News of Terrorism and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict (December 25 – 31, 2019)

A Molotov cocktail ignites when it hits an IDF jeep (Facebook page of journalist Hasan Aslih, December 27, 2018).

A Molotov cocktail ignites when it hits an IDF jeep (Facebook page of journalist Hasan Aslih, December 27, 2018).

Palestinian rioters climb the security fence in eastern Khan Yunis (Palinfo Twitter account, December 19, 2019).

Palestinian rioters climb the security fence in eastern Khan Yunis (Palinfo Twitter account, December 19, 2019).

Palestinians riot and throw stones at IDF soldiers in the eastern part of the al-Bureij refugee camp (Facebook page of Abu Wattan, December 28, 2018).

Palestinians riot and throw stones at IDF soldiers in the eastern part of the al-Bureij refugee camp (Facebook page of Abu Wattan, December 28, 2018).

Palestinians riot and throw stones at IDF soldiers in the eastern part of the al-Bureij refugee camp (Facebook page of Abu Wattan, December 28, 2018).

Palestinians riot and throw stones at IDF soldiers in the eastern part of the al-Bureij refugee camp (Facebook page of Abu Wattan, December 28, 2018).

  • On December 27, 2019, the return march was held in the Gaza Strip in a limited format, mainly because of the rainy weather. About 2,700 Palestinians participated. Several dozen rioters threw stones and Molotov cocktails, and climbed on the security fence.
  • The Supreme National Authority of the Great Return March issued its program for the return marches of 2020. The next one will be held on March 30, 2020 (Land Day and the second anniversary of the return marches). After that they will be held once a month or on “days of national importance.” However, the Authority will monitor developments on the ground and decide whether the program should be changed.
  • The Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) held a meeting of its political bureau, after which it announced it would continue its policy of exerting pressure on Israel to force it to lift the “siege” of the Gaza Strip. The PIJ announcement also called for an escalation of terrorist attacks in Judea and Samaria. In ITIC assessment, the announcement indicates the PIJ has its own agenda which is not necessarily coordinated with that of Hamas.
  • Israeli Defense Minister Naftali Bennet instructed that the lands of the Israeli settlers in the West Bank not be registered with the Israeli Civil Administration in the territories but rather with the land registry of the Israeli Ministry of Justice. His decision led to a wave of condemnation from Palestinians, who saw it as an Israeli attempt to annex parts of Area C (which is under Israeli civil and security control) and as a challenge to the International Criminal Court (ICC). Another Israeli decision to cut 149 million shekels (about $43 million) from the tax revenues Israel collects for the Palestinian Authority (PA) was also condemned by senior PA figures. Hussein al-Sheikh, the Palestinian minister for civil affairs, said the PA would continue paying the salaries of the families of the shaheeds and wounded.
The return march of December 27, 2019
  • On December 27, 2019, the return march was held in the Gaza Strip with the theme, “The blood of the shaheeds shows us the way to freedom.” The events were held in a limited format, mainly because of the rainy weather. About 2,700 Palestinians participated. An “exclusive source” reported that because of the weather there were suggestions to cancel the march, but it in the end it was held on the grounds that it was one of the last marches. The events were held at four of the usual sites, without the one east of the al-Bureij refugee camp (Amad, December 27, 2019).
  • Despite the cancellation of the official events at the site, dozens of Palestinians gathered there and threw stones at IDF forces (Facebook page of Abu Wattan, December 28, 2019). According to reports, 39 Palestinians were injured (website of the legal and international relations committee of the Supreme National Authority, December 27, 2019; website of the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, December 27, 2019).
  •  Unlike previous weeks, the Supreme National Authority did not issue an announcement about the next week’s march. At the end of the events on December 27, 2019, a press conference was held where Palestinians were called on to participate in the events of the march to be held on March 30, 2019, the first for 2020 (al-Aqsa, December 27, 2019). Isma’il Radwan, senior Hamas figure and a member of the Supreme National Authority, said the “resistance” would continue the marches until they achieved their goals. He stressed that so far the marches had achieved many goals, including renewed recognition of the Palestinian cause and putting the issue of lifting the “siege” of the Gaza Strip on the political agenda (al-Aqsa, December 27, 2019).

