JERUSALEM—Two 13-year-old girls descended from a bus in the central Israeli city of Ramle Thursday morning and, instead of walking to their nearby school, proceeded to pull kitchen knives from their schoolbags and stab a security guard at the entrance to the bus station. The guard was lightly wounded, and the girls were subdued by a civilian and a soldier.
The incident could almost pass as routine in the four-month-long series of attacks by Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, many by youths, except the two girls were not Palestinian Arabs but Israeli Arabs. Concern was expressed by many Israelis that it could signal a spillover of the current round of violence in the Palestinian territories into Israeli Arab society.
The 25-year-old guard was cut in the hand and leg. The girls were subdued by a civilian and a soldier at the scene and detained by police. A police spokesman said the girls had told interrogators that they had decided to “kill Jews” after being influenced by Facebook posts in Arabic and by what they saw on Arabic Internet. A photograph of the contents of one of the schoolbags scattered on the pavement showed schoolwork, a calculator, a juice bag and two knives.
Last month, a 13-year-old Palestinian girl was shot and killed when she tried to stab a security guard at a West Bank Israeli settlement, pursuing him when he tried to back off. In November, two girls, aged 14 and 16, were shot when they threatened to attempted to stab passersby with scissors on the Jewish side of the city; they succeeded in stabbing an elderly man, who happened to be Palestinian. One of the girls was killed by a policeman, and the other was wounded.
Ramle has a mixed Jewish and Arab population. Mayor Yoel Lavie said the stabbing incident was not characteristic of the city’s Arab community. “Ramle is a multi-cultural city in which Jews and Arabs live in coexistence,” he said. Lavie praised the guard who was attacked for not responding by pulling his gun. He said that all schools in the city had been instructed to discuss the incident with students.
An Israeli psychologist, Prof. Ariel Merari, who has made studies in the past of would-be suicide bombers, said this week that he had found that 40 percent of those he interviewed were suicidal, meaning they wanted to die for personal, not ideological, reasons. They were deterred from killing themselves, however, because Islam prohibits suicide. (Nevertheless, 20 percent had previously attempted suicide.) The same, he suggested, might be true today. “If someone commits suicide, his family becomes outcasts. If he really wants to die, in the current political climate it is very convenient to do it this way. Because then the entire society will say ‘How wonderful, he is a shahid [martyr], he is a hero. They will not say he committed a religiously forbidden act.”
He noted that in the current wave of (mostly) “lone-wolf” attacks, almost half of the approximately 180 attackers have been shot dead. The knife wielders presumably know this but nevertheless attack.
Opinion polls make it clear that the overwhelming majority of the Palestinian population hates Israel, he said. “The question is not why there are so many attackers, but why there are so few. When it comes down to it, very few are willing to carry out these attacks themselves. So it’s more appropriate to ask of those who do carry out these attacks, why them and not others? What makes them different?”
The would-be suicide bombers, were not ideological, said Merari. “Instead they tended to be people who thought they had disappointed their parents. The act of killing allowed them to achieve social prominence.”