"Two female terrorists armed with scissors stabbed a man next to the market," a sombre police spokeswoman, Luba Samri, announced to reporters on Monday. "An officer who observed the event approached, fired accurately and neutralized the terrorists."
The calculated official statement was correct, but it barely scratched the surface of the story of hysteria and vigilante violence that grips Israelis and Palestinians these days.
From Oct. 1 to Nov. 27, 19 Jewish Israelis, a visiting U.S. Jew and an Arab from the West Bank have been killed by Palestinian assailants; most died by knife or gunshot wounds. Other attacks, many by driving an automobile into people, left scores injured. Most of the perpetrators acted alone or with one or two others.
During that same time, 93 Palestinians have been killed, some in clashes with security forces, but about 60 being shot by Israeli citizens – police and civilians – during, after or in anticipation of attacks. One Eritrean migrant was beaten to death by an Israeli mob that mistook him for an attacker.
Monday's "two female terrorists" were cousins from the Qalandia refugee camp, north of Jerusalem: 14-year-old Hadil Awad and 16-year-old Nurhan Awad.
Closed-circuit television cameras showed the teens, dressed in dark knee-length school uniforms and wearing white head scarves, as they prowled the streets near a popular Jewish market, nervously seeking a victim.
They settled on a 70-year-old man and thrust their scissors at his shoulder and neck, barely penetrating the surface and leaving only "light injuries," police said. It turned out the man was a Palestinian from Bethlehem who had come to shop, not the Israeli the girls took him to be.
Running away, the young attackers found themselves face to face with an Israeli man, who retreated and drew a revolver as the younger woman approached him, striking a threatening pose and holding her scissors head-high.
Another Israeli man in a dark T-shirt ran onto the sidewalk from the road. The man, later identified as a policeman, also wielded a revolver. He fired what appeared to be a single shot at the 16-year-old, who fell to the ground, and he then turned to the more threatening younger woman, who was still face to face with the first Israeli.
The officer shot at the assailant's chest and she fell back. He continued to fire – a total of four shots, it appeared – even after she lay on the ground. He returned to the older girl, lying inert, and fired another shot at her before holstering his weapon.
Hadil, the 14-year-old, was pronounced dead at the scene. Nurhan was taken to hospital in critical condition.
It's unclear what drove these young women, both excellent students with no record of violence, to carry out such an attack – although Hadil lost an older brother two years ago when he was shot by Israeli forces during a protest near the family's home.
They are part of an unusual wave of Palestinian individuals – undirected by militant groups such as Hamas or Fatah – and, as such, they are much harder to stop.
The assailants have included women, children as young as 11 and older men – the most unlikely of terrorists. They have struck in and around Jerusalem's Old City, but also in Tel Aviv and its suburbs. They have assaulted Israelis in small towns and throughout the West Bank.
While some wielded firearms, most used kitchen knives, hammers, screwdrivers, even their own cars.
The government tried deploying more security forces, and it tried cutting the number of West Bank checkpoints to reduce points of friction. Nothing worked.
Fed up with the endless attacks, members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's governing coalition have called for a kind of "Defensive Shield 2," a reference to the Israeli action taken in 2002 during the violent second intifada in which Israel Defence Forces (IDF) troops and tanks took over major Palestinian cities to root out terrorism.
Mr. Netanyahu reminded Israelis that today it's a different situation, in which there is no terrorist command centre to besiege.
However, he does blame what he calls "incitement" coming from leading Palestinians who accuse Israel of wanting to destroy the Muslim Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque that sit atop what Palestinians call the Haram al-Sharif and which Jews know as the Temple Mount.
It is also hard to justify the violence meted out by Israelis who increasingly take the law into their own hands.
In mid-October, after failing to end the many assaults through conventional means, Mr. Netanyahu called on Israelis who are licensed to own weapons to take them into the street and to be prepared to use them to defend themselves. "The responsible civilian population – in the framework of the rule of law – has a part to play" in defence, the Prime Minister's spokesman said.
The call to arms is said to have saved many Israeli lives, but a lot more Palestinians perished by what some human-rights organizations describe as a licence to kill.
Perhaps, but a recent survey by the Israel Democracy Institute found that 53 per cent of Israelis support extrajudicial killing of alleged Palestinian attackers on the spot, even when they "no longer pose a threat." Israelis consider these assaults as much terrorism as actions conducted by Islamic State militants.
On Monday, at the end of five days of assaults that saw six Israelis killed, a determined Mr. Netanyahu stood at the West Bank's Gush Etzion Junction, the site of several deadly incidents, and ordered a sharp increase in security sweeps and arrests. "There is no restriction on the actions of the IDF and the security forces," he declared. "We are entering into [Palestinian] villages, communities and homes and are carrying out widespread arrests."
Reversing his previous position on minimizing checkpoints in the Palestinian territories, he said the army will be "checking every Palestinian vehicle on the main roads," including "the routes leading to the main roads."
As well, the government brought in legislation to declare even 12-year-olds liable to prosecution as terrorists and outlawed the northern branch of the Islamic Movement, an Israeli Muslim organization viewed as inciting followers to violence.
The commanders of Israel's security forces in the West Bank discouraged both moves.
Authorities have the power to demolish homes of the families of any Palestinian attacker, and have extended their power to bar all members of an assailant's extended family from entering Israel and from receiving work permits.
"These people already feel they have nothing to hope for," said Uri Dromi, the former spokesman for prime ministers Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres. "You must be tough against the violence," he acknowledged, recalling his boss's practices. "But you must also offer them something positive to cling to."