Yatta, West Bank (CNSNews.com) – An attempt by Hamas to turn the holiest month in Islam into four weeks of violence seems to be backfiring. Although the threat was followed immediately by a deadly attack in Tel Aviv, the week since has been largely peaceful, likely the result of enhanced security and tough retaliatory measures focused of the terrorists’ hometown.
Hamas’ military wing in early June called for a “month of jihad” during Ramadan, a time traditionally dedicated to prayer and day-time fasting.
One day later, two Palestinians killed four Israelis and wounded six in a shooting attack in a market in central Tel Aviv. It was the worst attack of its kind since February following a period of months of violence that began last September, which some Arabs refer to as the “Jerusalem intifada.”
Since the attack, however, and despite Hamas’ threats, Ramadan has been largely peaceful here. The tough response by the Israeli army, ordered by newly-appointed Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, may be a reason.
Security measures employed in response to the Tel Aviv attack include a huge increase in troop presence, nighttime and dawn raids, an increase in arrests, weapons confiscations and the unearthing of weapons shops, and house demolitions in East Jerusalem and the West Bank.
Official and makeshift barriers block traffic in and out of highly sensitive areas, particularly during the recent Jewish holiday of Shavuot. The movement of some foreign media has also been restricted.
In addition, 83,000 special entry permits issued earlier for Ramadan travel to the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem – the third holiest site in Islam – were revoked.
And on Thursday, Lieberman announced that the home of the terrorist who murdered American West Point graduate and U.S. Army veteran Taylor Force in a March attack would be demolished as punishment. The killer, Bashar Masallah – praised as a “heroic martyr” by Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah organization – was shot and killed during the stabbing attack in Tel Aviv’s Jaffa district in which nine other people were wounded.
The West Bank town of Yatta, near Hebron, has been in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) crosshairs.
Yatta is the hometown of cousins Muhammad Muhamra and Khaled Muhamra, the men who carried out the Tel Aviv attack. It is not known whether the two were backed by a specific Palestinian group, but Israel’s assessment is that they were supporters of Hamas, which praised the attack, calling it a first “surprise” for the Israeli enemy during Ramadan.
The town of around 120,000 residents has a complex history of conflict with Israel. Last January, Dafna Meir, an Israeli nurse and mother of six, was stabbed to death in her home in a settlement near Yatta.
Her confessed killer, Morad Bader Abdallah Adis, was a resident of Yatta. On June 11, the IDF razed his family’s home.
The government employs the practice, known as “collective punishment,” as a tactic to deter terrorism. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel and other domestic human rights organizations describe it as actions taken directly against large portions of Palestinian populations in towns and neighborhoods where terrorist activity has originated.
Punishments range from revoking travel permits to Israel, blocking access to Al Aqsa Mosque, temporarily or permanently revoking work permits, demolishing homes, reducing water supply, sealing off entrances and exits to towns and commandeering Palestinian homes for military use.
According to Yatta city officials, three family homes connected to the Tel Aviv attackers have already been surveyed for demolition. The IDF has also blocked main roads in and out of the town with large blocks and boulders, and conducted almost nightly raids on some areas of the town, residents said.
On Wednesday, the IDF posted a photograph on its Twitter account of a machine gun said to have been found in Yatta during one such raid.
Mousa Makhamreh, Yatta’s mayor, sees such actions by the Israeli government as extreme. Speaking in his office, he said Yatta residents were just as shocked as Israelis were about the attack in Tel Aviv.
Describing attacker Khaled Mahamra as an upwardly-mobile, educated young man who was expected to be a main source of support for his family in the future, Makhamreh said “all of the people in the family were surprised by what he did. It was a shock for them.”
The mayor argued that since the cousins had both been arrested, he could see no see no purpose in closing the town off.
“Yatta city was isolated by this closure,” he said. “We were prevented from carrying out even the simplest things in daily life.”