From January 1st till December 28th, there was a total of 2217 clashes between Palestinians and ISF reported which is an increase of about 54,7 % when compared to 1433 clashes in the year 2016. This means that on any given day there was an average of around 6 clashes per day.
When redefining parameters to locations, the five most affected districts set by order are Jerusalem with 31% of reported clashes, Ramallah & Al-Bireh with 17.2%, Bethlehem with 15%, Hebron with 11.3% and Nablus with 8%.
In the Year 2017, there was a total of 2797 military operations reported, which when compared to 2391 military operations in the Year 2016 is an increase of about 17%. This means that on a daily basis there was around 7.6 military operations taking place.
When looking closer at where these incidents occur the most, the three most affected districts are Jerusalem with 30% of all reported military operations, Bethlehem with 22.5 % and Hebron with 16.8%.
During the timeframe of January 1st and December 28th, there was a total of 1853 arrest operations while there was 1622 during the Year 2016, which is an increase of about 14.2%. This means that there was on average 5 arrest operations per day.
Moreover, when comparing which districts are the most affected we find that that four most affected are Jerusalem with 39.4% of all reported incidents, Hebron with 16.4%, Bethlehem with 14.4% and Ramallah & Al-Bireh with 9.6%.
On Sunday 8th of January, Fadi Qanbar, a Palestinian-Jerusalemite from Jabel Mukaber 3.66 km E Jerusalem carried out a vehicle attack near Armon Ha-Natsiv in East Jerusalem targeting Israeli security forces. The Palestinian, using a stolen truck, ran over a group of some 20 Israeli security forces (ISF) personnel before two ISF members responded by shooting and killing the driver. Following the incident, a spokesperson for ISF confirmed that there were four casualties and fifteen injuries. Signs suggested that it was a lone-wolf attack but PM Benjamin Netanyahu blamed ISIS for the attack as it was similar to previous attacks in Nice, France (14/07/16) and Berlin, Germany (19/12/16).
In response to the attack, ISF launched a military operation in Jabel Mukaber before declaring the area as a closed military zone. Throughout the month, tensions remained high in Jabel Mukaber but also grew in the rest of the West Bank and Gaza. As a result, clashes erupted between Palestinians and ISF in Hizma 10.38 km NE of Jerusalem, Al-Ram 11.01 km N of Jerusalem, Ein Louza in Silwan E Jerusalem, and Jabel Mukaber. A spokesperson for Hamas, Abdul-Latif Qanou called the incident a “heroic” act and encouraged other Palestinians to act similarly in hopes of “escalat[ing] the resistance.” The Palestinian leadership has blamed frustration rooted in decades of Israeli occupation and settlement-building .
Following the incident, there was a heated debate over the content released in footage showing ISF personnel fleeing the scene. In fact, some like the Culture Minister, Miri Regev, described the event as “embarrassing” as they believed ISF were reluctant to open fire seeing the recent case against an ISF member, Elor Azaria, who was charged with manslaughter and later sentenced on Jan. 24th . However, Defense minister, Avigdor Lieberman rejected any relation between the two incidents pointing out that preliminary investigations showed that 2 ISF personnel fired towards the truck driver. Finally, setting aside debates, this vehicle attack targeted a large group of military cadets and caused more damage than previous attacks in the last two years.
On Monday 6th of March, ISF raided a house in al-Bireh in an effort to arrest prominent Palestinian activist, Basel al-Araj. A shootout erupted and lasted for two hours before ultimately resulting in the extrajudicial killing of Al-Araj. Despite not being affiliated to any Palestinian faction, Al-Araj was a vocal critic of both the Israeli occupation and the PA and advocated in favor of popular struggle against the two.
He was first arrested by PA security forces in April 2016 without any charges brought against him and was subsequently released in September 2016 after a hunger strike and mobilization by the Palestinian society. Following his release, ISF pursued al-Araj for months and when he was killed during the arrest operation it sparked condemnation of the security coordination between the PA and the Israeli government.
However, some sources claim that this security coordination helps the PA to eliminate its political rivals and ensure its dominance. Moreover, Palestinians took to the streets to protest al-Araj’s execution but more importantly to protest the PA’s suppression of free speech and its security coordination with Israel. Nonetheless, head of the Shabak (Shin Bet), Yoram Cohen, praised the PA’s security forces for its compliance with Israeli directions.
