Mahmoud Abbas' opening speech at the Seventh Fatah Conference in Ramallah, where he reconfirmed the strategy of the so-called "popular resistance" (Wafa, November 30, 2016).
The scene of the shooting attack in the community of Halamish, northwest of Ramallah, where three family members were killed by a Palestinian terrorist in revenge for "the desecration of al-Aqsa mosque" (Twitter account of alresala.net, July 21, 2017; Al-Fajar channel, July 22, 2017)
Pictures from the scene of the shooting attack in Har Adar. Three operatives of the Israeli security forces were killed (Palinfo Twitter account, September 26, 2017).
Incitement for stabbing attacks on October 4, 2015, with the outbreak of the wave of popular terrorism (Twitter account of Fatah's bureau of mobilization and organization, October 4, 2015).
- On September 26, 2017, about two years after the outbreak of the wave of popular terrorism (early October, 2015), there was a shooting attack in the community of Har Adar (northwest of Jerusalem). It was a terrorist attack carried out as part of the strategy the Palestinians call “popular resistance.” The Palestinian Authority (PA) and Fatah adopted the strategy of “popular resistance” eight years ago at the Sixth Fatah Conference. It was reconfirmed at the Seventh Fatah Conference, held in Ramallah between November 29 and December 4, 2016, and receives political, media, propaganda and financial support from the PA and Fatah.
- There have been significant changes in the scope of popular terrorism during the past two years, occurring in two stages: during the first stage (October 2015 – March 2016) dozens of significant terrorist attacks were carried out in Judea, Samaria, Jerusalem and the heart of Israel every month. The first wave of terrorism decreased after half a year. During the second stage the number of attacks “stabilized” and significant attacks decreased to between five and 13 a month. The total number of significant terrorist attacks carried out during the past two years currently stands at 342.
- Mahmoud Abbas has repeatedly claimed that the so-called “popular resistance” [i.e., popular terrorism] is non-violent. Speaking before the UN General Assembly, he recently claimed that he rejects all forms of violence, and that the Palestinian’s struggle is “political.” However, representing the “popular resistance” as “peaceful” is incorrect, because in reality it is characterized by extreme violence towards Israeli civilians and the Israeli security forces. During the past two years popular terrorism has killed 59 Israelis. During the past eight years, since the PA and Fatah adopted the strategy of “popular resistance,” 109 Israelis have been killed, most of them civilians.
- The ITIC is of the opinion that popular terrorism (i.e., the “popular resistance”) and the intense incitement accompanying it are obstacles to peace. They increase the Palestinian public’s hatred for Israel, foster the Palestinians’ delusion that by using force they will make Israel restore the “Palestinians’ rights,” and encourage the Palestinians to adhere to their extremist demands (including the so-called “right of return” of the Palestinian refugees). At the same time, Palestinian popular terrorism and incitement deepen the hostility of the Israeli public towards the Palestinians, and make the Israeli leadership deeply distrustful of Palestinian intentions. In the future as well, popular terrorism has the potential to undermine any peace process agreed on by Israel and the Palestinian leadership, as happened during the 1990s after the Oslo Accords. For that reason, the ITIC is of the opinion that ending the violence and its accompanying incitement have to be a fundamental precondition for renewing Israeli–Palestinian negotiations.
Contents of the report
- This report contains the following sections:
- What is popular terrorism (the so-called “popular resistance”) and what are its objectives?
- Changes in the scope of popular terrorism during the past two years.
- Is the “popular resistance” non-violent, as Mahmoud Abbas claims?
- Can popular terrorist operatives be profiled?
- Palestinian Authority and Fatah support for popular terrorism.
What Is Popular Terrorism (the So-Called “Popular Resistance”) and What Are Its Objectives?
- The current types of terrorism and violence, and the virulent propaganda and incitement accompanying them, are the direct result of a strategic political decision made eight years ago at the Sixth Fatah Conference (August 2009). The Conference adopted a strategy of “popular resistance” (i.e., popular terrorism), which since then has been implemented on the ground by the PA and Fatah. The strategy was reconfirmed at the Seventh Fatah conference held in Ramallah (November 29 – December 4), where it was decided to support and reinforce the “popular resistance.”
