Palestinians rejoice as new restrictions at entrance of holy site, including metal railings, are removed after protests.
“Israel watches over the Palestinians in minute details; their lives and their movements. But this surveillance does not work all the time. There are loopholes. Such attacks are difficult to predict, and what happened at al-Aqsa is proof of that,” Elia Zureik, a writer and researcher on colonialism and surveillance, told Al Jazeera.
“The attacks are relatively infrequent, and still, they cannot be controlled, in one of the most advanced countries in the world. They have not managed to escape them,” Zureik said.
Over the past two years in what has been termed the Jerusalem Intifada (uprising), Palestinians – mostly acting on their own – have carried out routine attacks, largely against Israeli soldiers in the occupied territories. The attacks are widely seen by Palestinians as acts of armed resistance to oppression.
Since the uprising started, some 285 Palestinians have died in alleged attacks, protests and army raids. Simultaneously, Palestinians have killed 47 Israelis in car-ramming and knife attacks.
The majority of the attempted attacks have not resulted in Israeli casualties, and have ended with the killing of the Palestinian attackers. But recently, two Israeli guards were killed outside the al-Aqsa Mosque compound in occupied East Jerusalem in a shoot-out with three Palestinian citizens of Israel, who were shot dead. A few days later, three Israeli settlers were stabbed and killed by a Palestinian in the illegal settlement of Halamish in the occupied West Bank.
Despite the increased presence of Israeli forces in Palestinian neighbourhoods, and despite the state’s advanced security systems, Israel has not been able to control such sporadic attacks, raising questions about the effectiveness of the state’s security apparatus.
Hani al-Masri, director of the Palestinian Center for Policy Research and Strategic Studies, Masarat, said that while Israel uses all measures to “spy on Palestinians – including mobile phones, social media accounts and all technologies, as a superior intelligence agency”, there are “loopholes in the system” when Palestinians carry out successful armed resistance operations.
“Thousands of Palestinians enter Israel on a daily basis without permits. This means that there are thousands who manage to break through the Israeli security system. So when there is a will, there is a way,” Masri told Al Jazeera.
Since its controversial inception in 1948, the state of Israel has prioritised security above all else. Sixty-nine years into its existence, Israel markets itself as a model for hi-tech security and defence systems, exporting its products worldwide.
By framing itself as a vulnerable state facing an existential threat, the state uses the pretext of security to control the more than six million Palestinians living within its borders and under its occupation in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza.
Mainly through the Shin Bet, the state’s internal security service, and its army, Israel operates one of the most advanced security apparatuses in the region. The Shin Bet and the Mossad espionage agency have an annual budget of $2.4bn.
Some of the methods Israel uses to surveil and control its Palestinian population include the “Big Brother” law, which allows Israeli police access to communications data on citizens; CCTV cameras; wiretapping; mistaarivim, or undercover Israeli units trained to assimilate with Palestinians for intelligence gathering; collaborators; and biometric identification cards.
“In the old days it used to be just wiretapping the phone, but nowadays it’s more elaborate – they use things like drones today. They can also track down the signals from cellphones that Palestinians make and go after them, and they have an army of informers that spy on Palestinians in Israel itself and in the [occupied Palestinian territories],” said Zureik.
“In some Palestinian towns, this has become a joke; Palestinians know exactly who these spies are – they know them by name – and they would give them false information. So it doesn’t always work out the way Israel wants it to.”
In the 1970s and 1980s, Zureik added, Israel began using Palestinian women from Israel. “They could produce pictures to show the women in comprising positions and blackmail them for prostitution to turn them into collaborators. Also, for Palestinians to get a teaching position today, they must first get clearance from the Shin Bet. Almost all governmental institutions in Israel have an ‘Arab section’ purposed for monitoring the Palestinians in Israel and collecting information about them.”
In the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, Israel uses both direct and indirect forms of control over the more than three million Palestinians who live under its military rule. This includes checkpoints, colour-coded license plates, nightly raids of Palestinian homes, and a heavy military presence.
Using social media, Israel also monitors Palestinians and arrests them for any material it considers “incitement”. Between 2015 and 2016, Israel arrested more than 400 Palestinians in the West Bank and Israel for online content, mainly on Facebook. One such case was that of Dareen Tatour, who was arrested after posting a poem on Facebook that called on Palestinians to resist Israeli oppression.
Sami Shehadeh, an activist in Jaffa, said he used to be called in on a yearly basis for questioning.
“There is complete control over our lives – over our expression of national identity, economic control, education system and our curriculums,” Shehadeh told Al Jazeera. “People are checked whenever they enter public buildings such as malls, schools, municipality buildings, and Palestinians get searched more extensively than Israelis.
“Israel is a militarised society and its security is implemented in every aspect of our lives,” he added. “We’re not treated as a people with a national identity – we’re treated as a religious minority. Therefore, we do not study the history of Palestine in schools, and all subjects are taught in Hebrew. They strip us of our identity to try and control our minds.”
Israel also coordinates with the Palestinian Authority, a Ramallah-based semi-governmental body that governs parts of the West Bank, to foil attacks.
Still, loopholes remain. Despite the presence of dozens of military checkpoints between Israel, East Jerusalem and the West Bank, some can only be crossed by car. Soldiers do not always stop each car to search it and check the IDs of the passengers, as some of the roads are used by settlers as well. This means that Palestinians can bypass the system and get into Israel, although they face imprisonment if caught.
And while the separation wall splits East Jerusalem and Israel from the West Bank, Palestinians have found ways, albeit dangerous, to climb over the wall – mainly to find work and a better chance at living.
Additionally, though it is generally difficult to obtain weapons in the West Bank, Palestinians have resorted to smuggling and manufacturing their own. In Israel as well, a black market for weapons is thought to be where the Palestinian citizens of Israel found their guns.
But Ofer Zalzberg, a senior analyst for Israel/Palestine at the International Crisis Group, says the fact that most of the Palestinians who carried out attacks over the past two years were unaffiliated to any particular movement makes it “much harder to collect intelligence about them”.
“Security measures cannot be 100 percent foolproof, especially when attackers are willing to sacrifice their lives,” he told Al Jazeera.
Though Israel denies that the occupation and violence Palestinians face on a daily basis in the occupied territories is the main driver of attacks against its forces and settlers, analysts and locals say the attacks will continue as long as the oppression of Palestinians lives on.
“Security measures, no matter what they are, cannot prevent resistance, and this has been proven over the course of the years; it is not mere speculation,” Masri said. “We’re talking about anger on a national level – these sentiments of injustice do not stem from certain political/religious ideologies, they exist on a national level. Those who resist demonstrate the will of the majority of the Palestinian people”.
Shehadeh agreed: “These attacks are sporadic and there cannot be a security solution to them. If there is a solution, it will have to be a political one – one that needs to provide us with justice and equality.”