On Friday 24th of March, a senior commander of Hamas’ military wing, Mazen Fuqaha, was assassinated in Tal al-Hawa NW Gaza City sparking suspensions that Israel was behind it. Fuqaha was a former prisoner of Israel sentenced to life imprisonment with an additional 50 years for allegedly orchestrating a suicide bombing on a bus in 2002 that killed 9 Israelis. He was released in a prisoner exchange deal in 2011 between Israel and Hamas during which 1 000 Palestinian prisoners were freed in return for Gilad Shalit. Following the incident, Hamas denounced Israel for the assassination claiming it "clearly bear[ed] Mossad's fingerprints." According to reports, Fuqaha was killed by four gunshots to the head believed to have been fired from a silenced firearm at close range. Furthermore, the neighborhood is located close to the coast which prompted speculations that the killers came from the sea. The militant group opened a secretive investigation into the circumstances of the assassination and closed all border crossings to stop the assassins or their collaborators from escaping.
On Thursday 11th of May, Head of Hamas’ political bureau, Ismail Haniyeh, announced the arrest of Fuqaha’s assassin and two of his accomplices, all of whom are Palestinian. The Ministry of Interior in Gaza added that all the suspects admitted to participating in the assassination that they planned for eight months allegedly under the orders of ISF officers. Later. On May 21st, the three Palestinians were sentenced to death without any evidence provided to the public other than their confessions.
On Friday 16th of June, during the month of Ramadan, three Palestinians from Deir Abu Mesh’al 15.59 km NW Ramallah carried out two coordinated attacks targeting ISF members positioned in front of Damascus Gate 0.42 km NW the Old City. According to an ISF spokesperson, security presence was already increased in expectation that thousands of Muslim worshippers will attend prayers at the al-Aqsa Compound.
Consequently, an ISF border guard was fatally stabbed by one of the attackers in one location while at another location two Palestinians opened fire towards and attempted to stab ISF personnel, causing one casualty and four injuries. All three Palestinians were shot and killed by ISF to which Human Rights groups claimed that they operated on a “shoot to kill” basis although the attackers could have been arrested.
Later on, ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack but no direct link was made between it and the three Palestinians. To the contrary, both Palestinian militant groups, Hamas and the People’s Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), claimed the three were their own members and praised the attack. The Israeli government condemned the Palestinian Authority (PA) for inciting violence while the PA placed all the responsibility on the Israelis.
On Friday 14th of July, three Palestinians from Umm al-Fahm 16.35 km SW Afula carried out a shooting attack at the al-Aqsa Compound in front of Lion’s Gate 0.45 km NE the Old City targeting two ISF members. According to police reports, the three Palestinians were armed with homemade ‘Carlo’ machine guns and a pistol but this fact raises suspicion over how these weapons were smuggled onto the al-Aqsa Compound. As a result of the incident, two ISF personnel were killed along with the three Palestinians following armed clashes with ISF.
Tensions were elevated as a result of the attack due to ISF’s decision to close the al-Aqsa Compound for visitors and worshippers, which led to cancelling Friday prayers for the first time in 17 years. Consequently, President Mahmoud Abbas called PM Benjamin Netanyahu to condemn the attack that killed ISF members. Nevertheless, after a decision by ISF to impose new security measures at the entrance to the al-Aqsa Compound, Palestinians feared that Israel is changing the status quo and clashes with ISF erupted.
In the night of Friday 21st of July, a Palestinian carried out a stabbing attack targeting Israeli settlers in Halamish settlement 12.57 km NW of Ramallah. The Palestinian infiltrated into the settlement by jumping the security fence, then proceeded to enter a random house in which he stabbed four Israeli settlers leading to the killing of three and injuring one. It wasn’t until a settler neighbouring the house where the incident took place responded by opening fire towards the Palestinian and injured him before ISF arrived at the scene and arrested the Palestinian. Later on, it was revealed that the Palestinian plotted the attack in response to ongoing events regarding the al-Aqsa Compound.
PM Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the Palestinian’s house to be demolished leading ISF to raid the town from which he came from (Kaubar 9.46 km N of Ramallah), where they clashed with Palestinians in addition to closing the entrances and exits to the town. ISF arrested many members of the attacker’s family, including his parents and two brothers, after searching and measuring the house for demolition. Finally, on Aug. 24th, an Israeli court indicted the Palestinian attacker on three charges of murder, seven charges of attempted murder and other offences while some Israeli officials demanded he be executed.
