By early December twenty two Israelis and 87 Palestinians have been killed, with 203 people injured, in a matter of two months – as violence escalates and a Third Intifada looms.
October and November saw an escalation in violence across the West Bank, Jerusalem, Gaza and others places. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is spreading the blame around thick and fast. Alongside the predictable bluster against Hamas, the resistance organisations and President Abbas, he has also moved to close down the Islamic Movement of Israel and 17 ‘affiliated’ civic organisations. In so doing Netanyahu is attacking what tiny vestige of civic participation Palestinians retain inside Israeli society – a dangerous move which exposes to the core the racist, apartheid nature of the Israeli state and brings in its train increased criticism of Israel from within as much as from without. A poll conducted by the Ramallah-based Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research found that in the current crisis, 67 percent of Palestinians are backing the violent resistance and two thirds support the statement that an armed uprising (intifada) would “serve their national interests” better than negotiations with Israel. The Guardian summed up a typical week in late November,
“An Israeli airstrike on a Hamas target in the Gaza Strip on Sunday brought down a nearby house, killing a Palestinian woman and her daughter, hospital officials said, as a wave of violence in the region triggered fears of wider escalation…
“…Witnesses said the powerful explosion at one of the Hamas camps in Gaza City caused a nearby house to collapse while its inhabitants were sleeping inside.
“A Gaza health ministry spokesman, Ashraf al-Qidra, said the woman killed was 30 and pregnant, her daughter was three. A five-year-old boy and a man were wounded, he added.
“Separately, a Palestinian woman driving a car set off a bomb after being pulled over by Israeli police in the occupied West Bank on Sunday. Police initially said she was killed, but later said she was in a critical condition. A police officer was reported to be lightly injured.
“In 12 days of bloodshed, four Israelis and 23 Palestinians, many of whom had carried out knife attacks, have died from the violence in Jerusalem, occupied West Bank, Gaza and Israeli cities. This has raised concerns that a new Palestinian uprising may be brewing.
“Palestinians carried out two stabbing attacks in Jerusalem on Saturday before being shot dead by police, while another two Palestinians were killed during a violent demonstration near the Gaza border fence.
“The wave of stabbing attacks in Jerusalem has been linked to tensions over a sensitive holy site in the Old City that is sacred to Jews and Muslims.
“There have been a series of attacks by young Palestinians wielding household items like kitchen knives, screwdrivers and even a vegetable peeler. The youths had no known links to armed groups and have targeted Israeli soldiers and civilians at random, complicating efforts to predict or prevent the attacks.
“In recent days the attacks by Palestinian assailants have spread to the rest of Israel, while violent protests have erupted in the West Bank and along the Gaza border, where seven Palestinians were killed on Friday. The violence has unnerved a jittery Israel and prompted the US to issue a fresh call for restraint by all sides.
“In the first stabbing on Saturday a 16-year-old Arab attacked two Israelis who were walking from the Old City toward the city centre, said police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld. Police opened fire, killing the attacker. The two victims were lightly wounded, Rosenfeld said.
“Later, just outside the Old City, another Palestinian stabbed two police officers, one in the neck. Rosenfeld said other police forces opened fire and killed the attacker, but also wounded one of their own. Three officers were taken to a hospital, one in serious condition.
“On the Gaza frontier, protests resumed on Saturday afternoon, with dozens of Palestinians throwing stones and rolling burning tires toward Israeli troops along the border fence. Gaza health officials said Israeli forces shot dead a 13-year-old and an 11-year-old. The Israeli military said it fired towards protesters who approached the border…
“… Netanyahu ordered the mobilisation of three reserve border police companies to offer reinforcement amid the wave of attacks. In a previous measure meant to ease tensions Netanyahu banned cabinet ministers and lawmakers from visiting the sensitive Jerusalem holy site, fearing any high-profile spectacle could further inflame tensions.
“Many Palestinians believe Israel is trying to expand the Jewish presence at the site, a claim Israel adamantly denies and considers incitement to violence. Under a longstanding arrangement administered by Islamic authorities, Jews are allowed to visit the site during certain hours but may not pray there.
