PALESTINE – Wielding a knife from his pulpit in a sermon streamed on the Iternet last month, Palestinian Sheikh Muhammad Salakh called for followers to take up butcher knives and attack Israelis.
The knife has replaced suicide bombings, car attacks and random shootings as the new tool of choice for waging jihad on Israel, with leaders blatantly calling for Palestinians young and old to take up the kitchen implement and kill.
While cars careening into crowds was the trend in terror last year– with hit songs in Gaza and the West Bank praising “martyrs” behind the wheel– this year Hamas and Palestinian Authority leaders, clerics and newspaper editors are openly encouraging stabbings that have so far killed a dozen and wounded 167 since Oct. 1. Through sermons, social media, online blogs, editorial cartoons and TV and radio reports, the message seems to be that anyone can pick up a knife and advance the cause.
“Restrain the victim while others attack him with axes and butcher knives,” influential Sheikh Muhammad Salakh recently preached as he brandished a knife in a sermon that was widely viewed within the territories. “Do not fear what will be said about you. Oh men of the West Bank, next time, attack in a group of three, four, or five. Attack them in groups. Cut them into body parts.”
The attackers are hailed as brave heroes, with a youth soccer tournament named for Muhannad Halabi, who murdered two Israelis, wounding the wife and two-year-old son of one in a stabbing in Jerusalem in early October. Some terrorists, killed by Israeli security forces and police either during or in the immediate aftermath of their attacks, are revered as shahids (martyrs) and have had streets and squares named in their honor.
The bloody toll to date includes a dozen dead and at least 19 seriously wounded in 59 separate stabbing attacks, mainly in Jerusalem. Some 72 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli security forces, including 45 who Israel said were involved in attacks and another 27 Palestinians killed in clashes between stone-throwers and security forces.
The latest attack came on Friday afternoon, when a Palestinian stabbed an Israeli outside a supermarket in Sha’ar Binyamin “injuring him severely,” according to local authorities.
Particularly chilling is the fact that the call to regular citizens to use readily available weapons appears to be creating a new wave of terrorists.
“Generally speaking, the terrorists have not been operatives of any established terrorist organization,” the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs noted in a statement Thursday. “The current wave of terrorism has not been directed by any organization, but rather is directly inspired by the intensive incitement accompanying it.”
Suspected weapons are removed from Arabs entering Jerusalem’s Old City, but once inside the ancient walls, anyone can walk into a hardware store and by a hammer, or a kitchenware shop and purchase butcher knives. They could even visit a private house and take a carving knife from a kitchen drawer. Israeli security forces have found it almost impossible to restrict the proliferating use of knives, but recent increases in security patrols in Jerusalem have seen a decrease in attacks in the capital, only for more attacks to be perpetrated in other Israeli towns and cities, including in the disputed West Bank, especially Hebron.
The troubling trend was underscored last week, when a baby born in Gaza was given the name “Knife of Jerusalem” by his proud parents in honor of the wave of fatal stabbings carried out by Palestinians on Israeli Jews.
“Allah has given me a new baby and I’ve named him ‘Knife of Jerusalem,’ after the Intifada of the Knives,” the baby’s father proudly declared in a television interview translated by Middle East Media Research Institute. “We gave him the name… in solidarity with our people in the West Bank,” the baby’s mother added. A friend explained that he was watching a video called “Lovers of Stabbing” with the expectant father, and suggested the macabre name, an idea the father was delighted to adopt.
The recent wave of terror was sparked when violence broke out at the Temple Mount in the Old City of Jerusalem, site of the Golden Dome and the Al Aqsa mosque, the third holiest place on earth for Muslims. It overlooks the Western Wall, the holiest place on earth for Jews. Arab media insisted that Israel was planning to take over the Al Aqsa compound and that all means should be employed to defend the site – and Islam itself.
On Oct. 19, ISIS began releasing a series of online video messages, the first of which was titled, “Project Behead the Jews.” The videos praised Palestinians for the wave of terror and reportedly feature footage of the Temple Mount, punctuated by calls for Muslims to “liberate Al Aqsa” and “wage jihad against the Jews.”
From the start, Israel stressed it has no designs on Al Aqsa – a compound overseen by the Islamic “waqf” trust as part of a long-standing status quo agreement – insisting that the violence followed attacks on Jewish worshippers at the Western Wall, stoned by Muslims using the compound as safe haven. Israeli security forces reportedly discovered pipe bombs inside the mosque when they intervened to stop the violence.
“This incitement comes from the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamic Movement in Israel, Hamas, and – to our chagrin – also with the active participation of the Palestinian Authority,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said last month.
Now five weeks into the violence sparked by the Temple Mount crisis, Hamas continues to call for blood. While knifings constitute the lion’s share of attacks, the other techniques for spreading terror are not forgotten. On Wednesday, a terrorist identified as Ibrahim al-Acri, 38, was killed by Israeli security forces in Jerusalem after slamming his car into 15 pedestrians, killing one and injuring 14 more. An official Hamas statement praised al-Acri as a “heroic martyr”.
Some regional observers suggest the wave of attacks is a spontaneous reaction from Palestinians frustrated by lack of jobs, difficult housing conditions, travel restrictions, and the controlling hand of Israel, but also highlight disillusionment with the corruption of the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority controlled by Mahmoud Abbas. But experts who spoke to FoxNews.com said it would be naive to believe the wave of stabbings is organic.
“It’s too simplistic to say it just rose from the people,” a senior Israel Defense Forces officer told FoxNews.com. “Hamas is inciting what they now call the ‘Al Aqsa Intifada’ encouraging Palestinians in the territories to carry out terror acts… but the Palestinian Authority is not stopping it.”
Yesterday, U.S. Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., the committee’s ranking member, along with 367 other House members sent a bipartisan letter to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, urging him to quell the incitement against Israelis.
“Now is the time for the Palestinian Authority to take concrete steps to avoid further violence,” read the letter. “This starts with a sustained effort to publicly and officially repudiate these attacks, ending the unacceptable incitement to violence emanating from Palestinian Authority officials and institutions, continuing important security cooperation with Israel and agreeing to unconditionally renew direct talks with the Israelis.”
“Mahmoud Abbas is trying to delegitimize Israel, but he does not want an intifada to happen. He thinks he can control the flames [of the uprising]. He’s playing a dangerous game,” the senior IDF officer warned. “An intifada is a bigger risk to his regime than it is to Israel.”
Paul Alster is an Israel-based journalist. Follow him on Twitter @paul_alster and visit his website: www.paulalster.com.