- Popular terrorism is not independent from the other Palestinian strategies. It is integrated into the international political, media and legal campaign the PA is waging against Israel. As far as the PA and Fatah are concerned, violence is a legitimate tool with which the PA can keep its relations with Israel at a continual level of monitored, controlled tension according to the needs of its political campaign against Israel. The “popular resistance,” which is defined as non-violent, may be considered legitimate by the international community.
- At the same time, for the PA “popular resistance” presents an internal Palestinian alternative to Hamas’ “armed resistance,” which is acceptable to most of the Palestinian public. Hamas is trying to institute an “armed resistance” in Judea and Samaria (while maintaining quiet along the Israel-Gaza Strip border). In that respect, the PA’s security coordination with Israel (which was compromised, but not ended, by the Temple Mount crisis in the summer of 2017) serves the PA’s needs. Security coordination with Israel lets the PA prevent loss of control over popular terrorism and helps the PA keep Hamas from igniting an armed intifada in Judea and Samaria and undermining PA control.
- Most of the significant terrorist attacks carried out within the framework of popular terrorism were stabbing and vehicular attacks. Fatah and the PA consider cars and knives as cold weapons, and their use as legitimate in the “popular resistance.” The attacks are accompanied by the throwing of stones and Molotov cocktails, which are everyday occurrences and can be deadly (in a number of cases they caused the wounding and deaths of civilians and security forces).
- In addition to stabbing and vehicular attacks there are “military-type” attacks, mainly shooting attacks. They are carried out less frequently but are deadlier. That was evidenced by the attacks in the communities of Halamish, west of Ramallah (three members of a family shot to death) and Har Adar (three Israeli security forces’ operatives killed and a fourth critically wounded). While shooting attacks are carried out using hot weapons, and belong to the modus operandi of the armed resistance advocated by Hamas, the PA and Fatah do not condemn them (see below).
Changes in the Scope of Popular Terrorism during the Past Two Years
- At the beginning of October 2015 a wave of popular terrorism began, unprecedented in both scope and deadliness. It was motivated by violent clashes on the Temple Mount between Palestinians and Israeli security forces during the Jewish High Holidays (September 2015). One of the motivating factors was a wave of lies claiming that al-Aqsa mosque was “in danger.” The first person to die was Alexander Levlowitz, his death caused by stones thrown at his car in south Jerusalem (September 13, 2015).
- The wave of terrorist attacks began in the Old City of Jerusalem (stabbing attacks) and from their spread to the heart of Israel (Petah Tikva, Raanana, Qiryat Gat, Afula). They later spread throughout Judea and Samaria, especially the region around Hebron. At the same time, there were riots and violent clashes (the throwing of stones and Molotov cocktails) of varying intensity.
- During the past two years, there have been 342 significant terrorist attacks. An examination of the monthly distribution of the attacks clearly indicates that during the past two years there have been two distinct periods:
- The first period in the wave of popular terrorism (October 2015 – March 2016): The first period lasted for about half a year, during which dozens of significant terrorist attacks were carried out every month. The highest number was 59, during October 2015, after which the number declined (to 21 in March). During that period there were 203 significant terrorist attacks, 60% of all the popular terrorism attacks carried out in the past two years.
- The second period (April 2016 – beginning of October 2017): During the second period of popular terrorism there has been a lesser scope of terrorist attacks. The wave of terrorism has significantly decreased, but not disappeared, rather stabilizing at a much lower number (between five and 13 significant terrorist attacks a month). During this period, which is ongoing, there have been 139 significant terrorist attacks, about 40% of the total number carried out during the past two years.
Significant Terrorist Attacks in since October 2015
Is the “Popular Resistance” Non-Violent, as Mahmoud Abbas Claims?