Isma'il Radwan interviewed at the return camp in eastern Khan Yunis (al-Aqsa TV's Twitter account, December 27, 2019).
Isma’il Radwan interviewed at the return camp in eastern Khan Yunis
(al-Aqsa TV’s Twitter account, December 27, 2019).

Program for the return marches of 2020
  • The Supreme National Authority held a press conference where it issued its program for the return marches of 2020. According to the program, the next march will be held on March 30, 2020 (Land Day and the second anniversary of the return marches). After that they will be held once a month or on “days of national importance” (Nakba Day, Land Day, Prisoners Day, Jerusalem Day, etc.). The time between now and March 30, 2020 will be used for preparations (al-Aqsa, December 26, 2019).[1]

Supreme National Authority of the Great Return March press conference (al-Jazeera YouTube channel, December 26, 2019).
Supreme National Authority of the Great Return March press conference
(al-Jazeera YouTube channel, December 26, 2019).

  • Khader Habib, senior PIJ figure and Supreme National Authority member, said that holding the marches once a month may give them new momentum. He said the “natural situation” would be to hold them once a month. However, the Supreme National Authority will monitor developments on the ground and determine accordingly if and when to hold them. He rejected the claim that the decision had been made following pressure from Egypt for a lull between Israel and Hamas (al-Aqsa, December 26, 2019). Senior PIJ figure Ahmed al-Mudallal said that the return marches would be renewed on March 30, 2020 (Sawa, December 29, 2019).
  • Fatah criticized the change in the return march format claiming it signified surrender to Israel and the United States. Majed al-Fatani, secretary of Fatah’s Revolutionary Council, called on the organizations not to heed Hamas’s call and to continue holding the marches [every week] (Sawa, December 29, 2019).
Arrangement with Hamas
  • According to an al-Quds article quoting “knowledgeable Palestinian sources,” following the suspension of the return marches Israel decided to implement certain measures in the coming days to ease the economic situation in the Gaza Strip. According to the sources, Israel confirmed the entrance into the Gaza Strip of tires, fishing equipment, fiberglass and barbed wire. In addition, in the near future the amount of agricultural products exported from the Gaza Strip will be increased.
  • Fayiz Abu Shamalah, a Hamas-affiliated political commentator from Khan Yunis, used his Twitter account to call on Hamas not to waste the opportunity for a lull with Israel. He called on the Hamas leadership to have more self-confidence and be more daring, because the opportunity for a lull serves the needs of the residents of the Gaza Strip and the Palestinian cause in general (Twitter account of Fayiz Abu Shamalah, December 29, 2019). On the other hand, he wrote an article in which he said that for Hamas the lull did not mean giving up the weapon of “resistance,” but rather it would be a temporary lull during which the quality of life of the Gazans would be improved. Moreover, he said, a lull would not prevent Hamas from making preparations for the next round [of fighting] (Palestine Online, December 30, 2019).
Rocket and mortar shell fire into Israel
  • On December 25, 2019, a rocket was fired at the southern Israeli coastal city of Ashqelon from the northern Gaza Strip. It was intercepted by the Iron Dome aerial defense system. No casualties or damage were reported. The rocket was launched at a time when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was in the city giving a campaign speech. No organization claimed responsibility for the rocket fire.[2]
  • In response to the rocket fire IDF aircraft attacked Hamas targets in the Gaza Strip, including military compounds (IDF spokesman, December 26, 2019). The Palestinian media reported an attack on a “resistance” observation post north of Beit Lahia, an attack on the “Ashqelon post” west of Beit Lahia (Shehab, December 25, 2019), a “resistance” post west of Khan Yunis (Dunia al-Watan Twitter account, December 25, 2019) and the “Bader post” north of Gaza City (Dunia al-Watan, December 25, 2019).
  • In response to the IDF attacks Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said Israel was responsible for what he called “continuing the escalation against the residents of the Gaza Strip by attacking ‘resistance’ posts.” He said the attacks reflected the depth of Israel’s crises and [so-called] “frustration” in view of its failure to cope with the “news rules [of engagement]” imposed the Izz al-Din Qassam Brigades [Hamas’ military-terrorist wing]. He added that Hamas and the other organizations would continue to defend the Palestinian people and would not accept Israel’s “equations” (Ma’an, Shehab, December 26, 2019). He did not mention the rocket fire which prompted Israel’s response.
Monthly Distribution of Rocket and Mortar Shell Fire since January 2018

