Israel responds to deadly wave of knife attacks with new police powers

Israeli officials announced new steps to curb a rash of deadly stabbings on its citizens, including enforcing roadblocks in Arab East Jerusalem. Eight Israelis have died in Palestinian stabbings and police have shot and killed 40 Palestinians in clashes. NewsHour Special Correspondent Martin Seemungal joins Hari Sreenivasan via Skype from Jerusalem.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Israel is announcing new steps to curb a rash of deadly attacks on its citizens.

    An Arab man shot and stabbed people in a bus station in the southern Israeli city of Beersheba. Police say an Israeli soldier died, and 10 people were wounded.

    Earlier today, the Israeli cabinet proposed police be allowed to stop and frisk anyone on the street suspected of carrying a weapon. Tel Aviv and three other cities said they will prohibit Arab workers in their schools starting tomorrow. And Israel is enforcing roadblocks in Arab East Jerusalem.

    The moves come a day after Palestinians carried out five knife attacks on Israelis in Jerusalem and the West Bank. Four of those attackers were shot and killed.

    Over the past month, eight Israelis have died in Palestinian stabbings, while Israeli soldiers and police have shot and killed around 40 Palestinians in clashes, many of whom Israel identified as knife attackers.

    Today, Israeli soldiers removed 30 Jewish worshipers who didn't have permission to gather in Joseph's Tomb, a shrine named after the biblical Joseph in the Palestinian-controlled city of Nablus. The unrest that began four weeks ago was fueled by rumors that Israel might limit access to the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem's Old City.

    Again today, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said, that is wrong, that Israel is preserving the status quo in the Old City, which has sites sacred to Jews, Muslims, and Christians.

    U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said today he plans to meet separately this week with Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to try to defuse tensions.

    "NewsHour" special correspondent Martin Seemungal is in Jerusalem, and joins me now via Skype to discuss the latest on the situation there.

    Martin, what are the impacts on a day-to-day basis of all these roadblocks? Do you feel it?

  • MARTIN SEEMUNGAL:

    Yes, you know, we have been coming to East Jerusalem for quite some time, and we have never seen roadblocks.

    There's one just down the road here that has never been there in the times I have been coming here. What — initially, it was just a car, a police car, with some border police manning the roadblocks, stopping people. The next day, they dropped about three or four huge concrete blocks on the road.

    But there are roadblocks going in — going out of most of the areas of — the Arab areas of East Jerusalem, some closer to Jerusalem itself, others a little bit more remote.

    Some of the Arab areas there, there was one about Jabel Mukaber, where, basically, we know that the Israelis are saying that three of the alleged assailants for one of the attacks actually came from that area.

    And that area has been — seems to have been sealed off in more areas. And, obviously, this causes all kinds of tension in and around the area. Jerusalem, people live in close quarters, so it does have an impact on the day-to-day lives.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Can you feel the tension? Is it palpable? This is a region that is used to these sorts of stresses.

  • MARTIN SEEMUNGAL:

    Yes, but, you know, this one is slightly different, Hari, because what you have got is these — these knife attacks.

    They come randomly. You know, you talk to Jewish Israelis on the streets and they say, you know, we could be standing at a bus stop waiting — waiting to catch the bus and there could be an attack right there. It comes without warning.

    People — and, as a result of that, people are really quite nervous about it. And that kind of thing, we hadn't seen since the second intifada. I suppose it could be — there was tension back in 2000-2001, when I was also here, with the bus bombs going off and the suicide bombs that were associated with that second intifada.

    This round of violence, of strife, if you want to call it, is basically driven by random knife attacks, lone wolves. And not only does that cause a lot of tension, but just people going about their daily lives, whether it's going shopping, going to a bus stop or whatever.

    But it makes it very difficult for the Israeli police to try to combat it, and, hence, they are putting in these roadblocks to try to do something about it.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    All right.

    I also want to give our viewers a little bit of a preview of the piece that you are working on for the program tomorrow night.

  • MARTIN SEEMUNGAL:

    Well, as you know, there was this attack last week involving two teenagers.

    You had a 13-year-old Arab Palestinian attacking a Jewish boy. He was — in a lot of these cases, the attackers are shot dead instantly. He happened to have been hit by a car. That video went out. There was a great deal of anger in the Arab world, because it seemed that nobody was doing anything to help the boy.

    He's now in hospital. We have spoken to his — some of his friends, his family. And we have talked to people on the other side, on the Jewish side. We have gone to that settlement to try to get a sense of what that has done there.

    So, we are trying to really do a story about something that hasn't really been seen before in Israel, these — first of all, these lone attacks, and the attackers getting younger and younger.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    All right, Martin Seemungal, we're looking forward to your piece tomorrow night.

    Thanks so much for joining us.

  • MARTIN SEEMUNGAL:

    Thanks, Hari.

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