- Mahmoud Abbas, PA chairman, has repeatedly claimed that that the “popular resistance” is peaceful (muqawama silmiya, “non-violent resistance”). For example, in October 2015, at the height of the wave of popular terrorism, he said, “We do not use violence and force, we believe in peace and popular resistance. It is our right and duty to continue as long as resistance continues…”
- Speaking at the UN General Assembly (September 2, 2017) Mahmoud Abbas claimed that the Palestinians reject all forms of violence. He warned Israel not to try to start “a [so-called] religious war,” saying “Our struggle is political and will remain political…” He claimed, “We are all making [efforts] in the struggle against the [terrorist] organizations. The Palestinians are against local, regional and international terrorism, whatever title it takes, whatever type it is and whatever its source is. We are against international terrorism and are working to fight it.” He added that even if the Security Council and the General Assembly do not succeed in forcing their stance on Israel, including the issues of the annexation of east Jerusalem, “We will definitely not turn to terrorism, not turn to terrorism and violence…” (Wafa, September 20, 2017).
- Does the PA genuinely reject all forms of terrorism? Is popular terrorism (the “popular resistance”) peaceful and non-violent? Popular terrorism, which the PA supports, includes shooting, stabbing and vehicular attacks in addition to the throwing of stones and Molotov cocktails, which under no circumstances can be defined as a peaceful, non-violent “popular resistance.” Since the beginning of the wave of popular terrorism that began in October 2015, 59 Israelis have been killed. To them can be added 50 others killed since the decision to employ “popular resistance” was made at the Sixth Fatah Conference (August 2009), that is 109 Israelis killed during the eight years of popular terrorism. Most of them were civilians, and some belonged to the Israeli security forces.
Can Popular Terrorist Operatives Be Profiled?
- On September 26, 2017, a Palestinian terrorist operative carried out a shooting attack (using a handgun at close range) near the community of Har Adar, northwest of Jerusalem. He killed three Israelis and critically wounded a fourth. He was Nimr Mahmoud Ahmed Jamal, from Beit Surik, located to the east of Har Adar. He worked in Har Adar and knew some of the local residents.
- The terrorist was not young (37 years old), he was the father of four children, and had no past security record. He apparently carried out the attack on his own initiative, without the involvement of the established terrorist organizations, although he may have had help from local supporters. He had a legal permit to work in the communities in Judea and Samaria, and the border region. He had a history of severe domestic violence (his wife had left him and gone to Jordan a few weeks before the attack; the four children stayed with him).
- His profile is inconsistent with the standard profile of most of the terrorists who have carried out popular terrorism attacks since October 2015, especially regarding his age. Examinations carried out by the ITIC of Palestinians who carried out attacks during the wave of popular terrorism showed that most of them were young, some of them as young as school children and university students. Some of them were unemployed or working at jobs unsuited to their talents, with no past record of involvement in terrorist attacks or previous affiliation with one of the terrorist organizations. Moreover, the terrorist who carried out the attack at Har Adar had a work permit for Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria, or near the Israeli border, while terrorists who carried out attacks inside Israel were staying in the country illegally.
- However not all the Palestinians who carried out popular terrorism attacks have been young. There have been exceptional cases of thirty-year-old terrorists and older, fathers and mothers and even a grandmother. For example, on August 22, 2017, a 30-year-old Palestinian woman, mother of four, carried out an attempted attack near the Nablus Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem. An extreme example of an older terrorist was Tharwat Salman al-Sh’arawi, 72 years old and mother of five, who on November 6, 2015, tried to run over IDF soldiers under the Halhul bridge (north of Hebron).
Right: Palestinian terrorist Tharwat Ibrahim Salman al-Sh’arawi (Twitter, November 6, 2015). Left: The death notice issued for Tharwat al-Sh’arawi by Hamas(Facebook page of the Islamic Movement in Nablus, November 6, 2016)
- However, in other aspects the Palestinian who carried out the shooting attack at Har Adar does resemble other terrorists who carried out popular terrorism attacks. He was not affiliated with one of the established terrorist organizations (Hamas or any other organization), and was not motivated by a systematically indoctrinated national or religious anti-Israel ideology, but rather by personal motives. The great weight of personal motivation was characteristic of many Palestinians who carried out popular terrorism attacks in the past. Motivation included domestic problems, personal frustrations linked to unemployment or not finding suitable work, gender deprivation of women and the desire to escape the problems of daily life by becoming a shaheed and going to paradise, and the incentive of financial rewards from the PA.
