JERUSALEM—Two Palestinian high school girls, cousins aged 14 and 16, from a refugee camp north of Jerusalem, skipped school Monday morning and took a tram to the Jewish side of the city. Leaving their school bags on a bench, they proceeded toward the main market place until they encountered an elderly man whom they began to stab. A policeman across the street drew his gun and called on them to drop their weapons. Instead, say police officials, the girls charged him. The policeman fired, killing one of the attackers and seriously wounding the other. Their weapons, it turned out, were pairs of scissors.
The unexpected nature of the attack, and of the attackers, has been a hallmark of the current round of Palestinian violence which began two months ago. Hardly a day passes without one or more attacks, almost all "lone-wolf" incidents involving individuals acting on their own initiative and not as part of a terror network.
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During this period of violence, 23 Israelis have been killed and 192 wounded, 20 of them seriously. The perpetrators have ranged from pre-teens to grandmothers. Few of the male attackers have had a record as terrorists. Although the attackers initially were almost all in their late teens or early 20s, they have come in recent weeks to include family men with children. Most of the attacks have been with knives, some with vehicles, which plow into people waiting at bus stops, and a handful with gunfire. Some of the attacks have been carried out in Israel proper but most have been on the West Bank.
On a few occasions, the victims have inadvertently included fellow Palestinians. The 70-year-old man stabbed by the girl cousins ,Yussuf Alharoub, is a West Bank Palestinian who worked in the Jewish marketplace, as do many Arabs.
"Both the Jews and Arabs are suffering from what’s happening now and no one benefits," he told Ynet from his hospital bed.
From the Palestinian point of view, the unorganized nature of the current mini-intifada is what gives it its strength as an authentic expression of popular feeling. To the extent there is a positive aspect in Israeli eyes it is that the unrest has not approached the proportions of the intifada that broke out in 2000 and took 1,000 Israeli lives (as well as 3,000 Palestinian lives).
Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon, visiting the current focus of attacks in the area of the Gush Etzion settlement bloc, noted Monday that the current unrest does not include the use of suicide bombers or attacks on buses as during the previous intifada. He said that steps are being taken to further separate the movement of Palestinian and Israeli vehicles on the West Bank by building bypass roads.
Behind the current unrest, said the minister, are Palestinian claims that Israel is intending to change the Muslim character of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, which Israel vehemently denies. Although the Temple Mount itself, sacred to both Muslims and Jews, was the focus of disturbances initially, it has been almost totally quiet in recent week. But incitement on the issue continues, said Yaalon.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that action will be taken against the extended families of attackers who will have their permits to work in Israel revoked. He said that steps will also be taken to neutralize social networks that carry out incitement.
A few hours after the scissor attack by the cousins, an 18-year-old Israeli man was knifed to death at a gas station in the West Bank. The assailant was shot dead by soldiers.