Beersheba Attack Marks Wave of Violence Against Israelis as Ramadan Approaches
A series of attacks carried out in quick succession has shaken both Israeli society and the military establishment
Beersheba, the most populous city in the Negev Desert, has seen a start to 2022 that can be described as a revolt by the indigenous Bedouin community. It began with the violent crushing of protests against the Israeli government’s sponsoring of a tree-planting program by the Jewish National Fund, an innocuous-sounding non-profit that has been at the front line of displacement against indigenous populations. Known to the Bedouins as “Al-Naqab”, they have called the desert home for hundreds of years.
The scenes of protests from January 13th to the 16th galvanized support from not only people across the Middle East but across the world as well, with images of police brutality making it all the way to the United States mainstream media. While it left the news cycle only a couple of days later, the protests encouraged solidarity from other parts of Palestine/Israel. Though Bedouins and Palestinians are historically distinct groups, the past 75 years of resistance against the Israeli government have driven the two to align more closely.
On March 15, 2022, Israeli forces stormed the houses of three Palestinian and Bedouin young men and shot them all dead, alleging terror links. One of these was in the town of Rahat, the largest Bedouin town in the world and the only one to be given official city status by the Israeli government. The man killed was Sanad Al-Harbed, shot from behind twice while he and three of his children slept. Following his killing, the town council declared a general strike to bury him. Tensions only grew higher when the Israeli military closed Route 264 from Beit Kama Junction to Mishmar Hanegev Junction, preventing thousands from reaching the city to partake in the funeral. The result was two long nights of rubber bullets fired by the Israeli military and stones thrown back at them by Bedouin youth.
Attacks Target Jewish Israelis
Mohammad Abu al-Qi’an came from the town of Hura, just northeast of Beersheba and close to the border of the West Bank. He was already known to the Israeli government for an arrest in 2015 in which he was charged with attempting to recruit young men to fight for ISIS in Syria. He was released in 2019 and flew under the radar until his attack and death on March 22, 2022. At around 4 o’clock he began his rampage at a gas station, stabbing a woman before getting back into his vehicle. While fleeing the scene he hit a bicyclist and turned into another parking lot. He then proceeded to stab a man and woman before he was shot by an armed Israeli who happened to be close by. Five people were killed in the spree, including al-Qi’an.
The attack has predictably made waves in Israeli society, with it being tied for the deadliest attack on Israeli citizens since the 2017 Jerusalem truck attack, standing alongside the Bnei Brak shooting outside of Tel Aviv that also took five lives just days after. While not a new phenomenon, over the last five years many right-wing political parties have honed their platform around bringing “law and order” to the “untamed” Sinai Peninsula of Palestine/Israel. This narrative around the Negev Desert has many Israeli politicians latching on to the slow police response time as evidence of a need for martial law or relaxed gun laws for Jewish citizens in the face of something that is historically unpoliceable, i.e. lone wolf attacks not ordered by any chain of command.
The attacker came from a well-established Bedouin clan known as Abu al-Qi’an. It is interesting to note the reaction of the family, who immediately released statements denouncing the attack. This sharply contrasts with the pervasive culture of martyrdom in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, where those who die in attacks against Israelis are buried with the honor of “martyrs” and financial support is often provided to the family, more similar to the way a conventional army honors their fallen. Perhaps this can be attributed to the fact that the Abu al-Qi’an clan lives within Israel's pre-1967 borders as citizens, thus giving the inhabitants that remained after the Nakba more time to assimilate, as well as their geographic distance from the understood centers of radical jihad in the Levant. The majority of Bedouin militancy that still exists is dedicated to the fight against the Egyptian state in other areas of the Sinai Peninsula. Speaking to the Times of Israel, the mayor of the town of Hura, where the attacker lived, made assurances that they would close down schools so that the situation could be discussed with children. Israeli forces ended up arresting two of Mohammed Abu al-Qi’an’s brothers on suspicion of culpability the day after the attack, but neither has yet to be charged with a crime.
This attack is significant in that this man wasn’t under the command of Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, or any other militant group currently fighting against Israel within the borders of Palestine/Israel. We can infer through his previous links to ISIS that he held sympathies with the radical Salafist movement, notably at ideological odds with any aforementioned groups fighting Israel. Despite this, Hamas released a statement praising the attacker and said his actions were "a natural response to the policy of ethnic expulsion." This is another example of Hamas’ attempts to tie their resistance in Gaza with the Bedouins of the Negev and Palestinians in the West Bank. With Ramadan one week from the date of this attack, what has historically been the most popular time for both civil resistance and for Palestinian militants to carry out attacks, we can reasonably expect that they are trying to ride the wave of popular support into what may very well be a violent April.
Just days after the Beersheba attacks, there was another attack in Hadera on Sunday, March 27. Two Israelis were killed and a dozen more injured, including two police officers. The gunmen were also killed. Video camera footage shows two men preparing automatic weapons and handguns before opening fire on a main road. According to government officials, the attack was timed to coincide with a summit hosted by the Israeli government in the Negev Desert. Those said to be in attendance include the US, the UAE, Egypt and Morocco, with security concerns around Iran and the IRGC’s terror organization label on the agenda. ISIS released a statement claiming responsibility for both the Beersheba attack as well as the attack in Hadera. This is extremely significant in that it marks the first official ISIS attack on Israel since June 2017.
A third attack took place in the ultra-orthodox town of Bnei Brak, near Tel Aviv, and while facts are still coming out at the time of writing (3/29), it is reported that 5 people have been killed. One of the deceased was a policeman who was shot before the assailant was killed by other officers. The militant was identified as Diaa Hamarsheh from Jenin, a city in the West Bank that has earned the title “The Martyrs Capital” for its history of resistance and militarism against the Israeli occupation that began in 1967. Since then, militants born there have left to carry out attacks across the Levant and Europe, acting on behalf of a plethora of armed groups. No group has yet to claim responsibility for the attack, although both the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade and Hamas released statements praising the attack.
Elements of the Bedouin ethnic minority as well as Palestinians in Israel/Palestine declaring allegiance to ISIS as they address long-standing grievances has been fairly uncommon, yet it is nonetheless something to keep an eye on and may portend a growing threat.