Jerusalem24 – Far-right extremist and Israeli Minister of National Security Itamar Ben-Gvir is calling to launch “Operation Defensive Shield 2” following a car-ramming attack in occupied East Jerusalem on Friday, which killed three Israeli settlers including two young children.
31-year-old Hussein Qaraqa rammed the vehicle he was driving into a bus stop near the illegal Israeli settlement of Ramon at high speed, killing a 6-year-old child and 20-year-old man. An 8-year-old child died of his injuries the following day.
Video footage from the scene shows two armed Israeli settlers approaching Qaraqa in his vehicle and shooting him through the open driver’s door.
The director of a medical center where Qaraqa was being treated for a psychotic episode prior to the attack told Haaretz he had just been released the previous day.
Ten Israelis including three children have been killed in attacks in occupied East Jerusalem since the beginning of the year, while 45 Palestinians including nine children have been shot and killed by Israeli soldiers or settlers in the occupied West Bank including East Jerusalem.
“Prepare for even broader action”
“Operation Defensive Shield” refers to a month-long Israeli military invasion of several cities in the occupied West Bank in 2002 during the Second intifada that killed scores of Palestinians including 55 children as young as three years old. A number of the deceased children were buried in the rubble of their own home as Israeli military bulldozers razed houses with entire families inside in Nablus and Jenin.
A Tweet from Ben-Gvir shared on Saturday said he was “determined to implement ‘Operation Defensive Shield 2’ in Jerusalem.”
נחוש להוציא לפועל חומת מגן 2 בירושלים. לידיעת הגורמים שמתדרכים נגדי, בסמכות המשטרה, להרוס בתים לא חוקיים, לעצור יותר מ-150 יעדים ולפשוט על הבתים, לעצור את ההסתה במסגדים, לעצור חייבי מס ועוד רבות. ישיבת הקבינט חשובה ואבקש שם דברים נוספים, אבל המשילות חשובה מאוד ואני אדאג שכך יהיה.
— איתמר בן גביר (@itamarbengvir) February 11, 2023
The National Security Minister also reiterated calls to establish the death penalty for Palestinian attackers. Palestinian suspects are almost never apprehended, but rather shot and killed by armed settlers or soldiers at the scene, even when incapacitated, or in incidents that are subsequently proven not to have been attacks.
Ben-Gvir also promised to further increase the rate of demolitions of Palestinian homes in occupied East Jerusalem, and requested for this purpose an exhaustive list of buildings currently slated for demolition by the Israeli Jerusalem municipality. Sources told Israeli daily Maariv that he plans to enforce demolition orders “in a strict and comprehensive manner”.
Ben-Gvir said he would also request the arrest of 150 Palestinians, without specifying who would be targeted or why; would bring up the legality of the possibility of imposing “a full lockdown” on occupied East Jerusalem; and present legislation allowing Israeli forces “to conduct searches of each home, without legal teams”.
The leader of the Jewish Power party met with criticism and derision from elements within the Israeli security establishment and his own coalition. Haaretz quoted an anonymous government source as saying there was “no intention” to lock down East Jerusalem.
But despite vocal criticism of Ben-Gvir’s comments, several of the measures he suggested were put forward by Prime Minister Netanyahu at the beginning of the Cabinet meeting on Sunday.
Netanyahu announced the cabinet would convene “to prepare for even broader action” in occupied East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank. The premier also announced the government would authorize the cabinet to continue expanding the Israeli settlement enterprise, which “terrorists are trying to uproot”, according to Netanyahu.
Israel’s Channel 14 military affairs correspondent Hillel Peyton Rosen meanwhile said that Border Guard Commander General Amir Cohen ordered that the legion’s tactical brigade be deployed to occupied East Jerusalem, with additional troops potentially remaining on standby.
Netanyahu called on Saturday for Qaraqa’s parents’ home to immediately be sealed ahead of its punitive demolition, since Qaraqa himself rented rather than owned the house he lived in with his wife and three children.
“Large-scale ethnic cleansing”
Since Netanyahu’s administration was sworn in on 29 December, Israeli authorities have demolished 57 Palestinian-owned structures in occupied East Jerusalem including 13 inhabited residential homes, displacing a total of 72 people including 38 children.
Over 70 Palestinians including 42 children residing in a single building in Silwan in occupied East Jerusalem are threatened with imminent forced displacement after Ben-Gvir ordered last week the demolition be carried out at short notice. Netanyahu himself postponed the demolition due to international pressure.
Residents of Jabal Al-Mukaber, near Silwan, called on Sunday for people to join them in a solidarity protest after Israeli police informed them that five inhabited residential houses were slated for demolition.
Lawyer Saad Al-Qanbar told Jerusalem24’s sister station 24FM this morning that 280 homes and other facilities are threatened with demolition in Jabal Al-Mukaber, or one-third of the village’s total buildings.
The Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates issued a statement this morning condemning the “large-scale ethnic cleansing process” against Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem at the hand of Israeli authorities, while Head of the National Council Ruhi Fattouh called the “massacre of demolitions” in occupied East Jerusalem, specifically in Jabal Al-Mukaber, “a new war crime”.
Director of the Jerusalem Center for Social and Economic Rights Ziad Hammouri told Jerusalem24 last Monday ahead of the planned building demolition in Silwan that under Netanyahu, Ben-Gvir, and Smotrich’s extreme right-wing administration, Palestinians can expect to face “a massacre of house demolitions”, echoing Fattouh’s exact words.
“Not a terror attack”
New policies introduced by Netanyahu’s coalition in the wake of the East Jerusalem shooting attack which killed seven Israeli settlers in January have allowed for the family homes of suspected attackers to be immediately sealed ahead of their intended demolition.
Qaraqa’s parents, as well as their two children and their respective families who share the house, were ordered to evacuate their home in Al-Tur in occupied East Jerusalem before 11:30 PM on Saturday. The main door to the house was sealed in the early hours of Sunday morning.
Qaraqa’s family maintains the car-ramming was “a tragedy”, but “not a terror attack”. Relatives of Qaraqa’s told Haaretz that he was seriously injured when falling off a crane during a work accident six years prior and had suffered issues with his mental health ever since.
Walid Diab, director of the Tamrah Rehab Center where Qaraqa was hospitalized before the attack, told Haaretz that Qaraqa had gone through a psychotic episode two days earlier, but was released when officials there concluded he had only suffered a panic attack.
Qaraqa’s father noticed his son’s “worsening condition” after his release and called the Tamrah Rehab Center in the hope of finding other appropriate facilities in the area. The following morning, Qaraqa drove off in his wife’s car and carried out the attack.