“Abbas said his people had no interest in further violence and that he was committed to ‘peaceful popular resistance.’ Still, he voiced support for the protesters who have clashed with Israeli police at the al-Aqsa mosque on the holy site, hurling stones, firebombs and fireworks.” (‘ Palestinian woman and child killed in Gaza as attacks and reprisals continue ‘, The Guardian, 11 October 2015)
The above reference to al-Aqsa mosque, which The Guardian chooses to refer to as the “sensitive Jerusalem holy site” is interesting. Discriminated against in all walks of life, Palestinians cherish and defend national and religious sites which are testament to their actual existence and the many years of culture and civilisation which flourished on the land which Israel now occupies. The Palestinians have to fight a constant battle as Israel attempts to wipe out not only living Palestinians, but also the cultural legacy left by the now dead generations. The escalation of the recent violence must be seen in this context.
The al-Aqsa mosque is the third holiest site in Islam. In recent months the site has been stormed by Israeli settlers and work is ongoing to wipe out the Islamic and Palestinian identity of the surrounding area. The actions of the Israeli authorities at al-Aqsa are significant because they are further incursions into the life, identity and cultural existence of the Arab population resident inside Israel, a population which already lives under an effective military dictatorship, with little in the way of meaningful civil rights.
Emek Shaveh, an organisation of Israeli archaeologists, has made a vocal appeal against the activities of the Israeli state to wipe out the Palestinian culture of this area,
” Despite claims it is seeking to calm tensions in Jerusalem, Israel is intensifying activities to encircle the al-Aqsa mosque and strengthen its control over the holy site, a group of Israeli archaeologists warned last week.
“The group sounded the alarm as the United States oversaw moves at the mosque compound, known as the Haram al-Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary, intended to end weeks of Palestinian unrest focused on Jerusalem.
“US Secretary of State John Kerry brokered an agreement last weekend between Israel and Jordan, the official guardian of the Haram, that will see cameras installed in the mosque compound.
“But the archaeologists say the most pressing threats to the mosque, located on a raised plaza above the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City, will be invisible to the cameras.
“They accuse Israel of making rapid changes to the physical landscape around al-Aqsa to obscure the area’s Islamic character and create an ever-more arduous ‘obstacle course’ for worshippers.
“‘The big picture is that Israel is weakening the Muslim and Palestinian presence there so that Israeli Jews can believe they are the true owners of the site,’ said Yonathan Mizrachi, head of Emek Shaveh, an organisation of Israeli archaeologists opposed to the use of archaeology for political ends.
“Various Israeli archaeological activities, he said, had almost completed Israel’s encirclement of the al-Aqsa compound, isolating it from Palestinian neighbourhoods of East Jerusalem…
“… The unwritten understandings are supposed to ensure that the religious administration of the compound remains solely with an Islamic authority known as the Waqf, while Israel controls policing at the site. Although Jews may visit the mosque area, they are banned from praying there.
“Jews refer to the Haram as Temple Mount, arguing that the ruins of two ancient temples lie under al-Aqsa. The Western Wall, revered by religious Jews, is believed to be a retaining wall of the second temple, destroyed nearly 2,000 years ago…
“Critics like Mizrachi say Washington’s narrow focus on Jewish prayer at al-Aqsa will fail to ease tensions because it ignores the wider injustices of Israel’s occupation as well as limited access for Palestinians to the mosque and dramatic physical changes Israel is engineering immediately outside the compound.
“‘It is not just about what is happening on the plaza but what Israel is doing outside the compound to restrict access and prayer rights for Muslims, and to change the character and atmosphere of East Jerusalem and the Old City,’ he told Middle East Eye.
“‘The government and the settlers are working hand in hand to create the impression that the Old City is at the core of Jewish history and identity and must be under Israeli sovereignty’….
“In addition, said Mizrachi, Israeli activities were cutting off the al-Aqsa compound from its Palestinian surroundings. Recent changes included:
“The extension of secretive excavations and tunnelling around the compound to create an ‘underground Jewish city’ on the western and northern flanks of the Haram;
“The transfer of an archaeological park on the western and southern walls of al-Aqsa to an extremist Jewish settler organisation;
“The enforced closure of a historic but active Muslim cemetery, the length of the eastern side of the compound, denying Palestinian families access under the pretext that it falls within an Israeli national park.
