Tuesday morning saw yet another dangerous new escalation after weeks of violence in Jerusalem with a synagogue attack that killed four people in the Har Nof neighborhood.
This was no case of “spontaneous terrorism,” as witnessed in recent car and knife attacks. In this case, the two terrorists, Uday Abu Jamal and Ghassan Abu Jamal, cousins from the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Jabel Mukaber, were apparently familiar with the synagogue where they staged their attack. They may have worked in the area; plainly, they gathered intelligence on it prior to the attack.
The relatively high body count also sets Tuesday’s attack apart from the recent attacks — which include the attempted murder of Temple Mount activist Rabbi Yehudah Glick — and creates more potential for escalation. An indiscriminate massacre of worshipers in a synagogue, wrapped in their prayer shawls, strikes at the most basic symbols of the Jewish people, and could result in acts of revenge against Palestinians.
The latest horror underlines that even though while it sometimes seems as if calm has returned to Jerusalem, the silence is repeatedly broken by another incident or another attack within days. Jerusalem refuses to return to normal. The previous relative stability of the city has been shaken — shattered — since the summer, with the murder in the capital of Palestinian teen Muhammed Abu Khdeir (in the wake of the murders of the three Jewish teens in the West Bank), Operation Protective Edge, and the friction and conflict surrounding the Temple Mount.
Tellingly, however, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni also criticized Abbas’s recent behavior, and US Secretary of State John Kerry protested Palestinian calls including from Abbas’s Fatah, for “days of rage.” And the fact is that while Abbas put out a statement condemning the attack, the right-wingers are correct about one thing: Abbas cannot continue to claim he is working to prevent attacks when his media outlets are full of incitement and hatred against Israel and the Jews and what amounts to praise for terrorism.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s response to the latest wave of unrest and terrorism, which culminated Tuesday morning in a deadly killing spree at a Jerusalem synagogue, can be divided into three subcategories — operational, political, and diplomatic.
On the ground, he ordered an increase of security forces in the streets and instructed authorities to destroy the homes of terrorists. He also initiated legislative initiatives, such as changing the law so as to allow the interior minister to revoke the citizenship of Israeli Arabs who call for the destruction of the state.
On the diplomatic front, the prime minister’s efforts focused on lamenting Palestinian incitement, crying foul over continuous anti-Israeli agitation, especially from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Atypically, Netanyahu has been talking more about incitement than about Iran in recent speeches and meetings with world leaders.