Monthly Distribution of Rocket and Mortar Shell Fire since January 2018

Annual Distribution of Rocket Hits

Annual Distribution of Rocket Hits

  • In Judea and Samaria Palestinians continued throwing stones and Molotov cocktails at Israeli security forces and civilian targets (primarily vehicles). The more prominent events were the following:
    • December 30, 2019 – Stones were thrown at an Israeli vehicle on the road between Azoun and Ma’aleh Shomron (east of Qalqilya). No casualties were reported. The vehicle was damaged (Rescue Without Borders in Judea and Samaria, December 30, 2019).
    • December 29, 2019 – On the night of December 29, 2019, Israeli security forces secured the entrance of 250 Israelis for the lighting of Hanukkah candles in the Halhul area (near Hebron). A riot developed and a number of Palestinians threw stones and Molotov cocktails. No casualties or damage were reported (IDF spokesman, December 30, 2019).
    • December 26, 2019 – Stones were thrown at an Israeli minibus on the Gush Etzion-Hebron road near Bayt Umar. No casualties were reported. The front windshield of the minibus was damaged (Rescue Without Borders in Judea and Samaria, December 26, 2019).
Significant terrorist attacks in Judea and Samaria since September 2017[3]

Significant terrorist attacks in Judea and Samaria since September 2017

The travels of Isma’il Haniyeh
  • Isma’il Haniyeh, head of Hamas’ political bureau, is still in Qatar. According to a newspaper report, Hamas asked the Lebanese authorities to allow Isma’il Haniyeh to visit Lebanon and meet with Palestinians and senior Lebanese officials, but the Lebanese authorities have not yet given their response. A source quoted in the article said that Lebanon tried to evade giving a response. Their reason was that given the country’s shaky political and security situation, the visit could not be held. A source close to Haniyeh said that while in Lebanon Haniyeh had planned to meet with Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah and senior Lebanese officials (Lebanon 24, December 29, 2019).

Isma'il Haniyeh at the Friday prayer in Doha, Qatar (Filastin al-A'an, December 27, 2019).
Isma’il Haniyeh at the Friday prayer in Doha, Qatar
(Filastin al-A’an, December 27, 2019).

Announcement from the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ)
  • On December 13, 2019, the PIJ held a meeting of its political bureau, chaired by organization leader Ziyad al-Nakhalah. After the second session an announcement was issued stating that the PIJ would continue its policy of exerting pressure on Israel to force it to lift the [so-called] “siege” on the Gaza Strip. The announcement also called for the escalation of “resistance” activity [i.e., terrorist activity] in the West Bank against the settlers and the annexation of lands. Also stressed was the need to strengthen the ties with “resistance” groups in the West Bank and Lebanon, and in every Arab-Muslim country willing to participate in the campaign against Israel (Filastin al-Yawm, al-Quds, December 28, 2019).
PIJ activity outside the Gaza Strip
  • A number of senior PIJ figures are currently in Lebanon, among them Khaled al-Batash, who is chairman of the Supreme National Authority of the Great Return March. They met with Sunni figures in Lebanon, accompanied by Ihsan Attaya, PIJ representative in Lebanon, who is also on the board of trustees of the “Arab-Islamic union for support of the option of resistance” (Facebook page of Ihsan Attaya, December 25, 2019; Arab-Islamic union website, December 25, 2019). Khaled al-Batash also paid a visit to Syria, where he met with Ahmed Jibril, leader of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Headquarters (PFLP-GC) (Facebook page of Jibril’s son, Khaled Ahmed Jibril, December 28, 2019).