“Israel had also increased security restrictions for Palestinians on the main thoroughfare through the Old City’s Muslim Quarter to al-Aqsa, further limiting access, Mizrachi noted.
“‘The goal of all these changes is to emphasise the Jewish character of the environment around al-Aqsa, both above and below ground,’ he said…
“… Mizrachi said al-Aqsa was not just threatened by the activities of a few ultra-nationalists but the combined actions of Israel’s political mainstream, archaeologists and Jewish religious authorities.
“He said the government, the Israel Antiquities Authority and the Western Wall Heritage Fund were all working clandestinely on extensive excavations next to the mosque compound to create a network of underground spaces.
“The purpose of the tunnelling was unclear, he said. ‘But it is inevitable that, when they are being conducted so secretively, they fuel concerns among Palestinians that the work could extend under the mosque or damage its foundations.’
“He added that Israel was continuing with excavations on the western flank of the al-Aqsa compound that first came to public attention with the opening of the Western Wall tunnels in 1996, during Netanyahu’s first premiership. The opening of the tunnels led to clashes that resulted in dozens of Palestinian deaths and hundreds being injured.
“In addition, an Israeli court ordered last month that control of an archaeological park, the Davidson Centre, on the western and southern flanks of the al-Aqsa compound, be handed over to Elad, a settler organisation.
“Elad already controls large parts of the Palestinian neighbourhood of Silwan, south of the al-Aqsa compound, where it is developing a Jewish archaeological theme park called the City of David that is displacing Palestinian residents.
“Mizrachi said Elad’s role at the Davidson Centre was ‘disturbing’ because it brought the settler group to the foot of the Al-Aqsa compound. Elad, he added, was trying to connect its Silwan complex with the Davidson Centre, as a way to reinforce an exclusive Jewish narrative about ancient Jerusalem.
“In September, Israel’s National Parks Authority sealed off with a barbed wire Bab al-Rahmeh, an ancient Islamic cemetery on the mosque’s eastern side, to prevent burials and access for Palestinians.
“Emek Shaveh has warned that the move is the conclusion of ‘a long struggle between settlers and Palestinians over control of the eastern wall of the esplanade’.
“During the recent weeks of unrest in Jerusalem, Israel has severely cracked down on Palestinian access to al-Wad Street in the Old City’s Muslim quarter. It is an area Jewish settlers have long targeted for a takeover as it also connects to the Western Wall.
“‘What is happening over time is that the Haram is getting ever more isolated from its Arab and Islamic surroundings,’ Mizrachi said. ” (Jonathan Cook, ‘ Israel’s encirclement of al-Aqsa “nearly complete”‘ , Middle Eastern Eye, 1 November 2015)
Violence and the Islamic Movement of Israel
The troubles at al-Aqsa have received very little press coverage compared to the reports of daily stabbings, attacks and violent clashes between Palestinians and Israelis. This increase in attacks on Israeli targets has been difficult for the Israeli regime to predict and challenge, as it comes in the main not from Hamas and the resistance groups, but is the work of young Palestinians, many of whom are unemployed and living in wretched conditions, imprisoned within their own country and denied any means of living a life fit for human beings. As such, Israel has looked at other organisations to place blame upon, and through which, by way of censure and repression, it hopes to stem the tide towards a third intifada. The Islamic Movement of Israel – which has been very active and instrumental in the defence of al-Aqsa has now come under attack from the Israeli state:
“Israeli police ordered the closure of 17 organisations affiliated with the group and searched more than a dozen of the organisations’ offices, seizing computers, files and funds. Authorities also froze the group’s bank accounts. The government said activists could be subject to arrest if they violate the ban.
“The group’s leader, the radical cleric Raed Salah, said his party would fight the measure and continue its mission. ‘All these measures done by the Israeli establishment are oppressive and condemned,’ Salah said in a statement. He said he and two other party leaders had been summoned to police questioning.
“Salah is due to start an 11-month jail term this month in connection with incitement charges stemming from a 2007 sermon in which he allegedly called for a new uprising against Israel. Salah was previously imprisoned for funnelling money to Hamas, which rules Gaza.
“The government claimed the movement was affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, had ties to Hamas and was committed to Israel’s destruction. It also accused the movement of ‘continuous incitement to violence and racism’.
