David Rosenberg
The Media Line
April 24, 2011 - 12:00am

One Israeli was killed and three others were injured by gunfire early on Sunday as they were leaving a Jewish holy site in the city of Nablus, amid signs of an upsurge of Palestinian attacks on Israelis originating in the generally quiet West Bank.

Ben-Yosef Livnat, the 24-year-old nephew of Israeli Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat, died after he and a group of approximately 14 others were shot at by Palestinian police, according to initial reports from the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). They were leaving a compound, reputed to be the tomb of the Biblical Joseph, when they came under fire.

Livnat is the eighth Israeli to have been killed by West Bank Palestinians in the past six weeks. On March 11, five members of the Fogel family were stabbed to death in their home in Itamar, an Israeli town near Nablus, and 13 days later a British woman was killed and 50 others injured when a bomb exploded at a Jerusalem bus stop. Israeli actor Juliano Mer-Khamis was murdered in a drive-by shooting in Jenin April 4.

Since the end of the second Intifada, the West Bank has been relatively quiet, with just five Israeli deaths reported in all of 2010. Last week, Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud ‘Abbas said he would “not accept a third military uprising," noting that the last Intifada (Arabic colloquialism for the violent periods) against Israel "was disastrous for us."

‘Abbas and his prime minister, Salam Fayyad, have concentrated on economic growth and leading a campaign to win acceptance of Palestinian statehood. But some experts have warned that a stalled peace process with Israel may make it harder for the PA to keep a lid on resurgent violence.

A poll conducted by Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research found that close to a third of Palestinians supported the Itamar attack (although among West Bank Palestinians alone the rate was 20%) even as 56% said they supported the so-called Arab Peace Initiative that recognizes Israel in exchange for a Palestinian state.

Hillel Frisch, an expert on Palestinian politics at Israel’s Bar-Ilan University, said the spate of attacks didn’t show a consistent pattern that pointed to a trend.

“I would still regard it as a coincidence. Today’s attack is not in the same category as the terrorist attacks that obliterated the Fogel family or the peace activists killed in Gaza and Jenin,” Frisch told The Media Line.

The killings of Mer-Khamis, who was involved in Israeli-Palestinian co-existence projects, and Vittorio Arrigoni, a pro-Palestinian activist from Italy kidnapped and killed in Gaza, two weeks ago were almost certainly the work of anti-Western Islamists, he said.

Hakim Mazan Niyad Awad and Amjad Muhammad Fawzi Awad, the two Palestinians youths arrested April 17 and charged with the Itamar slayings, are believed to have acted independently, even though members of their family are affiliated with the Popular Front for Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). No group has taken responsibility for the March 23 Jerusalem bus bombing.

Sunday’s attack was apparently an accident on the part of official Palestinian security forces with whom the IDF cooperates.

The quiet in the West Bank stands in marked contrast to the Gaza Strip, where the Islamist movement Hamas has ruled since seizing power in 2007 and remains committed to the destruction of the Jewish state. The IDF invaded Gaza at the end of 2008 in Operation Cast Lead, which caused some 1,200 Palestinian casualties but brought a near-halt to rocket attacks on Israel’s south by Hamas and its allies.

An upsurge in rocket attacks in the past month killed one Israeli before an Israeli retaliation campaign of airstrikes coaxed militants into renewing the ceasefire. Unlike the West Bank, Gaza is subject to a blockade that prevents Palestinians from entering Israel.

In the West Bank, the PA and the Israeli army have cracked down on Hamas activities, thwarting what could emerge a major source of planned and organized violence. But Frisch said Hamas remains a risk.

“There were 6,000 arrests in the West Bank last year, which means the fundamentalist tendency is still very big,” he said. “The overwhelming majority were made by the Israelis. The PA still depends on Israel to protect itself.”

The group visiting Joseph’s Tomb, which is in an area under the security control of the Palestinians, were all members of the Bratslav Hasidic sect. They had failed to coordinate their visit with the Israeli authorities and may have tried to break though a Palestinian police roadblock, according to the IDF. Under an agreement with the PA, Israelis are permitted to visit the tomb once a month.

The army said it was investigating the incident and would be meeting with Palestinian security officials to hear their version of events. It said several arrests had been made.

Palestinian Authority security services spokesman Adnan Dmeiri told the Ma’an news agency that the officers on duty at the site had been summoned to give testimony, but he said none had been detained. He said a committee formed to investigate the shooting wouldn’t include Israeli officials or operate under U.S. supervision. The U.S. has played a major role in training PA security forces.

Nablus governor, Jibrin Al-Bakri, told the official Palestinian news agency WAFA that policemen fired warning shots in the air when they saw the three cars carrying to Israeli group approaching, but the warnings were ignored. “What happened here wasn’t a terror attack but an accident caused by a lack of coordination,” he said.

Nevertheless, in Israel there were suspicions that the police acted unprofessionally. Some said the incident echoed the days when Yasser Arafat ruled the PA and Palestinian security forces were responsible for attacks on Israelis.

Limor Livnat, Israel’s science and culture minister, said in a statement that her nephew “was killed in cold blood in a terrible way.” Defense Minister Ehud Barak termed the killing “murder.”

A spokesman of the Yesha Council of Settlements, the umbrella group for Israeli towns outside the country’s pre-1967 borders, asserted that the shooting was the result of anti-Israel incitement by the PA. “This is a murder carried out by the Authority itself, exactly like in the days of Arafat," the statement said. Hours later, dozens of masked Israelis youth clashed with Palestinians in the West Bank village of Hawara.

But Col. Nitzan Alon, IDF division commander for the region, used more moderate language, calling the shooting a “serious incident.”


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