Palestinian Authority and Fatah Support for Popular Terrorism
The battle for hearts and minds
- The following are some the aspects of PA and Fatah support for popular terrorism in the battle for hearts and minds:
- Aspect 1 – Avoiding condemning terrorist attacks against Israel: The PA claims (including at the UN) that the “popular resistance” is non-violent, and it generally does not condemn deadly attacks against Israel. It does not condemn them even when they are carried out inside Israel, or kill Israeli civilians, or are military-type attacks and clearly not “popular resistance” attacks. Generally speaking, Mahmoud Abbas does not condemn terrorist attacks against Israel except in extraordinary instances when he sees himself as obligated, mainly to divert pressure from the United States. Even then, his statements are half-hearted, and the condemnation is mixed with accusations against Israel.
- For example:
- After the shooting attacks in the Temple Mount compound on July 14, 2017 (three Israelis killed) Mahmoud Abbas did condemn the attack. In a phone call to the prime minister of Israel he said he rejected violent resistance, especially in places of worship. However, in the same breath he condemned Israel’s closing the Temple Mount to Muslims who wanted to pray [which had been done out of security considerations] and demanded the Temple Mount be reopened (Wafa, July 14, 2017).
- Nabil Abu Rudeina, speaking for Mahmoud Abbas’ office, condemned the shooting attack at Har Adar. However, he did so three days after the attack, and it was Nabil Abu Rudeina, not Mahmoud Abbas, who made the statement. It was half-hearted and mixed with condemnation of Israel. He said “the position of Chairman Abbas is to condemn acts of violence, including this one [i.e., Har Adar], and to condemn acts of violence [regardless] of their source (Ma’an and Dunia al-Watan September 29, 2017).
- Aspect 2 – Strong incitement on Fatah’s social media and sometimes even direct calls for terrorist attacks: On Fatah’s social media incitement to violence and terrorism is more blunt and direct than in the Palestinian establishment media. Along with Hamas’ social media incitement, it contributes to a public atmosphere encouraging terrorism and violence. As opposed to Fatah and Hamas, the PA does not explicitly call for the killing of Israelis, at least not through its traditional media (the press, radio and television).
- Aspect 3 – Praise in the Palestinian media, also PA-affiliated media, for popular terrorism attacks and those who carry them out, while defaming Israel:
- The Palestinian media, including those affiliated with the PA, publish praise for the terrorists who carry out attacks. After the shooting attack in Har Adar, Fatah’s official Facebook page posted a picture of the Nimr al-Jamal. Facebook surfers responded with encouragement for the terrorist with remarks like, “Glory to the shaheeds,” “May Allah have mercy on him,” and “May he rest in paradise” (official Fatah Facebook page, September 26, 2017).
- The Palestinian media consistently publishes the false claim that Israel “executes” innocent Palestinians who have done nothing. The PA and Fatah customarily accuse Israel of responsibility for the deaths of Palestinians who carry out popular terrorism attacks while completely ignoring the link between the cause (the attack) and the result (the death of the attacker.)
- For example, after the deadly shooting attack in Har Adar (where three Israelis were killed), Munir al-Jaghoub, head of Fatah’s information bureau, accused Israel of responsibility for the attack. He claimed Israel was exclusively responsible for the Palestinians’ reaction to Israel’s activities and the force it used against the Palestinian people (Facebook page of PMDSN, September 26, 2017). In addition, the Palestinian media often provides a stage for the false claims of the families of terrorists killed in attacks (such as representing a vehicular attack as a traffic accident).
- Aspect 4 – Public praise for popular terrorism from senior Fatah activists: Senior Fatah figures publicly praise the “popular resistance,” its violence and its terrorists. Prominent among them are Sultan Abu al-Einein and Jibril Rajoub, who, at the height of the wave of popular terrorism in October 2015, praised the attacks and the terrorists who carried them out, supporting and giving an impetus to the wave of popular terrorism.
- Aspect 5 – Participation of senior PA and Fatah figures in funerals held for terrorists killed during popular terrorism attacks: Senior PA and Fatah figures attend the funerals held for Palestinian terrorists and visit their families, clearly sending a message of PA and Fatah support. Governmental-style funerals were held for some of the terrorist, the coffins borne on the shoulders of operatives in the Palestinian security forces.
