Jerusalem streets quiet after terror attack
This story originally appeared on The Media Line
At least five confirmed terror attacks have ravaged Jerusalem’s streets during the past month, spreading fear and havoc among Jerusalemites and encouraging debates about whether the violence augurs the start of a Third Intifada.
The latest, on Nov. 18, left five Israelis dead, four of them rabbis. Witnesses described seeing two men entering the synagogue during prayer, one armed with a gun and one armed with a knife, and then hearing shooting from inside. The incident culminated in a shootout outside the synagogue, where police officers shot and killed the terrorists. Four people were pronounced dead at the scene while another eight people were taken to two hospitals, four of them with serious wounds. Among the wounded was a Canadian citizen, Howard (Chaim) Rothman of Toronto. A police officer was later pronounced dead from wounds from the confrontation.
Avi Steinhartz, a first responder for the United Hatzalah emergency response organization who was on the scene, told The Media Line that his two young sons were in school across the street from the scene of the attack and that two of the victims, Moshe Twersky and Arye Kupinsky, were his study partners. Coincidentally, Steinhartz was also present at Jerusalem’s Ammunition Hill light rail stop in October when a Palestinian man rammed his car into a crowd getting off the train, killing a 22-year-old Ecuadorian woman and a 3-month-old baby.
The incident on Tuesday morning is the latest in a series of violent confrontations in Jerusalem during the past six weeks. With tension at the highest level it’s been in years, many are asking whether this marks the beginning of a new intifada.
“I hate the word ‘intifada,’ it translates to ‘uprising,’ this is not an uprising, it is targeting innocent civilians,” said Mordecai Dzikansky, a retired New York Police Department detective and author of two books on terrorism. “This is definitely a concentrated effort which went from cell-oriented terrorism to lone-wolf terrorism, but they are both state-sponsored; the lone wolf is more dangerous because it’s more difficult to obtain information from them,” he said.
Israel Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld disagreed but said that terrorists were taking advantage of the situation because of the freedom the blue ID cards, which indicate that the holder is a Jerusalem resident, affords them.
“Instead of being interested in coming in to work or going to a hospital, and because of the incitement by the Palestinian media and social networks, they’re taking advantage of the situation and that’s why we have terror,” he said. Earlier in the day, Rosenfeld had stated that over the last 24 to 48 hours, the Palestinian Authority and Palestinian media had been inciting violence.
Following the Nov. 18 morning attack, Jerusalem’s streets were noticeably quiet, many apparently afraid to venture into public places, the current venue of choice for attackers. Parents now are restricting children’s movements, while cafes and restaurants are already reporting a dearth of customers.
According to Dzikansky, all of these incidents are being carried out by people who work in the area and who are extremely familiar with routines in their neighborhoods, looking for the best time to commit an act of violence.
“People should think twice about who they’re employing. You have to raise the level of awareness as to who is working for you. Every synagogue or place where large numbers of people congregate needs to be guarded,” Dzikansky warned. “For example, in our synagogue we have a rotation of people who stand guard. Every synagogue in the world should have at least one person who’s armed and trained,” he added.
But some Israelis fear that taking protection into their own hands could have unexpected consequences. A local moneychanger told The Media Line that many of his friends are licensed to carry guns but have put them in the vault because they fear being arrested themselves. Dzikansky disagrees. “There’s an expression in the NYPD: ‘I’d rather be judged by 12 than carried by six.’ ”
Dzikansky, who was involved in intelligence-sharing between the New York Police Department and Israel during the Second Intifada, said there needs to be a more aggressive approach — both governmental and nongovernmental — to combat the lone-wolf attacks.
“There were periods of suicide bombings, hijackings. Right now, it’s the random attacks — which are the latest in terror — and you will see copycats. It happened in Antwerp, it happened with the policemen in New York; this is the latest rage,” he said.
Matty Goldstein, a first responder with ZAKA, a humanitarian terror-response organization, said he is sure the Israeli government “will do anything and everything” to ensure attacks like these don’t happen again.
Adding roadblocks and reinforced checkpoints were among the measures suggested to buttress security in the city, something Rosenfeld said was already being done after the Nov. 18 attack. Also immediately after the attack, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu brought different security agencies together to discuss how to best combat the threat.
“We’re setting up security checks and roadblocks and working with other intelligence organizations, so that they can assess and find the terrorists. They are also setting up police checkpoints in different neighborhoods, not just East Jerusalem,” Rosenfeld said. “As of this afternoon, the security assessment was to set up more police and volunteer units in the quieter neighborhoods around Jerusalem.”