On Sunday July 23rd, a shooting was reported in front of a residential building used by the Israeli Embassy’s staff in Amman ,which resulted in the death of two Jordanians and the injury of one Israeli security guard. On July 24th, Israeli foreign ministry said the security guard shot and killed the Jordanians in an altercation, which according to Israeli sources, resulted after one of the Jordanians allegedly stabbed the guard with a screwdriver. The incident came at a time when tensions between Jordan and Israel were due to the al-Aqsa crisis.
Jordanian Police said that the Jordanians were two workers from a furniture company who entered the building for maintenance with complete authorization. Reports concluded that the Israeli security guard killed a 17-year old Jordanian worker along with the owner of the building who was shot by mistake and later succumbed to his injury. As a result, protests were held by Jordanians in Amman denouncing the killing of the two civilians and demanded from the Jordanian government to cut all ties with Israeli authorities.
Jordanian authorities sought to interrogate the security guard but Israeli authorities refused to allow such a thing stressing his diplomatic immunity under the Vienna Convention. Moreover, all Israeli embassy staff managed to return to Israel and are not allowed to reopen the diplomatic mission in Jordan until legal proceedings against the security guard can be carried out. In this sense, Israeli authorities are highly unlikely to prosecute the guard but may offer financial compensation instead.
On Wednesday 2nd of August, a Palestinian carried out a stabbing attack targeting an Israeli employee in a supermarket in Yavneh near Tel Aviv. One injury was reported during the incident, while the attacker (from Yatta 9.42 km S Hebron) has been apprehended by local civilians before being handed over to the police. Some sources have reported that the incident was of a terrorist background while others reported that the two individuals worked together and the stabbing was a result of a fight that erupted between them but was, finally, confirmed by Israeli police as an act of terrorism.
Following the attack, ISF raided Yatta, declared it a closed military zone and searched the house of the Palestinian attacker in addition to interrogating his family members. The Palestinian, according to Israeli sources, had no previous criminal record and infiltrated into Israeli controlled areas without a permit. Furthermore, after the wounded Israeli was released from hospital it was reported that the attacker was indicted with a charge of attempted murder.
On Tuesday 26th of September, a Palestinian carried out a shooting attack near the settlement of Har Adar 9.83 km NW Jerusalem targeting ISF stationed at a checkpoint near the entrance of the settlement, the first of its kind in the area. The attack resulted in the death of three ISF personnel, including two private security guards, and the injury of a fourth. The attacker arrived on site with a group of Palestinian workers who were headed towards the checkpoint and was reportedly stopped by ISF for inspection after raising suspicion against himself. At this point, he exposed his concealed firearm and opened fire towards ISF before getting killed in a fire exchange.
The Palestinian originally came from Beit Surik 9.90 km S Ramallah and worked in a nearby settlement with a work permit which allowed him to work as a cleaner for several years at Har Adar. Following the incident, many Israeli officials wondered how four members of ISF were targeted by a person with no apparent security or criminal background. According to reports, he was in possession of an old pistol that jammed during the shooting, but his ability to unjam the gun proved that he trained and planned for the attack. In addition, the gun that Nimer used was reported stolen in 2003 and police have reportedly detained the person who sold him the firearm.
On Monday 30th of October, the Israeli army detonated a tunnel built by the Islamic Jihad near Khan Yunis close to the border with Israel, not far from kibbutz Kissufim. An ISF spokesperson claimed that there was reason to believe that the tunnel might be used for mounting attacks on Israeli controlled areas. It was the deadliest incident in Gaza since Israel’s 2014 so-called ‘Operation Protective Edge’ and significantly increased tensions between Palestinian militant groups and ISF. However, Israeli officials stated that they were not seeking to escalate tensions any further to point of having another war in Gaza but the Islamic Jihad promised to retaliate.
According to reports, it was confirmed that the incident left 12 Palestinian militants dead, including senior commanders, from the Islamic Jihad’s al-Quds Brigades and Hamas’ Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades while, at the same time, at least 12 people were reportedly injured. The tunnel was still under construction when it exploded and according to reports, casualties resulted from the inhalation of smoke during rescue operations. Israel allegedly managed to evacuate the bodies of five fighters and announced that it planned to withhold them as a bargaining chip in exchange for the bodies of missing Israeli soldiers.