- Aspect 6 – Fostering the shaheed cult:
- The PA and Fatah foster a cult of shaheeds killed during the decades of Palestinian terrorism. Preserving their memories and systematically turning them into role models is a permanent phenomenon in Palestinian society and politics, including during the era of popular terrorism. Fostering their memories is also carried out in schools and expressed in the formal and informal education of the younger generation. Thus the shaheeds become role models for the younger generation, the hard core of the perpetrators of popular terrorism.
- A striking example of the PA and Fatah’s shaheed cult is Dalal al-Mughrabi. She was a Fatah terrorist operative who participated in the 1978 Coastal Road Massacre, in which 35 Israelis were killed and 71 wounded; 12 of the victims were children. In the intervening years she has become a national Palestinian heroine and every year memorial ceremonies are held in her honor, attended by PA and Fatah representatives.
- On May 15, 2017, a women’s and youth center was inaugurated in the Palestinian village of Burqa (northwest of Nablus) built with donations from the governments of Norway, Switzerland, Sweden and Holland. The center was named for Palestinian shaheeda Dalal al-Mughrabi. At the inaugural ceremony a member of the village council said the center would focus on the history of the struggle of the shaheed Dalal al-Mughrabi and on presenting her [“heritage”] to youth groups (Ma’an, May 15, 2017). The European governments that funded the project announced on August 21, 2017, that they would end their funding and investigate the use made of money given to WATC, a women’s anti-Israel organization which supported the establishment of the center in Burqa.
- Aspect 7 – Fostering hatred for Israel in the Palestinian media:
- The Palestinian media, including those affiliated with the PA and Fatah, are rife with hatred for Israel that fuels popular terrorism. Anti-Israel propaganda and incitement include the demonization of Israel and accusing it of all the woes and evils of the Palestinians, Arab society and the Middle East.
- Beyond the ongoing incitement, hatred for Israel is a function of the Palestinian ethos accompany the Palestinian national movement and educating the younger generations, past and present. Its main components are insistence on the so-called “right of return” of the Palestinian refugees to their houses in Israel, refusal to recognize the Jews as a people, and denial of the Jews’ historical links to the Land of Israel (including the Western Wall). The ethos has led to a culture of hatred for the State of Israel and the Jewish people, and stands in complete contradiction to the claims made by Mahmoud Abbas that the Palestinians educate their children on a “culture of peace.”
- The ethos of hatred is a recurrent theme in Palestinian textbooks and in both the formal and informal educational systems. The Palestinian media fosters the ethos and often inflames hatred for Israel. UNRWA, which operates schools in the refugee camps, considers itself committed to using textbooks printed in the PA, which reflect the Palestinian ethos of hatred for Israel. Hamas’ extremist Islamic ideology and its concept of an armed struggle against Israel also find a voice in the educational system in the Gaza Strip. UNRWA’s attempts to moderate some of the material in Palestinian textbooks were undermined by the ministries of education of both the PA and Hamas. It can be assumed that even if Hamas transfers the department of education in the Gaza Strip to the Palestinian national consensus government, there will be no significant change in the formal and informal education in schools in the Gaza Strip.
- According to data from the Palestinian ministry of the treasury, in 2016, at the height of popular terrorism, 1.15 billion shekels (more than $327 million) went to support popular terrorism. That was 6.9% of the entire PA budget and 29.6% of the funds the PA received as foreign aid. The PA anchored those payments in a series of laws and governmental decrees. In May 2014 the PA transferred the payments from the ministry of prisoners’ affairs to the PLO’s committee for prisoners’ affairs. That was done to reduce the pressure exerted on the PA and to mislead the donor countries, which had complained that their foreign aid was being used to fund terrorism.
- In the Palestinian-American diplomatic relations held after Donald Trump was elected, the Americans originally assumed that the PA leadership had changed its policy and was planning to stop payments to Palestinians imprisoned for murder or other violent actions. However, it quickly became clear to the Americans that they had been mistaken, and that Mahmoud Abbas and the PA strongly objected to stopping the payments.
