Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu announces moves after deadliest terrorist attack in Jerusalem in years
The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has announced a series of punitive steps against Palestinians in the wake of the deadliest terrorist attack in Jerusalem in years in which a gunman killed seven people outside a synagogue.
In a statement issued after the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday, Netanyahu’s office said that Israel’s security agency would explore “additional deterrent measures regarding the families of terrorists that express support for terrorism”, including the revocation of Jerusalem residency rights and Israeli citizenship, and legislation allowing employers to dismiss workers who have “supported terrorism” without the need for a hearing.
Other actions outlined by the cabinet include stripping family members of attackers of social security and health benefits, changes in policy to make it easier to demolish homes of Palestinians who carry out terrorist attacks, and the “strengthening of settlements” in the occupied West Bank, on which no further details were given.
All of the measures are illegal under international law, and are likely to inflame tensions with the Palestinian public and the Palestinian Authority (PA), which controls parts of the occupied West Bank, at a time when the region already stands perilously close to escalation.
Friday’s shooting in the occupied East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Neve Yaakov, which killed seven and injured three, followed the deadliest single Israeli army raid in the West Bank in decades. The unusually fierce attack on militants in the Jenin refugee camp left nine Palestinians dead, including two civilians, and triggered a wave of tit-for-tat violence, including the exchange of rocket fire between the Islamist-controlled Gaza Strip and Israel in the early hours of Friday.
Several more incidents have been reported since the synagogue attack, including the shooting and wounding of two people near Jerusalem’s Old City by a 13-year-old Palestinian, the hospitalisation of four Palestinians attacked by an Israeli settler near Nablus, and a shooting at a settler restaurant near Jericho on Saturday in which no one was hurt, but the assailant was killed.
On Sunday, an armed Palestinian man who approached a settlement in the Nablus area was shot dead, and houses and cars were damaged and set alight in Palestinian villages near Ramallah.
The prime minister also announced that his administration would work on legislation making it easier for Israeli citizens to obtain weapons permits, saying that the step would reduce violence because “we have seen, time and again … that heroic, armed and trained civilians save lives”.
Israel was not seeking escalation, Netanyahu said, but would provide a “powerful, swift and precise” response to Friday’s attack in Jerusalem. Five additional army battalions have been deployed to the contested city and the West Bank in anticipation of more copycat and “price tag” attacks.
The PA president, Mahmoud Abbas, on Saturday blamed Israel for the spike in violence. In the aftermath of the Jenin raid, the PA said it would suspend security cooperation with Israel – a step it has taken with limited success in the past.
Early on Sunday, Israeli police sealed off and prepared to demolish the family home of the synagogue gunman, who was shot and killed as he fled the scene. Alqam Khayri, 21, is believed to have acted alone; while Palestinian militant groups praised his actions, none have claimed responsibility for the attack. A total of 42 people, including family members, have been arrested in relation to the incident.
“Members of Israel’s cabinet are threatening a range of measures, all of which constitute collective punishment against innocent people solely because they are related to the man who perpetrated the deadly attack,” HaMoked, an Israeli non-profit focusing on Palestinian legal rights, said in a statement.
“[Israeli law] allows demolition or sealing of a home. However, the military is required to notify the family in advance, allowing it to file its objections and, if they are rejected, petition the High Court of Justice. None of this was done in this case.”
Friday’s synagogue shooting is an early test for Netanyahu’s newly re-elected far-right government coalition, which campaigned on promises to make Israelis safer after a string of Palestinian knife and gun attacks last spring. Elements of the new government have also vowed to annex the West Bank and expand Jewish control of Jerusalem’s holy Temple Mount complex – often a flashpoint for violence.
Netanyahu will receive the US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, for a long-planned visit to Jerusalem on Monday which now looks set to be dominated by efforts to de-escalate the combustible security situation.
The talks are also expected to cover Iran, Israel’s stance towards the war in Ukraine, the dormant peace process with the Palestinians, and international concerns over the Israeli government’s plans to undermine the powers of the country’s supreme court.