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The horrifying shift to lone gunman terrorism in Israel

(AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)
Mourners attend the funeral of Rafael Ben Eliyahu, a victim of a shooting attack Friday in east Jerusalem, at Givat Shaul cemetery in Jerusalem, Sunday, Jan. 29, 2023. On Friday a Palestinian gunman opened fire outside an east Jerusalem synagogue, killing Ben Eliyahu and several other people, including a 70-year-old woman, and wounding a few others before he was shot and killed by police, officials say. It was the deadliest attack on Israelis since 2008 and raised the likelihood of more bloodshed.

Last week on the day of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, as the memory of those lost in the Holocaust was commemorated around the world, a lone gunman shot eight Israelis from his car window. The innocent victims were killed walking peacefully toward their neighborhood synagogue in Jerusalem. Israel plunged into mourning while fresh attacks drew blood in both Jerusalem and other cities.

These types of heinous terrorist attacks are new. The modus operandi is different.

The lack of organizational ties is also new. In each of the recent attacks, different suspects, who were killed in shootouts with security services after their attacks, appear to have no connection to existing extremist groups. It does not appear that they were following orders. Radical Islamist organizations may have no control over them.

The killers do not fit the usual profiles. Indeed, they are young men who seemed to have integrated into society. They have schooling, jobs and sometimes, children of their own. Before the attacks, they were not suspects. They look and act like swimmers, but inside their minds, they are sharks.

These kinds of attacks seem unstoppable. The new killers act alone, do not consort with known terrorists or gather precursor materials. They may not even plan. So their killings appear sudden.

Another new feature: a complete lack of ideological basis. The killers have no known political manifesto, not even slogans on social media. They have just hatred, a blind rage against those who worship differently. Hatred of Jews.

This form of hatred flows from hidden springs — individual experiences or accumulated resentments that cannot be monitored or tracked. But what teaches young men to string their diverse experiences into a hateful narrative?

This is where the hateful messages coming from Palestinian textbooks, broadcasts and online statements come in.

Consider that when the U.S. condemned the murders in the strongest possible term, the Palestinian Authority refused to do the same.

There is concern that renewed tensions will escalate into large-scale violence. The United States has an interest in protecting the security of its long-term ally Israel and also the Palestinians who want peace but find themselves held hostage by their leaders’ selfishness and corruption. 

The election of a right-wing coalition in Israel does not mean that this approach can be excluded. While the traditional Palestinian organizations do not control these young men, they can set the context in which these men think and act.

There is a history of so-called right-wing coalitions signing or proposing historic peace agreements. The Shamir government signed the Camp David agreements in 1979. Ariel Sharon offered huge concessions to Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat, who declined a historic opportunity. 

Netanyahu enthusiastically supported the Abraham Accords. These leaders offered peace because the alternatives were unthinkable.

Nor will tougher security measures bring peace. Indeed, such efforts could inspire future lone wolves.

As for the Palestinian Authority, it is too ill to treat the maladies of others. Elections have been postponed for years after the Hamas coup in Gaza. Credible corruption charges are numerous. President Mahmoud Abbas is in no position to unify the movement. As former U.S. ambassador to Israel, Martin Indyk, wrote in Foreign Affairs, “There needs to be a ripening process that generates new leaders, a new willingness to take risks, and renewed efforts to rebuild trust in the intentions of the other side.”

Working to change the conditions on the ground and using Abraham Accord countries to make outreach to break the stalemate between Israelis and Palestinians must be the pathway. 

The U.S. has an indispensable role: The Biden administration must help with any negotiated solution to allow Israelis to live in safety and Palestinians to have a real authority that represents them.

Ahmed Charai is a Moroccan publisher. He’s on the board of directors for the Atlantic Council and the board of Trustees for The International Crisis Group in Washington.

Tags Abraham Accords Benjamin Netanyahu Camp David Accords Israeli–Palestinian conflict Joe Biden Mahmoud Abbas Palestinian Authority Palestinian terrorism Politics of the United States

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