The Missing Intifada

Mostly Quiet in the West Bank

A man inspects the rubble of a Palestinian house which was destroyed by Israeli troops during an Israeli raid in the West Bank city of Jenin September 1, 2015. Mohamad Torokman / Reuters

On July 31, arsonists firebombed a small home in the West Bank village of Duma. The attack, suspected to be the work of Jewish terrorists, claimed the lives of an 18-month-old Palestinian child and his father, and another sibling and the child’s mother remain in intensive care. Several Jewish extremists have since been arrested, but the perpetrators remain at large. The horrifying tragedy was an urgent wake-up call, many Israeli politicians argued, for some serious soul-searching in Israeli society. It could also have been something more: a spark that lit a wider conflagration in the West Bank. Yet the often predicted “third intifada” has once again failed to materialize.

For several years now, Israeli security professionals have been concerned that a deadly settler attack on Palestinian civilians would lead to mass unrest in the West Bank. Causing such unrest has, in fact, been a stated goal of settler extremists for some time. As one handbook circulating in 2012 put it, targeting the Palestinian population was a strategy to “unbalance the system,” by tying up Israeli military and police resources and “sending a message” of deterrence to the authorities. If the settlers were not allowed to keep their homes, then the Israeli government would not be allowed to keep the West Bank quiet.

A Palestinian woman confronts Israeli soldiers
A Palestinian woman reacts next to Israeli soldiers during confrontations between Palestinians and Israeli troops in Qafr Malik village near the West Bank city of Ramallah, June, 2015.   Mohamad Torokman / Reuters
In the wake of the Duma attack, the Israeli military moved four additional battalions into the West Bank, anticipating the worst. Small-scale protests did take place in a handful of cities, but they petered out quickly. Similarly, there has been an increase in attacks on Israeli soldiers and civilians by lone wolf Palestinian terrorists, but the West Bank has not tipped into outright violence and chaos. The absence of sustained upheaval remains a puzzle for many.


The most important factor in transforming high tensions into open conflict has always been the organization and encouragement provided by some kind of Palestinian leadership. Even the first intifada, a popular uprising nominally sparked by one isolated traffic fatality in

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