Daesh terrorist activity in Israel: palestinian limitations – by Maria Alvanou

Israel has been battling with operational methods like suicide bombings, car ramming and knife stabbings against its citizens for years now. During the second Intifada male and female suicide bombers left their deadly mark, while during the present so called “third Intifada” knife attacks spread death and injury. Long before Europeans mourned for attacks like in the Manchester concert with adolescent victims, Israel had to bury teenagers who frequented the Dolphinarium discotheque in Tel Aviv after a suicide bombin.

Yet, when it comes to attacks in Israel, there has always been a difference in international public opinion and reaction, hesitating to unanimously condemn attacks against Israelis as terrorism. The concept of the “Israeli-Palestinian conflict”, a conflict of two people over disputed land has created a context, with in the violent activity perpetrated by palestinian groups has been labeled by many as countering occupation and as struggle for liberation. Additionally, there is part of the public opinion that sympathizes with palestinian groups, considering them as the weak part that needs support against a military mighty opponent. Thus even the terms “terrorist” and “terrorism” have not been used consistently and extensively describing suicide attacks by Palestinians against Israelis. If there is one notable example for the phrase “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter”, that is of palestinian attackers against Israelis.

Things may have started to change when the same methods (suicide attacks, vehicles running over people, knife attacks) used in Israel started to be put in action in european soil. Europeans now know very well the fear of random victimization through a terror attack. They recognize how it feels to be afraid to travel, go out, attend a concert, shop in a mall and walk on the streets. The international islamist terror network brought middle eastern terror methods in european lives, succeeding into making Europeans feeling like potential victims of a terror attack.

The June 16, 2017 attack in Israel, when a female soldier was stabbed to death in East Jerusalem, near the Damascus Gate to the old city, has caused discussions about the possibility of Daesh operating also in Israel. Yet, while Daesh took responsibility of the attack, Hamas, on the other hand, denied it, claiming that the attack was its own work[1]. Some remarks on the above situation are the following:

  1. Palestinian groups have been successful into creating a pool of sympathizers for their goal. They were very careful and clever not to connect Intifadas with the network and vision of international islamist terrorism. Of course, there is a palestinian organization called “Palestinian Islamic Jihad”. Also, in the rhetoric of the second Intifada suicide attacks, the notions of jihad and martyrdom were used to give another perspective to the operational methodology, one that would negate the sin of “suicide” (‘intihar”). Also, focal to the palestinian claims over Jerusalem (“Al-Quds” for Arabs) is its perceived important position as a city in Islam. In addition islamist rhetoric and symbolisms have been undoubtedly used for radicalization, recruitment and the perpetration of attacks. The distortion of Islam that results to an islamist toolkit for preparing “shahids”, “mujahedeen”, fighters for the faith etc has been present even in the militant wing of Fatah (which can be described as secular), since it is named “Al Aqsa Brigades (referring to the Al- Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem). Despite the above, the jihad for the liberation of Palestine has been constructed within a nationalistic context, connected with the notion of palestinian land. Islamic notions have played a utilitarian role to unite, inspire, justify. Needless of course to mention that the history of palestinian organizations and their activity goes back to totally secular formations (PFLP, PLO, PDFLP, etc) and contemporary palestinian groups despite their character have tried to keep out of their activities the international islamist network. Neither Al Qaeda, nor Daesh have been named partners in Intifada, and no Intifada has been carried out by Palestinians as part of the international islamist’s jihad.
  2. Daesh has been facing losses from a military point of view. The future of its territorial existence does not seem bright. As a result it puts weight on its very successful global terror campaign. It clearly wants to “occupy” the space of terrorist violence and perceives its role as the legitimate agent of jihad. It wants to incorporate as part of this jihad also the palestinian attacks against Israelis. After all, “zionists” are enemies of the islamists and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is part of the Israeli-Arab conflict that has resulted many times to the defeat (and thus dishonor) of Arabs and Muslims. Moreover, as it is an organization with territorial presence and aspirations, the palestinian claims over a certain piece of land to be liberated are fitting its strategy and goal of recapturing “stolen” muslim land. Additionally, Israel is considered among the best (if not the best) when it comes to counter terrorism, attack prevention measures and policy. Being able to perpetrate a terror attack inside Israel constitutes a proof of terror competence for Daesh, making the organization appear as extra powerful and ultra dangerous[2]. As the victim was a woman in the israeli services, the attack could take also a symbolic gender parameter, that of the organization opposing the status of freedom israeli women enjoy, participating in every activity of their society and defending their country against security dangers.
  3. Hamas denied vehemently that the operation was of Daesh. The islamic fundamentalist character of Hamas is undeniable and the organization- during all the years that it has political and social influence- has led to the gradual islamization of palestinian society. But again, the islamist character of Hamas is connected to nationalistic parameters and identity. In addition, Hamas is trying to portray itself not as a terror organization but as freedom and guerilla fighting movement (despite its designation as terror organization by the EU, the US and several countries). Any connection with Daesh would work against the public face the organization wants to show and would defame its fight as part of international terrorism. So what we know and see by now is that both Hamas and PFLP (which is secular) have claimed joint responsibility for the attack[3], denying any involvement of Daesh.

Israel is not Europe. It has no Schengen zone and its counter terrorism policy has been tailored to the special circumstances and framework of the country’s geographical and political existence. The “homegrown terrorism”, “homegrown cells”, “foreign fighters” concepts and the way we talk in Europe about the operational preparation of international islamist terror attacks are not relevant to the israeli terror reality. If Daesh perpetrates attacks inside Israel, it means that its perpetrators are either Palestinians, or they are directly supported operationally by Palestinians. As this is not in the benefit of the palestinian groups-as it has been previously argued- it is doubtful whether there is or will be such a collaboration between Daesh and palestinian organizations. Unless compelling evidence show otherwise, it looks like Daesh has tried to “highjack” a terror attack perpetrated by Palestinians, mimicking the “lone wolf” pattern and the adoption of attacks in Europe. But it seems that palestinian organizations do not want and won’t allow an “all men’s terrorist” group to ruin the perception of them by many as “another man’s freedom fighter”.

[1] Indicatively see: http://www.presstv.ir/Detail/2017/06/17/525567/Hamas-Israel-East-Jerusalem-alQuds-Daesh, http://www.foxnews.com/world/2017/06/17/palestinians-deny-is-claim-for-deadly-attack-on-israeli.html, http://www.jordantimes.com/news/region/palestinians-dismiss-daesh-claim-israel-female-officer-killing.

[2] There was an incident of a prior hit by Daesh in the Israeli-Syrian border, which was named as “unintentional”. Israel fired a rocket against Daesh members, but there was no escalation.

[3] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jun/16/jerusalem-attack-female-police-officer-seriously-injured-israel