The al-Batash-Jibril meeting. In the upper picture, left to right: Ahmed Jibril, his son Khaled Ahmed Jibril, Isma'il al-Sandawi (Abu Muhajed) (PIJ figure responsible for the Syrian arena, Khaled al-Batash (Facebook page of Khaled Ahmed Jibril, December 28, 2019).
The al-Batash-Jibril meeting. In the upper picture, left to right: Ahmed Jibril, his son Khaled Ahmed Jibril, Isma’il al-Sandawi (Abu Muhajed) (PIJ figure responsible for the Syrian arena, Khaled al-Batash (Facebook page of Khaled Ahmed Jibril, December 28, 2019).

Salafists in the Gaza Strip harass Christians
  • On the eve of the Christmas holidays the da’wah department of the Ibn Baz charitable association (a Salafist group in the Gaza Strip) visited the flower and gift shops in Gaza City. Their objective was to make it clear to the owners that selling Christmas trees, clothing and presents is against Islam (Facebook page of the Ibn Baz association, December 17, 2019). The Salafist activists took down decorations and removed Christmas trees and presents from the streets and stores (copts-united.com website, December 19, 2019; Amad, December 20, 2019). Sheikh Husam al-Jazar, Ibn Baz deputy chairman, issued a video in which he said that the Christian religious holidays were heretic. He said it was out of the question that Muslims participate in them in any way, whether by wishing someone a Merry Christmas or by selling or buying [Christmas items] (Palsawa, December 20, 2019).
Campaign against Christmas decorations (Facebook page of the Ibn Baz Association, December 17, 2019).    Campaign against Christmas decorations (Facebook page of the Ibn Baz Association, December 17, 2019).
Campaign against Christmas decorations
(Facebook page of the Ibn Baz Association, December 17, 2019).
PA activity regarding the International Criminal Court (ICC)
  • Following the decision of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, the PA began intensive activity to present material to the Court. Saeb Erekat, secretary of the PLO’s Executive Committee, said the national committee for ICC matters would hold an emergency meeting in the near future to determine its lines of activity until the court issued its decision about beginning the process [of investigating Israel] (Dunia al-Watan, December 24, 2019). Hasan Shabana, head of the legal committee of the Palestinian National Committee, said they had decided to appoint a special legal committee whose members would include the minister of justice and Mahmoud Abbas’ legal advisors, who would supervise the work of the committee in its dealings with the ICC (Dunia al-Watan, December 24, 2019).
  • Qadri Abu Bakr, chairman of the authority for prisoners and released prisoners’ affairs, said that Mahmoud Abbas had asked for a file to be prepared urgently which would include the names of the sick prisoners in Israeli jails. The file will be presented to the ICC. He said that for a long time the authority for prisoners’ affairs had been compiling files about sick prisoners and what he called “Israel’s [alleged] deliberate neglect” of them. A file has also been prepared regarding Israel’s cutting of tax revenues on the claim the money is used to pay the salaries of prisoners and families of shaheeds (Wafa, December 30, 2018).
Supply of electricity for the PA
  • Hashem al-Am’ari, director of the Jerusalem district electric company, said they had reached an arrangement with the banks for paying the company’s debts to Israel. The banks will pay the PA’s debt of 670 million shekels (about $194 million) over a period of seven years. He said the arrangement would be signed in the coming days (Wafa, December 28, 2018). At the weekly PA government meeting PA Prime Minister Muhammad Shtayyeh praised the arrangement (Palestinian TV, December 30, 2018).
  • In the meantime, Zafer Milhem, chairman of the energy and national resources authority in the PA, reported that within two days an agreement would be signed with his Jordanian counterpart for the purchase of energy from Jordan. The agreement will take effect seven months after it is ratified. He said that today the PA received 36 megawatts from Jordan transmitted through the Jerusalem and Jericho districts. He said the amount would increase to 80 megawatts during the first period and later to 160 megawatts. He said that importing electricity from Jordan would lead to an economic separation from Israel in the field of energy and provide the PA with a variety sources of electricity (Wafa, December 29, 2019).
Elections in the PA
  • The delays in setting a date for PA elections continue. The main obstacle is the issue of holding the elections in Jerusalem. Senior PA and Hamas figures are determined that no elections will be held unless they are held in Jerusalem as well. Some statements on the matter were the following:
  • Mahmoud Abbas, speaking at a meeting of Fatah’s advisory council, said that the elections were the most import issue currently facing the Palestinian people and that they had to be held as soon as possible. He stressed that no elections would be held without Jerusalem. He also said that a presidential edict on the issue of elections would only be issued when agreement had been received ensuring that the residents of Jerusalem would be included in the voting (Wafa, December 29, 2019).
  • Nabil Abu Rudeineh, spokesman for Mahmoud Abbas, stressed the position of Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian leadership, which was that no elections would be held without Jerusalem. He said the call to hold elections without holding them in Jerusalem was an attempt to ignore one of the most important Palestinian principles and consistent with Israel’s attempts to Judaize Jerusalem (Wafa, December 26, 2019).
  • Hamas also rejected holding elections without Jerusalem. Salah al-Bardawil, a member of the Hamas’ political bureau, held a press meeting where he said that not holding elections in Jerusalem was a red line and that the elections in Jerusalem should be turned into a political, media and popular struggle against Israel (“the occupation”). Hamas called on the PA’s Central Elections Commission to agree on a “national action plan” to turn the elections in Jerusalem into a popular political and media campaign (al-Aqsa, December 25, 2019).
Subjecting Palestinian land registration to the Israeli Ministry of Justice
  • Israeli Defense Minister Naftali Bennet recently conducted a series of deliberations with experts to change the procedure of registering land in Judea and Samaria which until now had been the responsibility of the civil administration. He ordered a change in the work of the officer for land affairs in the civil administration and a change in the procedure for registering lands which were under the jurisdiction of the civil administration. According to the new instructions the land of the Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria will be registered in the Israeli ministry of justice (Israeli media, Facebook page of Naftali Bennet, December 27, 2019).
  • The decision led to a wave of condemnation from Palestinians, who view it as another Israeli measure to annex territory and as a clear violation of UN Security Council Resolution 2334.[4] Mahmoud Abbas’ office warned of the “Israeli expansionist trends” and expressed opposition and condemnation. According to the announcement an attempt is being made to annex parts of Area C. In addition, it challenges the ruling of the ICC, which has begun steps to investigate what the Palestinians allege are Israel’s “war crimes” (Wafa, December 28, 2019). Mahmoud Abbas, speaking at a meeting of Fatah’s advisory council, said the decision of the Israeli’s defense minister is one of the most dangerous decisions made by Israel (Wafa, December 29, 2019).
  • The PA’s foreign ministry issued a protest and said Israel would bear full responsibility for the consequences of the decision. The foreign ministry said the objective of the decision is to annex extensive areas of the West Bank to Israel. In addition, with the decision Bennet ensures a classification for himself as a “war criminal” at the ICC in The Hague (Wafa, December 27, 2019). Saeb Erekat, secretary of the PLO’s Executive Committee, said Israel’s measure would be brought before the ICC (al-Hayat al-Jadeeda, December 28, 2019).
Decision of the political-security cabinet regarding the issue of tax revenue (“clearance funds”)
  • On December 29, 2019, Israel’s political-security cabinet decided to cut 149 millions shekels (about $43 million) from the tax revenues (“clearance funds”) Israel collects for the PA. The sum, according to the calculation of Israeli security, is what the PA pays every year to the families of Palestinians who were killed or injured while carrying out terrorist activities. The last time Israel cut the PA’s tax revenues the PA refused to accept the rest of the money and found itself in the middle of an economic crisis.
  • The PA responded to Israel’s decision with rage:
  • Mahmoud Abbas, speaking at a meeting of Fatah’s Revolutionary Council, expressed “amazement” at Israel’s holding back funds from the PA which it was entitled to while at the same time holding talks about understandings for a lull in the Gaza Strip (Wafa, December 29, 2019). Meeting with Fadua al-Barghouti, a member of Fatah’s revolution council and the wife of prisoner Marwan Barghouti, Mahmoud Abbas again stressed that the issue of payments to the families of Palestinian shaheeds and wounded was a red line and that the PA would not allow their salaries to be cut (Wafa, December 30, 2019).

