Analysis: Hamas strikes at the heart of Jerusalem

Eliyahu David Kay > Facebook, via Times of Israel.

A member of Hamas launched a terror attack in Jerusalem’s Old City on Sunday morning, killing one Israeli civilian and wounding four others – including worshippers returning from the Western Wall.

What happened 

  • Hamas lauded the attack, in which 26-year-old tour guide Eliyahu David Kay died, as “a heroic operation”. The killer, identified by Hamas as a member of its political wing, was shot dead by police at the scene. Kay was the grandson of the rabbi at London’s South Hampstead synagogue.
  • Israeli security services said on Monday that they had concluded a months’ long investigation into a Hamas terror cell in the West Bank and made more than 50 arrests. The cell was in the advanced stages of planning major terror attacks in the West Bank and Israel, Shin Bet said.
  • The attack and arrests came days after the UK government announced plans to proscribe Hamas in its entirety – currently, only the terror group’s military wing is banned in Britain.

Terror in the Old City

The terror attack was carried out using a Beretta M12 submachine gun by Fadi Abu Shkhaydam, who opened fire near to the entrance to the Temple Mount.

  • The three Israeli men shot in the attack were walking through the area after praying at the Western Wall. Besides Kay, two rabbis – Zeev Katzenelnbogen and Aaron Yehuda – were seriously wounded and taken to hospital, as were two police officers who were lightly injured and later released.
  • “[The gunman] moved through the alleys and fired quite a bit,” said public security minister Omer Barlev. “Luckily, the alley was mostly empty because otherwise — heaven forbid — there would have been more casualties,” the Labor politician said.
  • Barlev’s said the attack appeared to have been planned in advance. “The terrorist was a member of Hamas’s political branch who regularly prayed in the Old City. His wife fled abroad three days ago, and he used standard weapons that are not commonly available in Israel,” the minister said.
  • In its statement, Hamas claimed: “The message of the heroic operation is a warning to the criminal enemy and its government to stop the attacks on our land and our holy sites. [Israel] will pay a price for the iniquities it commits against Al-Aqsa Mosque, Silwan, Sheikh Jarrah and elsewhere.”
  • The killing was the second Hamas terror attack in the Old City in less than a week. On Wednesday, a Palestinian teenager stabbed and wounded two border guards as they passed him. Hamas said the attack by 16-year-old Amr Abu-Assab, who was shot dead by an armed civilian as he wrestled with the injured guards, was a “heroic commando operation”.
  • Kay, who emigrated to Israel from South Africa, was the first Israeli civilian to be killed by terrorists since May’s conflict between Israel and Hamas. He worked at the Western Wall as a tour guide and was engaged to be married later this year. He had volunteered in Kibbutz Nirim in southern Israel for a year, after completing his military service.
  • The attack was followed by Hamas celebrations in Gaza and clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinians in East Jerusalem who gathered to chant pro-Hamas slogans in honour of Abu Shkhaydam.

“He never cursed anyone, or called anyone a bad name, except the Jews”

Abu Shkhaydam taught Islamic law at a Jerusalem boys’ school. “He was the best teacher. He never cursed anyone, or called anyone a bad name, except the Jews, may God burn them,” a student of the terrorist said after the attack. Abu Shkhaydam also preached in local mosques. In a 2020 sermon, he attacked “the Jewish and Christian masters of heresy” as being “led by the devil”. After the United Arab Emirates’ decision to normalise relations with Israel, he also labelled the Emiratis as “filthy Bedouins”.

Terror cell broken-up

  • More than 50 Hamas operatives were arrested in the West Bank for suspected involvement in the terror cell, Shin Bet said on Monday.
  • Large quantities of weaponry, including the materials needed to make at least four explosive belts for suicide attacks, as well as an undisclosed sum of money, were seized in the raids.
  • “You thwarted a large infrastructure, some of which you know was ready to go with explosive belts… grenades and other explosives,” IDF chief of staff Aviv Kohavi told military commanders whose units took part in the operation.
  • Shin Bet said the cell was led from overseas by Saleh al-Arouri, deputy head of the terror group’s politburo.

“Political wing” ban

Home secretary Priti Patel last week announced the government’s intention to proscribe Hamas in its entirety – completing a process begun by the last Labour government which barred the terror group’s military wing in 2001.

  • The order laid before parliament will proscribe Hamas’ political wing. It is a criminal offence to belong to or invite support for a proscribed organisation or wear clothing which could be seen to support the group. The penalty is a maximum of 14 years in prison and/or a fine.
  • Although Britain has a long-standing policy of “no contact” with Hamas’ political wing, it has been slow to follow the US, European Union, Israel and Canada in designating the organisation in its entirety as a terrorist group.
  • Patel said Hamas has “significant terrorist capability, including access to extensive and sophisticated weaponry as well as terrorist training facilities, and it has long been involved in significant terrorist violence”. She also accused Hamas of having a “fundamentally and rabidly antisemitic” worldview.
  • The government said a distinction between Hamas’ political and military wings is “now assessed to be artificial, with Hamas as an organisation involved in committing, participating, preparing for, and encouraging acts of terrorism”.
  • Israel’s foreign minister, Yair Lapid, welcomed the UK decision, saying: “There is no legitimate part of a terrorist organisation, and any attempt to differentiate between parts of a terrorist organisation is artificial.” His cabinet colleague, Labor leader Merav Michaeli, also welcomed Britain’s move, saying: “While [Hamas] hold Gaza’s people hostage and threaten Israeli civilians, we engage with Palestinians who share our goal of better lives for us all.”

Hamas: terror and antisemitism

Established as the Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm in Gaza in 1987, Hamas’ charter calls for the destruction of Israel, its replacement by an Islamic state and endorses a “struggle against the Jews”. In 2017, the group accepted an “interim” Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza but continued to refuse to recognise Israel. Hamas launched its first suicide bombing attack in 1993, shortly before the signing of the Oslo Accords. It then stepped up terrorist attacks in an attempt to derail the peace process. When Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza in 2005, Hamas vowed “not to rest until our entire land is liberated … To the Zionists we promise that tomorrow all of Palestine will become hell for you”. A bloody coup against the Palestinian Authority brought Hamas to power in Gaza in 2007. It has since abused the human rights of its opponents, women and the LGBT community, suppressed the media, and provoked four violent conflicts with Israel.

What happens next: Hamas’ double-game

As Haaretz’ Amos Harel reported, Hamas is engaged in a double-game, attempting to stir violence in Jerusalem and the West Bank, while keeping Gaza quiet following Israel’s efforts to provide economic relief and increased work permits to the enclave’s residents. “Hamas will probably attempt to continue to play both sides – encouraging terrorism in Jerusalem and the West Bank, in part in the hope that it would destabilise the rule of the Palestinian Authority and the PA’s ties with Israel,” wrote Harel. “On the other hand, it needs to be careful not to go overboard in Gaza, so that it avoids another violent clash with Israel that would wipe out its achievements of the past few months.”