetoric and his unfailing support for the settlers. The “families of terrorists who support terrorism” will also be deprived of social security and could see their identity documents withdrawn. After having twice called on citizens “not to take the law into their own hands”, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu also agreed to make the carrying of arms more flexible. A disturbing pledge given to Itamar Ben Gvir and his supporters, at a time when settler attacks are increasing (see opposite).
“The response from any government is still operational: we have repressed more in East Jerusalem, we have reinforced intelligence, we have punished the families, we have tried everything except consider the Palestinians as equals and promise them a future , believes Daniel Seidemann. Until that happens, nothing will stop this dynamic. A finding confirmed by a survey published last week by the Palestinian Center for Research on Politics and Investigations: 61% of Palestinians and 65% of Israeli Jews consider themselves at the dawn of a new intifada.
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