Mahmoud Abbas meets with Fadua al-Barghouti (Wafa, December 30, 2019)
Mahmoud Abbas meets with Fadua al-Barghouti
(Wafa, December 30, 2019)

  • Taysir Khaled, a member of the PLO’s Executive Committee, condemned the decision of the Israeli cabinet, claiming that Israel “is a thief with no limits” in its conduct with the tax revenues it collects for Palestinian goods.
  • Saleh Rafat, a member of the PLO’s Executive Committee, said the decision was more proof of the crimes of the Israeli government against the Palestinian people (Sawa, December 29, 2019).
  • Hussein al-Sheikh, PA minister of civilian affairs, said Israel’s decision was part of Israel’s “financial blockage” of the PA. He said the Palestinian leadership was examining steps to take to respond to the Israeli decision. He stressed that the PA would continue to pay the salaries to the families of Israeli Arabs who receive allotments from the PA (Twitter account of Hussein al-Sheikh, December 30, 2018).

Twitter response of Hussein al-Sheikh, December 30, 2019

Twitter response of Hussein al-Sheikh, December 30, 2019

Order to confiscate the funds and assets of the families of Israeli Arabs who receive allotments from the PA
  •  On December 25, 2019, Israeli Defense Minister Naftali Bennet signed an order for the confiscation of the funds and assets of the families of Israeli Arabs who receive allotments from the PA (Facebook page of Israeli Defense Minister Naftali Bennet, December 25, 2019).

Confiscation order signed by Israeli Defense Minister Bennet (Facebook page of Israeli Defense Minister Naftali Bennet, December 25, 2019).
Confiscation order signed by Israeli Defense Minister Bennet
(Facebook page of Israeli Defense Minister Naftali Bennet, December 25, 2019).

  • Qadri Abu Bakr, chairman of the authority for prisoners and released prisoners’ affairs, who called the decision “theft and robbery,” said the salaries of the Palestinian prisoners would be paid regardless of where they lived. He said the purpose of the allotments was to support families and they had no intention of neglecting their duty (Facebook page of the authority for prisoners and released prisoners’ affairs, December 25, 2019).

[1] For further information, see the December 22, 2019 bulletin, "The return marches: towards a new format?"
[2] For further information, see the December 26, 2019, bulletin, "Sporadic rocket fire from the Gaza Strip into Israeli territory continues."

[3] A significant attack is defined by the ITIC as involving shooting, a vehicular attack, the use of IEDs, or a combination of the above. Stones and Molotov cocktails thrown by Palestinians are not included.

[4] According to UN Security Council Resolution 2334, which was adopted on December 23, 2016, the Israeli settlements in territories occupied in 1967 in the West Bank and east Jerusalem ("the occupied Palestinian territories") "have no legal validity."