- The issue of PA payments to terrorists was raised again by Jason Greenblatt, special envoy to the Middle East, and senior presidential advisor Jared Kushner, at a meeting with Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah (June 21, 2017). Mahmoud Abbas rejected the demand to stop the payments, claiming it was an internal Palestinian matter with societal aspects. Issa Qaraqe, chairman of the PA commission of prisoners’ and ex-prisoners’ affairs, claimed that payments to the prisoners and the families of the shaheeds and wounded Palestinians was a commitment and anchored in Palestinian law.
Mahmoud Abbas (center) meets with Jared Kushner, senior advisor to the American president, in his office in Ramallah. On the right are Saeb Erekat, secretary of the PLO’s Executive Committee; and Majid Faraj, head of Palestinian general intelligence. At the left are Jason Greenblatt, special presidential American envoy to the Middle East; and Donald Bloom, the American consul in Jerusalem (Wafa, June 21, 2017).
- A recent reference to the issue was made by Husam Zomlot, PLO representative in Washington, during a speech at the annual of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC). He said Congress had proposed a bill to cut the foreign aid budget for the Palestinians as a means of exerting pressure on the PA to stop supporting the families of prisoners and shaheeds. He stressed that Congress had sent a message to the Palestinian leadership that it had to stop supporting for the families of shaheeds. Zomlot said the commitment of the Palestinian leadership to the families of prisoners and shaheeds was above any other consideration, and that the PA would not cut their funds (Ma’an, September 26, 2017).
 The ITIC defines the following as significant attacks: stabbing stacks, vehicular attacks, shooting attacks, IED attacks, or a combination of the above. Such attacks are accompanied by the routine throwing of stones and Molotov cocktails, as well as clashes with IDF and Israeli security forces, and riots. ↑
 For further information see the December 12, 2016 bulletin, "The 7th Fatah Movement Conference Again Legitimizes Popular Terrorism (The So-Called 'Peaceful Popular Resistance) ↑
 A significant attack is defined by the ITIC as involving shooting, stabbing, a vehicular attack, the use of IEDs, or a combination of the above. Stones and Molotov cocktails thrown by Palestinians are not included, although they can also cause injury and death. Reports of the daily terrorist attacks can be found in the weekly ITIC News of Terrorism and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict bulletins. ↑
 See the November 11, 2015 bulletin, "The 72-year-old terrorist who carried out a vehicular attack left a will expressing her desire to become a shaheeda (martyred woman). It provides additional evidence refuting Palestinian claims that she was 'executed' by the IDF." ↑
 For further information see the April 17, 2016 bulletin, Seven Months of Popular Palestinian Terrorism- The Current Situation (Updated April 14, 2016)." ↑
 For further information see the June 5, 2017 bulletin, "Anti-Israel Incitement in the Palestinian Authority – An analysis of its roots and aspects." ↑
 See the March 23, 2017 bulletin, "Glorifying shaheeds who carried out deadly terrorist attacks and turning them into role models: Dalal al-Mughrabi, a Fatah terrorist who participated in the 1978 Coastal Road Massacre, as a case study." ↑
 For further information see the August 28, 2017 bulletin, "European countries freeze donations to anti-Israel women's organization after learning it supported the establishment of a women's center named after Palestinian terrorist Dalal al-Mughrabi ↑
 During a press conference at the White House, Mahmoud Abbas said that "We educate our children, our sons and offspring, on a culture of peace, and work so that they may live in security, freedom and peace like the Israeli children" (Wafa, May 3, 2017). ↑
 See the May 16, 2017 bulletin, "Hamas and the Palestinian Authority's ministry of education undermine UNRWA's intention to slightly moderate the curriculum used in its schools." ↑
 From a study carried out by Brigadier General (Res.) Yossi Kuperwasser, "Incentivizing Terrorism: Palestinian Authority Allocations to Terrorists and their Families," published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, 2017. ↑
 For further information see the June 26, 2017 bulletin, "During diplomatic contacts with the Americans, the Palestinian Authority rejected demands to stop financial support for terrorist prisoners and the families of shaheeds." ↑