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Wave Of Violence Hits Israel And Palestinian Territories


This morning, Israeli police shot and killed a Palestinian man after he stabbed an Israeli officer just outside Jerusalem's Old City. There has been a wave of Palestinian-Israeli violence over the past several weeks, with some attacks playing out much like this morning's. This violence has killed five Israelis, 25 Palestinians and wounded many more. Let's bring in NPR's Emily Harris, who's on the line from the Jerusalem. Emily, good morning.

EMILY HARRIS, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: Really seems like a rapid escalation of violence here. What's going on?

HARRIS: Well, it didn't come out of nowhere, although it does seem to feel like that to everyone here on the ground. There are always tensions simmering at some level here. Although, it does go up and down. But the sense of this surge actually starts at different times for different people. Many Palestinians will point to an arson in a Palestinian village in the West Bank last summer that killed a family except for the sole survivor, a 4-year-old boy, as a focal point of their building anger. Many Israelis see the start of this violent period as mid-September, when a Jewish man died after his car was stoned by Palestinians in Jerusalem on the eve of the Jewish new year. And also, David, those holidays, the new year kicks off a couple weeks of Jewish holidays. They brought, too, what Palestinians call provocations because during that time period, more Jewish groups who are interested in expanding Jewish rights on the holy site that's very controversial in the heart of the Old City - holy to both Muslims and Jews, the Temple Mount or the Haram al-Sharif - more Jewish visitors came during that period to the site. And this provided fodder for calls from and to Palestinians to defend their holy site.

GREENE: Now, the holy site you're talking about, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has banned ministers in his government from visiting there and also members of Parliament. What is behind that?

HARRIS: Well, he's trying to defuse tensions with this. He's trying to show that his government is not interested in changing what's called the status quo, which allows Muslims to go there and pray, Jews to visit during certain hours but not to pray at all. So he's trying to show that he's not letting his ministers from his government go up there and give any fodder for Palestinians to see this as provocations. Now, he's under a lot of pressure from the right. His is a relatively new government. It's been in place less than a year. And some ministers of his government actually attended a rally recently, protesting how Netanyahu has been handling this crisis.

GREENE: Well, Emily Harris, I mean, this Palestinian man stabs an Israeli officer this morning. Any way to know whether these are individuals or if there's some message that's being headed? Is this being coordinated on the Palestinian side in some way?

HARRIS: It's an important question, particularly as Israeli security forces try to figure out how to respond to it and frankly, Palestinians and Israelis try to figure out exactly what's going on. There are a lot of messages out there in social media by leaders that might affect an individual's decision to get a knife and commit an attack or drive a car into a group of people. But Israel did arrest what it called a cell of five people who Israel said worked together in an attack that killed an Israeli couple in the West Bank about 12 days ago. And yesterday, a Palestinian woman detonated an explosive in a car at a military checkpoint, which speculation in the media says may have taken more organization than an individual buying a knife, for example.

GREENE: All right, we've been talking to NPR's Emily Harris in Jerusalem about escalating violence between Israelis and Palestinians. Emily, thanks very much.

HARRIS: Thanks, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

International Correspondent Emily Harris is based in Jerusalem as part of NPR's Mideast team. Her post covers news related to Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip. She began this role in March of 2013.