“In particular, it claimed the movement had led ‘a campaign of lies and incitement’ by accusing Israel of plotting to take over the Jerusalem holy site at the heart of the current round of violence.'” (‘ Israel bans Islamist group it blames for inciting Arabs ‘, The Guardian, 17 November 2015)
The fact that Israel is now openly targeting civic and religious organisations rather than purely armed resistance groups is evidence that Israel feels itself to be under increasing pressure. A November article in The Guardian reported that even the Israeli military machine now believes that a continued increase in armed actions by Palestinians can be predicted,
“The Israeli military believes the current wave of lethal violence with Palestinians, which has claimed over 100 lives on both sides in the last two months, will continue in the coming months amid the risk of a further serious escalation…
“… The prediction that the violence will continue was made by a senior unnamed Israeli Defence Forces officer who briefed Israeli journalists, and whose assessment was reported in several Israeli papers on Thursday morning.
“The assessment emerged as Israel’s defence minister Moshe Ya’alon unveiled plans to construct an additional section of fence to prevent Palestinians from the southern West Bank – a flash point area in recent weeks – from reaching Israel.
“Echoing remarks by senior military figures and Israel’s domestic security agency, the Shin Bet in recent weeks, the comments underlined what appears to be a fundamental disagreement between prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his senior ministers and senior security officials over the root causes of the recent dangerous frictions.
“Categorising the recent events as a ‘limited uprising’, the officer – described as a high-ranking figure in Israel’s central command – warned the violence could continue for months and escalate into a wider conflict. He added that 95% of the attacks were carried out by individuals not directed by militant factions.
“‘I believe it will be long … I don’t see it subsiding in the next few months and I can’t say whether it will turn into a wider escalation,’ the officer told reporters.
“‘In my estimation, a month of quiet could bring about a decline of the other option, which is a renewed outburst that would lead us to a widespread uprising. We are currently seeing an average of 15 points of rioting every weekday and 40 on weekends, each of them involving from dozens to hundreds of demonstrators. But this could become 20,000 or 200,000 demonstrators.’
“Perhaps most controversially the officer revealed that the Israeli military had recommended measures to ease tensions including providing Palestinian work permits, releasing prisoners and providing extra arms to the Palestinian security forces – rejected by Netanyahu’s government.
“Most striking about the senior officer’s briefing was the way in which – once again – it appeared to strongly contradict the official government narrative of the causes of the violence which Netanyahu and other figures have blamed on ‘Palestinian incitement’ including by Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas.
“Instead the officer said the Israeli military recognised the Palestinian Authority’s efforts to stem the violence, and categorised many of the so called ‘lone wolf’ attackers as ‘despondent young people, some of them unemployed’.
“The officer also criticised the use of lethal force against young Palestinian attackers posing a limited threat, appearing to refer to a high profile incident in which two Palestinian schoolgirls who attempted an attack with scissors in Jerusalem were shot earlier this week and one of them killed.
“‘Our rules of engagement are more permissive than restrictive, but when you have a trembling girl with scissors in her hands, you don’t need to riddle her with ten bullets. You could kick her or shoot her in the leg’ .” (Peter Beaumont, ‘ Israeli military warns violence could go on for months and risks getting worse ‘, The Guardian, 26 November 2015)
Such sick statements as that immediately above demonstrate the monster against which the Palestinian people are fighting. Their struggle and bravery is an inspiration to all, and is rallying more people to the cause of Palestinian liberation from outside the country and even within Israeli society itself. An article in Haaretz by Noam Sheizaf in December highlighted extremely cogently the situation for Palestinians inside of Israel today, and the trap into which the Israeli state has put itself:
“Listening to foreign news about the conflict, one might think that there exists a sovereign Palestine, which has some sort of territorial dispute with the State of Israel. Every once in a while, one of these parties gets violent; at other times they talk to each other, but with little success. Well-intentioned mediators come and go, looking for a formula that will end the hostilities. The average news reader is left wondering how come they didn’t solve this problem yet.
“The answer is this: The story has very little to do with the reality on the ground. There is no Palestine. Israel is the only sovereign between the river and the sea. Israel controls all borders; the currency is the New Israeli Shekel and the central bank is Israel’s. Israel controls the registration of the population, the ports and the airspace. Even the Palestinian police exist to protect Israel, not Palestinians.
