Clashes between Palestinians and Israelis have constituted the normal pattern of conflict since the first intifada (1987). During 2015, the intensity of clashes has been affected by several incidents including the Israeli Security Forces’ (ISF) use of, what many believed to be, excessive force against Palestinians in Jerusalem, Nablus and Hebron. Tactics adopted by the ISF during this period included confiscation of land, ISF military operations in refugee camps, villages and cities, as well as Israelis trespassing into the Al Aqsa mosque.
After the burning of the Dawabshe family in Duma village in July 2015 by Israeli settlers, the clashes spread to the West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza. Though calls of a day of rage and marches to friction points were made, the clashes were considered spontaneous and leaderless. After this incident, efforts to contain the situation by Israeli and Palestinian Governments had little impact. By the end of August, the Israeli Government had enforced new limitations on access to the Al Aqsa Mosque for Muslim worshipers. This action, combined with the Duma incident, and the killing of two Palestinians, 17 and 21 years old, in Hebron, led to speculations that a third intifada was imminent.
Clashes between the ISF and Palestinians became more severe and intense as the year progressed. The Israeli Government raised the threat level and allowed the ISF to take matters increasingly into their own hands. Subsequently, killing on suspicion alone became more common and more public than in previous months. The ISF confiscated the bodies of Palestinians killed during attacks and delayed their return to their families, further exacerbating and heightening tensions in the area.
This year’s events witnessed the absence of the classical intermediate leadership of the Palestinian groups who usually orchestrate protests, demonstrations and clashes with the Israeli Security Forces (ISF). In 2015, these intermediate leaders were completely marginalized by the younger generation who took the lead on the streets themselves. Both the Palestinian and the Israeli authorities attempted to contact community and political leaders to assist them in controlling the situation. The younger generation of protesters maintained their stance by campaigning on social media, claiming that “no classical leadership will be allowed to take over the new movement of civil resistance”.
During the year, events similar to those witnessed in 2014 occurred (e.g. the kidnapping and burning of Mohammed Abu Khder by Israeli extremists). This seems to indicate that the increase in violent activities by the Israeli extreme right wing is not limited to attacks against Palestinians in the West Bank and Jerusalem (such as in the Duma incident), but against Israelis as well. An attack targeting a “Gay Pride Parade” took place in Jerusalem on July 30th, resulting in five injuries and one death. Similarly, multiple Israeli citizens were injured from October onwards following attacks on them due to having Middle Eastern features. In another incident, an Eritrean was beaten to death in Beer Sheeba as a reaction to a Palestinian attack in a bus station on October 18th.
At the same time, the Israeli Government has approved a number of procedures to ease the requirements for obtaining a firearms permit, claiming it is a preventative measure against Palestinian attacks. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated “It has been decided to toughen the measures in many areas; a modification of the rules of engagement will be examined as well as the establishment of a maximum penalty for those who throw stones.” Several humanitarian agencies expressed concerns regarding this declaration, and the ISF have been repeatedly criticized for using excessive force and live ammunition, resulting in the deaths of several Palestinians.
West Bank & E Jerusalem
For the first time, a different image than the typical “politically motivated Palestinian protests” has been witnessed on the streets of Jerusalem. The image now suggests rioters rather than protestors, and includes acts of public property vandalism, the absence of law enforcement personnel, blocked streets, destroyed traffic lights, railways and burnt out bus stations. These actions seem to have come about as a reaction towards a perceived increase in ethnic discrimination towards Arabs in Jerusalem.
Similarly, earlier this year, in Northern Israel, the number of civil disturbances were much higher as a result of Israeli Ethiopian community protests in several locations including universities, in front of city halls and the blocking of main routes in to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. The protests, resulting in injuries and riots, were aimed at denouncing what was described as racial discrimination by the Israeli police force. These accusations were leveled by the Ethiopian communities themselves and appeared to be based on more than one incident, including the release of a video showing members of the police physically attacking an Israeli/Ethiopian soldier in uniform. Later, in June, hundreds of Ethiopian Israelis protested in Tel Aviv against police attitudes toward their community, as well as the recent decision by Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein to close the investigation into the incident mentioned above.
In Majdal Shams, north of the Golan Heights, dozens of Druze protesters attacked an Israeli military ambulance carrying two wounded Syrians, beating one of the Syrians to death, on suspicion that they were Islamic militants. Two Israeli soldiers were also injured. This came as a reaction to the growing concern for the fate of the Syrian Druze minority, traditional allies of the al-Assad regime, who are currently surrounded by rebels.
West Bank & E Jerusalem
A perceptible rise in tension among the Hamas leadership, as a result of unofficial Egyptian threats of Military incursions in Gaza, and the rise in the numbers of ISIS supporters, has led to an increase in security preparations by Hamas forces in the Strip.
The political situation between Hamas and Egypt has been deteriorating since the over throw of the Muslim brotherhood in Egypt (July 3rd 2013), a well-known ally of the Hamas Government. Since then, Egypt has closed the Rafah crossing and only allowed entry a few days a year, as well as maximizing its security on the border and using live ammunition against alleged infiltrators. Early in January 2015, Egyptian border control forces opened fire on a group of Palestinians, east of Rafah while they were reportedly attempting to cross into Egypt. One of the group was killed. In a similar incident in December 2015, a Palestinian was also shot and killed on the Egyptian borders.
Early in 2015, Palestinian Authority (PA) security sources indicated that the Jihadi Salafist adherents were growing, reaching figures in the "hundreds" of active loyalists operating in the Gaza Strip. Hamas, on the other hand, estimates that the true figure in Gaza is in the few dozens at most.
According to the PA security sources, the Jihadi Salafist stream in Gaza is divided into, at least, eight different groups including ISIS supporters, while Hamas argues that supporters are not organized into factions but just reflects the fact that some segments of the public have some sympathy with ISIS ideology. The sudden rise of this sympathy is explained to an extent by both the closed socioeconomic situation in the Strip, and the friction between Hamas’s political and armed wings. This friction increased when the political wing started moving towards a policy of reaching political solutions with Israel. This affected ideological change among Hamas’s members, some of whom became disenchanted with the group's political policies.
In Dec 2015, in the West Bank, the PA expressed its fear of possible ISIS attacks during the holiday season. As a result, the presence of security forces was significantly increased, especially in the cities of Bethlehem and Ramallah.
During the first months of the year, a high level of military activity was detected on the Israeli northern border. On the Syrian border, the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) targeted Nusra Front militant encampments close to the Israeli borders and this resulted in a number of incidents that are outlined below.
In January 2015, the Mazraat Amal incident was an air strike which targeted a Hezbullah convoy on January 18, killing six fighters including two prominent members and a general of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.
On January 28, 2015, Hezbullah launched an ambush targeting an Israeli military convoy in the Shebaa Farms, south of Lebanon. This operation resulted in the death of two soldiers, while wounding seven. Israeli military incursions were reported on the border with Lebanon and gunfire and explosions were heard in the Israeli controlled Shebaa Farms. This came as a result of an area combing operation and training.
In more than one incident, errant mortar was fired from the Syrian territories into an open area in the Israeli territories, specifically towards the town of Alonei Habashan and other nearby locations.
On December 19, 2015, a Palestinian member of Hezbullah (who was a former Israeli prisoner) was assassinated by the ISF in the Golan Heights. This led to an official statement issued by Hassan Nasrallah, stating that Hezbullah would respond with an attack against Israeli targets. Israeli leadership replied that they would attack fiercely anyone who tried to threaten Israeli security. As such, while considering statements from both sides, a possible new round of armed confrontation is expected in the north.