By Dr. Doron Pely

Looking at the recent (and ongoing) wave of “individual perpetrator” attacks by Palestinian Arabs in Israel, a pattern appears that may be worth noting and studying.

What do we know?

  • Throughout 2015, there were 40 attacks, resulting in 30 Jewish fatalities and 112 wounded.
  • 24 of the above attacks took place over the past month (mid-September through mid-October), resulting in 10 fatalities.
  • Most of the attacks over the past month (though definitely not all) took place in Jerusalem and the West Bank.
  • Most of the perpetrators were young men (ages 13 to 40).
  • Most of the victims were orthodox/religious Jews, settlers (Israeli Jews who live in settlements throughout the West Bank) and members of the security forces (police, border police and the Israeli military).
    Most of the attacks took place with knives; a few involved firearms (pistols).

There is no apparent organizing, guiding or directing body behind the attackers or their target selection. But there is definitely an observable pattern.

One of the most prominent common denominators of the recent attacks is that, while most perpetrators were non-affiliated (those who may sympathize with an ideology and/or cause but are not officially affiliated with an organization or movement that advocate for a specific ideology or cause), they chose their targets carefully, and on the basis of what I would call “Target of Most Loathing” criteria.

Such targets are those individuals who perpetrators see – individually but even more so as members of identifiable groups – as the direct representatives of their oppression by Israel. This indicates that despite the highly emotional atmosphere that must have enveloped each attack (on the side of the perpetrators), there was still present a distinctive element of rational choice when it came to target selection. These were not “blind rage” lashing out incidents but targeted attacks.

Such a distinction may be relevant for several reasons, one of which is the choice of intelligence response. Since resources are always limited and their proper allocation is essential, orienting these resources properly may be of importance.

So what immediate conclusions may be drawn?

  1. “Traditional” intelligence gathering efforts may not result in providing the knowledge required to mitigate against such attacks.
  2. Intelligence efforts ought to focus on the Internet and telephone networks, particularly social networks, where a wealth of knowledge may be harvested (e.g., prior indications of intent, interrelations between perpetrators, patterns of expression preceding and following attacks, other relevant patterns – geographic and demographic – of response and participation).
  3. Deep analysis of digital “behavior” by perpetrators and their immediate, secondary and tertiary circles may provide insight on motivators, immediate triggers and pre-attack mental preparations, and their influence and propagation within the relevant communities.
  4. In terms of mitigation, here too the allocation of resources may be significantly influenced by the profile of the threat.

But the most important point, and one we should never lose sight of, is that it is essential to understand that without facing the root causes of this situation, and without providing a real alternate horizon and vision to both populations (Palestinians and Israelis), no real change will ever take place and all reactions will provide only a temporary and partial solution.

Such a response requires political courage, vision, ability to prioritize properly (e.g., human lives above holly sites) and the capacity to see and act beyond one’s exclusive narrative. It seems that for such a change – on all sides – we will probably not happen for a long, long time.

Dr. Doron Pely is the Executive Director of the Sulha Research Center in Israel. Doron studies and teaches Muslim customary conflict and conflict management practices. His experience combines military (Lieutenant), police intelligence (field and analysis), business intelligence, executive duties, and academic and field research. Doron earned his PhD in Middle East Studies from King’s College, London.