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November 19, 2014

Jerusalem attack escalates violence in region

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Two Palestinian men murdered four people at a synagogue in Jerusalem yesterday in the deadliest attack on the city in six years.

The men entered the synagogue with knives, axes and guns during morning prayers and assailed the victims in a scene that witnesses described as “horrific.” A fifth person, a police officer, died later from injuries.

Following the attack, clashes erupted in East Jerusalem, which has a large Palestinian population, as Israeli police moved in to arrest the attackers’ relatives.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to “settle the score” with the perpetrators. Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas spoke out against the attacks but also blamed Israeli actions, saying military actions had escalated tensions.

President Obama condemned the killings and Secretary of State John Kerry advised both sides to lower tensions. Three of the victims were Americans with Israeli citizenship.

Hamas, a political and military Palestinian group that the U.S. considers a terrorist organization, did not claim responsibility for the attack but said it was a response to the death of a Palestinian bus driver. Israeli police claim the man died by suicide, but Palestinians said he was killed by Israelis.

Demonizing the other side in a conflict only makes violent incidents more likely on both sides, according to Dennis Ross, a former U.S. envoy to the Middle East.

“Leaders…have to step up and say, this is wrong. There’s no justification for this kind of action,” he said.

Tensions have been rising recently as Palestinians and Israelis argue over who can visit a holy site called the Temple Mount by Jews and the Noble Sanctuary by Muslims. Sunni Islam considers it the place where Muhammad ascended to heaven. Jewish tradition identifies the site as the location where God created Adam.

Two previous intifadas in 1987 and 2000 brought extended periods of violence between Israelis and Palestinians. Shibley Telhami, a professor at the University of Maryland, said the recent violence could mark the beginning of a third intifada.


Warm up questions
  1. Where is Jerusalem?
  2. What do you know about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
  3. If your goal is to change or revolutionize a government’s policy or culture, what do you think works better: non-violent or violent movements?  Look at the chart to your right created by political scientist Dr. Erica Chenoweth, what does the chart tell you? Are you surprised at what you see?
Critical thinking questions
  1. On Monday, a Palestinian bus driver was found hanged in his bus. Many Palestinians charged he was killed by Jewish assailants. Israeli police ruled it a suicide. Yesterday, four Israelis were brutally murdered while at Synagogue as revenge. In order for peace to take hold in the region, the circle of violence must be broken. Put yourself into the shoes of the following people and identify an emotion they might be feeling and what they can do to end the killing.
    1. The family of the bus driver (who believe he was killed)
    2. The families of the Israelis who were murdered
    3. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu
    4. President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian National Authority
  2. Should the international community insert themselves into the current conflict? What should they do or say? What are the benefits and consequences of doing something versus doing nothing.
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