“Under Israeli sovereignty, Jews have all the rights. Palestinians don’t. Those of them born west of the Green Line have (almost) full rights, but they are heavily supervised and discriminated against. Some 300,000 Palestinians in East Jerusalem are ‘residents’: They can’t take part in general elections, they can’t purchase state land and their status can be stripped from them, either as individuals or as a collective, as Israel is currently thinking of doing to some 100,000 of them. Finally, there are the Palestinians in the occupied territories, who are under the control of the military regime, are not represented at all in the Israeli system and, for almost half a century, have been tried in military courts, under military law.
“The ‘conflict’ is actually an internal Israeli problem – a regime that administrates different sets of rights for different ethnic groups. Instead of racial segregation, the system works according to classes of citizenship, but the output is not that different. This is not a temporary situation. It’s the reality most Israelis and Palestinians have known all their lives.
“Maintaining such a complicated, segregated system structure is a difficult task. Since most Palestinians are prevented from taking part in the system, the only way to control them is by force. Consecutive Palestinian revolts resulted in the West Bank and Gaza looking like open-air prisons, with tall walls and watchtowers. Israel has become a world leader in surveillance, targeted assassinations and crowd-control technologies.
“Since the late 1970s, almost all of Israel’s wars were waged against the Palestinians. Israel fought these wars with one goal in mind: to preserve the status quo inside its borders. Even the sole exception – the 2006 war with Hezbollah – was very much a result of the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, which was a war against the Palestine Liberation Organization.
“Yet Israel’s real success – a result of the overwhelming imbalance of power – is its ability to maintain the ‘diplomatic’ narrative of two sovereign regimes trying to resolve some border dispute.
“The diplomatic narrative creates its own set of demands and expectations for all parties involved. For example, when Israel does respect a certain Palestinian right – freedom of travel; due process; representation in some zoning committee – it is considered a ‘gesture’ and proof of goodwill on behalf of the government, instead of being seen as one of those arbitrary acts of mercy that authoritarian regimes are notorious for using as bargaining chips.
“Nothing to offer Israel
“On a deeper level, the ongoing conversation about Israeli ‘concessions’ toward the Palestinians deprives the term ‘rights’ of its original meaning – something a person is born with. Instead, we end up in a dynamic in which Palestinian rights are becoming a political currency that is used to extract favors from the world and legitimize Israeli policy goals – the settlements being the most obvious example.
“It’s because of the diplomatic narrative that the decades-long Israeli political debate – whether or not to end the occupation – is considered a sign of a ‘vibrant democracy’ – while every Palestinian effort to obtain some of their rights (including by going to the international institutions that were built for this very purpose) is labeled ‘damaging,’ ‘unhelpful’ or simply ‘terror.’
“The diplomatic process is failing, because this is not a diplomatic problem. Peace talks are meaningless because the Palestinians, like every population denied its rights, have nothing to offer Israel. Not land, nor resources. They don’t even have an army that Israel needs to worry about, like Egypt did.
“That’s why support for the peace process is so low: Israeli Jews understand that any major change – either in the form of a two-state solution or the one-state solution, or any other arrangement – will actually make things worse for them. They will need to give up assets, and they will get nothing in return. So they elect the leader who promises to do everything in his power to maintain things as they are, and after he blows up the peace process – as promised – he gets re-elected with an even bigger majority.
” Unfortunately, the only thing that made Israelis rethink the occupation in the past was Palestinian violence. The first intifada led to Oslo; the second to the Gaza disengagement. Polls found that at the height of terror attacks, support for the two-state solution was at an all-time high. It began declining as the violence subsided.
“It’s a horrible dynamic, for both Israeli Jews and Palestinians. If we would like to avoid more violence, we should end the ‘conflict resolution’ and diplomacy narrative, and return to the reality on the ground. The simple truth is that we Israelis don’t have the right to deny Palestinians their freedom, even if we decided to do so ‘democratically.’….” (Noam Sheizaf, ‘The “Conflict” is not a diplomatic problem – it’s an Israeli problem‘, Haaretz, 4 December 2015)