Israel’s capital city has been at the center of a string of terror attacks over the past month. The attacks have been carried out by young, lone terrorists, most of them from East Jerusalem. In general, the terrorists have not been operatives of any established terrorist organization; instead they are acting independently.
This new wave of terror began on Saturday evening, October 3 , when Bir Zeit law student Muhammad Halabi stabbed Rabbi Aharon Benet, who was walking with his wife Adel, two-year-old son and baby along Hagai Street in the Old City. The street leads from the Damascus Gate to the Western Wall and is a frequent passage for Jewish worshipers and Christian tourists alike. Rabbi Nehemia Lavi, a longtime resident of the Old City and an IDF reserve officer, went to Benet’s aid, but the terrorist stabbed him and grabbed his gun before being shot by border police. According to Israel police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld, at the time, the attack was the most serious in years. It began a new wave [of terror] and a new phase of increased violence.
Commentators have been quick to dub the numerous stabbings the “Knife” or “Youth Intifada.” The violence began last month and has, in recent weeks, escalated into near-daily terror attacks against Israeli civilians and security forces. In the last 7 days alone there have been 20 terror stabbing attacks nationwide. So far this month, seven Israelis have been killed and many others wounded in 31 separate stabbing attacks by Palestinians. Last Saturday, there were an additional five attacks. In Jerusalem, a 16 year old terrorist from Jabel Mukaber tried to stab border police officers. In Hebron, there were three separate attacks on both soldiers and civilians and at the Kalandiya checkpoint (north of Jerusalem) a terrorist tried to stab police officers.
The problem the police face is that there is no way to prevent or predict these stabbings. This past Saturday night, following another day of violence, hundreds of Israeli Jews and Arabs gathered in Jerusalem, calling for an end to the weeks of violence. Approximately 1,500 people took part in the demonstration at Gan Hasus (the Horse Park) in Jerusalem, and continued marching through the center of the city. As one participant said “if you can’t live in Jerusalem, you can’t live safely [anywhere] in Israel.” However, in the light of day, the streets remain empty and residents are scared.
ITC Jerusalem: A Special Challenge
Jerusalem, one of the oldest cities in the world, holy to the three Abrahamic religions and special to millions, is not unfamiliar with conflict.
In its history, Jerusalem has been destroyed twice, besieged 23 times, attacked 52 times and captured and recaptured 44 times. It is a challenge working with its unique population (Arab/Jewish, Religious/Secular, new immigrants/veterans) not to mention the sensitive internal politics. With its headquarters in Jerusalem, the ITC enjoys extensive and solid working partnerships with the Jerusalem municipality, local councils throughout the city, business leaders, NGO’s and other key stakeholders.
Thanks to initial JFNA funding in the aftermath of Protective Edge,the ITC has been working intensively and comprehensively on an emergency preparedness program in the city. This effort received a major boost when the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles placed a focus on work in Jerusalem and its environs in order to prepare 1.2 million residents for future emergencies.
The work that began 6 months ago has become the platform for our intervention in Jerusalem during the current situation.
If the aim of terror is to create fragmentation, helplessness, a sense of loss of control and hope as well as establish a feeling of isolation, the purpose of the ITC is to offer the opposite - a sense of control, continuity, hopefulness and a feeling of community and solidarity.
Working in coordination with the Jerusalem Municipality and local community centers, ITC is in the process of establishing and training Volunteer Emergency Teams in four neighborhoods (the Jewish Quarter, the Muslim Quarter, Maale Zaytim and City of David).
People will be specially recruited from within their communities so when emergency occurs, these trained volunteers will be able to provide immediate assistance including the provision of emotional first aid.
This is a complex project that integrates four teams, empowering them to work together in times of emergency. Direct care for trauma victims continues with a special emphasis on support for women and children. The staff in the informal education system is also receiving guidance in regards to working with youth. Following a request from the Municipality, the ITC will train both youth movement staff and municipal teams that work with youth in how to deal with emergencies.
Literally all over the city, ITC experts are conducting parent workshops . In 50 schools, requests have been made for parent guidance sessions (over 30 hrs. and counting). There is much concern amongst parents and educators as to how deal with children and youth in this heightened state of alert.
Alarmingly, youth are arming themselves and coming to school with knives and pepper spray and the authorities are unclear in how to handle this. In the local community center of the Jewish Quarter, the ITC provided crisis management workshops for first responders, security guards and the administrative staff . In addition, the community will participate in an evening devoted to “Parenting in times of Crisis”, which will include a talk from an ITC professional with vast experience dealing with anxiety and trauma in children. Afterwards, participants will separate into small groups to process and expand their knowledge in dealing with children, including a Q&A with experts.
The situation is fluid and uncertain. We will keep you updated.