For the past seven months, Israelis have faced an unprecedented wave of violence: not a real “intifada”, but a series of almost daily "lone wolf" knife attacks. These are not organised by militant groups but reflect hopelessness and despair, especially among young Palestinians. Our correspondents in Jerusalem, Pierrick Leurent and Irris Makler, went to investigate this phenomenon and the roots of this violence.
Since October 2015, there have been more than 350 attacks on Israelis, mostly carried out by Palestinians armed with knives, machetes or even scissors. The attackers are very young – some aged just 13 or 14. The attacks have left 34 Israelis dead as well as nearly 200 Palestinians - mainly assailants killed carrying out the attacks. Hundreds more have been injured.
The violence has extracted a heavy toll, but the phenomenon remains diffuse, elusive. Is it a new intifada? A wave of violence? A revolt by the Palestinian youth? It’s not easy to define what’s been happening in Israel and the Palestinian Territories since October 2015.
Our reporters went to meet various actors in the events of recent months: Palestinian activists, families of attackers, Israeli victims and army officials. They all agree on one fact: the terrorists, both male and female, are often desperate teens. These self-radicalised “lone wolves” take action within minutes. Their acts are rarely planned, barely even premeditated.
A 2.0 intifada, but without popular support
As to their motivations, it’s a mixed picture. Some are fed up with the Israeli occupation and the lack of prospects for peace, with no diplomatic solution on the horizon; others are disappointed with their own stalled political process. There is also the role of indoctrination via social networks.
This is one of the most extraordinary aspects of this “knife intifada." For the first time, it is being widely relayed online. Facebook, Twitter and Whatsapp serve as relays between young Palestinians who exchange photos and videos of attacks, as well as propaganda videos, often within minutes of the violence taking place.
But older Palestinians are not taking part in the revolt. People who have lived through the first and second intifadas – which began in 1987 and 2000 respectively - are weary of violence. They tell us it will only bring more death and destruction, without paving the way for the creation of a Palestinian state. Some of them even try to convince the youngsters to focus on their future and renounce violence.
With the attacks targeting men, women, civilians and soldiers indiscriminately, Israel’s response has been a military one: more troops on patrol in Jerusalem and the West Bank, more surveillance cameras and checkpoints, more arrests of militants; plus reinstating the policy of demolishing the family homes of the attackers.
Over the past two months, there has been a decline in attacks, but Israel’s response complicates the daily lives of ordinary Palestinians. And strengthens the anger felt by some of them.