Israel promises tough measures to stop wave of attacks in Jerusalem

An ultra-Orthodox Jewish youth looks at bullet holes at a synagogue a day after a shooting attack there in Jerusalem, Nov. 19, 2014.
An ultra-Orthodox Jewish youth looks at bullet holes at a synagogue a day after a shooting attack there in Jerusalem, Nov. 19, 2014. AP

Israeli security forces demolished Wednesday the family home of a Palestinian who carried out a lethal car attack in Jerusalem last month as the government sought to demonstrate a tough response after a deadly assault on a synagogue.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised “many more steps” to halt a surge of attacks by Palestinians amid rising tensions over a contested Jerusalem holy site known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as the Temple Mount.

A campaign by right-wing Israeli lawmakers and activists to increase Jewish access to the area, which houses Al-Aqsa mosque, the third holiest site in Islam, has inflamed Palestinian sentiments.

Two Palestinians armed with meat cleavers and a gun killed four worshipers and a police officer in Tuesday’s attack on the Jerusalem synagogue, heightening concerns about a slide into religious conflict.

In an effort to calm public jitters, police forces were beefed up in East Jerusalem and some entrances to Palestinian neighborhoods were blocked with concrete barriers. Netanyahu paid a high-profile visit to an aerial surveillance center set up to monitor unrest in Arab parts of the city, promising firm action to “restore security to Jerusalem.”

“There will be more home demolitions,” Netanyahu said. “We have nothing against the residents of East Jerusalem, but we will not tolerate attacks on our citizens.”

Along with the family homes of the Palestinians who attacked the synagogue, the Israeli authorities are seeking to destroy three more apartments housing families of assailants who carried out other recent deadly assaults.

In another punitive step the authorities are calling a deterrent measure, the bodies of the two synagogue attackers, who were killed by police, have not been handed over to their families for burial. The families have gone to court in an effort to secure the release of the corpses.

The home destroyed early Wednesday belonged to the family of Abdel Rahman Shaludi, who rammed his car into pedestrians near a light-rail station in Jerusalem on Oct. 22, killing a baby and a young woman before he was shot and killed by police.

Israeli forces blew up the family apartment in the crowded neighborhood of Silwan in the early morning after the occupants had evacuated in advance, moving in with relatives.

Officials said the measure was meant to deter further attacks, although the demolition policy was suspended in the West Bank in 2005 after an Israeli army panel found that it was not a proven deterrent and may have fueled more violence.

Last week the U.S. State Department warned that demolishing Palestinian homes would be “counterproductive” and would “exacerbate an already tense situation” in Jerusalem. Human rights groups have called the policy collective punishment and a breach of international law.

Nahum Barnea, a prominent Israeli columnist, wrote Wednesday that there was a dispute between the army and the Shin Bet, Israel’s domestic security service, about the effectiveness of home demolitions.

“But all that is irrelevant, because the government . . . feels that it must show the public that it is punishing the other side,” Barnea wrote in the mass circulation daily Yediot Ahronot.

In downtown West Jerusalem on Wednesday, some Israelis said they were going about their routines with increased wariness following the attack on the synagogue, where services resumed 24 hours after the assault.

The wave of violence in the past month, which has included car attacks and stabbings, have heightened concerns about personal safety.

Pushing a baby carriage down Jaffa Road, the main downtown thoroughfare, Midi Lebel, a new mother, said the situation was “frightening.”

“At any minute someone might come and do something, and I’m constantly looking right and left,” she said.

But Tzvia Ben-Haim, 65, seemed unfazed. “Something can always happen anywhere, and I’m not going to shut myself at home,” she said as she sat on a bench in a downtown square.

Walking through the square, Ashraf Manasra and Muntasir Salameh, Palestinians who work in Israeli restaurants, said they had been frisked by Israeli border police as they reached Jaffa Road from East Jerusalem. As they were being body-searched in full view of passing pedestrians, a pair of religious Jews who walked by called them terrorists, they said.

“I’m paying attention, keeping an eye out,” Salameh said. “I’m afraid, but whatever happens, it’s from God.”

Related stories from McClatchy DC