On Tuesday 31st of October, following suspicions that a Palestinian vehicle was allegedly planning to carry out a ramming attack, ISF opened fire towards the car near the settlement of Halamish, which resulted in the killing of one Palestinian and wounding of another. According to reports, ISF personnel ordered the vehicle to stop, as it was approaching them, for a security check but opened fire when the vehicle didn’t seem to halt.
Following an investigation by military police, charges of planning an operation were ruled out as no proof was found to back the claim that the two Palestinian siblings were planning to attack ISF personnel. As a result, one of ISF’s personnel, a unit commander, was suspended from duty while another, also a commander, is being reprimanded for not clarifying protocols for identifying suspicious driving.
A shooting attack carried out on July 14th 2017 by three Palestinian gunmen targeting and killing two Israeli security forces members in front of the al-Aqsa Compound launched a sequence of violent events. In itself, the incident was amongst Jerusalem’s most serious in recent years and, in the immediate aftermath, the Israeli government closed access to the compound for the first time in 17 years. Additionally, the Compound was closed off for a few days, even for two Friday prayers a first since 1969.
The crisis only truly began when Israel, on July 16th, installed metal detectors and barriers at the entrance to the al-Aqsa Compound. In response, Palestinian Jerusalemites refused to accept these new security measures which they saw as an Israeli violation of the status quo and launched a boycott against this move. Following eleven days of protests, the Israeli security forces called on Netanyahu to remove the security measures from the al-Aqsa Compound.
By July 27th 2017, Israel removed all of its security measures at al-Aqsa as a result of mounting civil unrest in Jerusalem and internal pressures from the Israeli army. This rare political victory for Palestinians came at a price as eight Jerusalemites died during clashes with Israeli security forces while 600 people were wounded, 425 were arrested and 12 buildings were demolished. In addition, it was revealed that Israeli security forces stole important documents from al-Aqsa Mosque regarding properties and endowments. However, the problem hasn’t fully disappeared as Israeli settlers keep storming the Compound which threatens to raise tensions between Palestinians and Israelis once more.
The Palestinian Authority (PA) effectively took over control of Gaza’s border crossings on Nov. 1st following the signing of the Reconciliation Agreement on Oct. 12th in Cairo/Egypt between Hamas and Fateh. While the deal is significant on paper, it has yet to bare fruit and witness the formation of a ‘Unity Government’ instead of stalling like previous agreements (See October Monthly Report.)
However, this time, Hamas finds itself weakened by measures imposed on Gaza by the PA to pressure the Gaza-based militant group that included cutting electricity supply to the Strip and holding on to the salaries of PA employees. As such, in accordance to Fateh-led PA demands, On Sept. 16th Hamas dissolved its Administrative Committee that it formed in July and agreed to hold general elections. Nonetheless, the PA didn’t retract on its measures as electricity supply is still reduced in the Gaza Strip and its employees have still not been paid.
However, despite the two organizations reconvening in Cairo on Nov. 21st and 22nd, no progress was made since and the reconciliation process was overshadowed by the US’ decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Nevertheless, both Hamas and Fateh agreed on recognizing the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) as the sole legitimate representative for Palestinians in addition to deciding to hold elections at the end of 2018, without any confirmed dates.
In this sense, a unity government could significantly benefit Palestinians and other actors in the Middle East but it could also lead to different results for others. As such, the primary beneficiary would be the Fateh-led PA as it would not only be able to have a certain degree of influence and control in the Gaza Strip through its security forces, but also, the PA would be able to claim to legitimately represent all Palestinians and restore its reputation by portraying itself as siding with the resistance against the occupation. Finally, by forming a unity government, the PA would set pressure on Israel to commence peace negotiations as it would counter the argument stating the lack of one government representing all Palestinians and would side-step Israel as unwilling to resolve the conflict.
Moreover, for Hamas, the reconciliation agreement would enable it to improve its status amongst regional actors and the International community. As long as Hamas is designated as a terrorist group by the International community and is resented by Arab states in the region, it finds itself powerless. For this reason, the group has been bolstering its security cooperation with Egypt to combat extremists in North Sinai as a gateway to improved relations with other Arab countries. In addition, through reconciliation, Gulf Cooperation Countries (GCC), like Saudi Arabia, would most likely provide financial support to Gaza in order to counter Iranian influence in the region and deal a fatal blow to its other rival, Qatar.
