JERUSALEM—Nearly half of the 219 Palestinians who carried out attacks against Israelis during the past five months, mainly on the West Bank, were 20 years old or younger, according to statistics released this week by the Shin Bet security service.
This unusual demographic distinguishes the current round of attacks, mostly stabbings, from the first intifida, or uprising, that began in 1987 and the second intifada, which began in 2000, both of which involved broad sections of the Palestinian public.
Unusual too is the fact that 11 percent of the attackers were female, some in their mid-teens, and their percentage is steadily rising. The Shin Bet document says that, contrary to a widespread perception, these women are not generally from lower socio-economic levels but from prosperous and educated families. “The female terrorists are not from the margins of society. Feelings of stress and personal frustration with their parents, combined with the basic hostility they feel toward Israel, have created fertile grounds for their attacks." A major motivation, says the report, “is the incitement that permeates the Internet which encourages the women to emulate the acts glorified there.”
The document also cites as motivation the Palestinian population’s sense that they lack any political horizon and the loss of faith in the Palestinian Authority headed by Mahmoud Abbas.
To date, 31 Israelis have been killed, mostly by stabbing but also by cars ramming pedestrians or people waiting at bus stops. More than 170 Palestinians have been killed, most of them shot dead in the course of their attacks. Some were killed in clashes between groups of Palestinian youths and security forces, often in the region of refugee camps. In all, there have been 228 terror attacks, the bulk by so-called “lone wolves” acting on their own.
The current round of killings began on Oct. 1 with the ambush shooting of an Israeli settler couple on the West Bank, but there have been few shootings since. Four members of the Palestinian Authority security forces were shot dead after attacking Israelis with weapons but these were exceptions. The Palestinian security forces as a whole, say Israeli officials, have been an important factor in preventing a significant escalation of violence on the West Bank.
Unlike in the previous intafadas, there have been almost no mass demonstrations. The Palestinian public approves of the “lone wolf” attacks, according to polls, but is unwilling to be party to mass violence and economic chaos. The Israeli authorities have responded not with mass arrests or area-wide shutdowns, as in the past, but by substantially increasing the number of work permits that enable West Bank residents to find employment in Israel proper or in Israeli settlements in the West Bank itself.