Furthermore, Hamas attempts to appeal to Arab countries and the International community can be seen through efforts to project a more moderate stance and rebranding itself by adopting a new charter on May 1st to distance itself from the Muslim Brotherhood and accept to notion of 1967 borders for a future Palestinian state. If successful, Hamas will be able to develop a better economic standing for the Gaza Strip which would enhance its reputation there while its image in the West Bank will improve, allowing for it to set a permanent foothold and compete with Fateh in upcoming elections. Opinion Polls from September (See October Monthly Report) show that President Mahmoud is no longer popular which makes Hamas’ political leader Ismail Haniyeh more likely to win in case of elections.
Nonetheless, Hamas still refuses to disarm its military wing, Izz el-Din Al-Qassam, which not only has the potential to hinder any efforts at reconciliation with the Fateh-led PA but would serve Israel’s interests by providing justification that the PA promotes ‘terrorism.’ Consequently, if a unity government is formed then Israel will, most likely, present it as an acknowledgement by the PA that it is not interested in Peace and wouldn’t accept to engage in negotiations.
However, a reconciliation agreement has the potential to reduce the risk of conflict between Palestinians and Israelis, as well as militant activity in Gaza. Accordingly, by relieving the ongoing Humanitarian crisis and developing the economy of the Strip will diminish hostilities in the region. However, other Islamic militant groups would still be active in Gaza and would attempt to ignite new confrontations with Israel while dragging Hamas and Fateh into such an outcome.
On March 21st 2016, during Donald Trump’s campaign trail, he promised in a speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) that, as president of the United States (US,) he would recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and, consequently, would relocate the embassy to the city. Nonetheless, discussions over plans to move the embassy date back to 1995 when the US Congress passed a law calling on the embassy to be established in Jerusalem by 1999.
In fact, President Bill Clinton and President George W. Bush similarly promised to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem but later backed away from their pledges as both believed it would undermine national security interests in the Middle East. This is because the US, along with other countries, do not recognize Israel’s 1967 illegal annexation of Jerusalem. However, failing to sign the waiver would cause sanctions designed by Congress in 1995 to be imposed on the executive branch if the embassy is not moved.
Since June 1st 2017, this also includes Trump because he signed a waiver to defer the decision over the embassy for another six months and angering the Israeli government. Technically, if Trump wished to fulfill his campaign promise to move the embassy to Jerusalem he could do it by simply failing to sign the next waiver. The problem, however, revolves around politics as it could trigger a permanent change in US policy regarding the status of Jerusalem as it would recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the city.
Recently, with the waiver having expired date (12/11/17,) President Mahmoud Abbas is trying to garner international support in order to counter Trump’s plans to move the embassy to Jerusalem and recognize the city as Israel’s capital. As Trump decided to move the embassy, it undermined Palestinian claims over East Jerusalem as a capital for a future state. On Wednesday December 6th 2017, President Donald Trump issued a speech in which he decided to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and, subsequently, move the embassy to the capital.
This decision not only antagonized the Palestinians but also regional actors like Jordanan who is a custodian to the al-Aqsa Compound and the international community as a whole. In doing so, he sparked mass protests in Palestine and in the Arab/Muslim world. As such, Hamas called on all Palestinians to “incite an uprising in Jerusalem so that this conspiracy does not pass.” In addition, the Palestinian Authority no longer recognizes the US as a mediator in the peace process and opens the door for other countries such as France to step in.
The fact that the US declared Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was enough reason to spark backlash against the US from the Arab world and could possibly fuel extremism. After all, the al-Aqsa Mosque is Islam’s third holiest place and, as the custodian of the holy site, King Abdullah II said the move is a ‘red line.’ In this sense, the king warned that the relocation “could be potentially exploited by terrorists to stoke anger, frustration and desperation in order to spread their ideologies.”
The current situation hasn’t been described as an Intifada yet but has taken the form of a popular uprising that will continue to increase so long as the US doesn’t retract from its decision. After the US vetoed a resolution condemning the decision at the UN Security Council, 128 countries voted in favor of that same resolution at the UN General Assembly on Dec. 21st. This shows that the US’ decision isn’t supported by the International community and may risk losing its role as the ‘world’s policeman’.
Already, the US is stepping aside from its traditional role at the UN by announcing that it will cut $285 million from its contribution to the UN’s annual budget. The US and Israel also announced that they will be leaving the UNESCO as a consequence of anti-Israel bias. This risks isolating both the US and Israel if they maintain their current position but will surely affect Israel more as it may risk being labeled a ‘pariah state.’ Nothing is yet certain but according to current events it seems the situation will further escalate.