A third intifada in the making?
In the past weeks, tensions in Israel, East Jerusalem and the West Bank have reached new heights. In what seems to be a tit-for-tat situation, Israelis and Palestinians have been expressing their anger through more violence and hatred.
A car driven by a Palestinian crashed into Israeli pedestrians; a Palestinian was found hanged – killed by Israelis, say Palestinians; suicide, say Israeli police. Another Palestinian was stabbed in the leg. On 18 November, two Palestinians attacked a synagogue and killed five Jews.
On 19 November, a curfew in Ras al-Amoud, an East Jerusalem neighbourhood, was ignored by Palestinians, who clashed with Israeli soldiers.
Meanwhile, in the West Bank, demonstrations took place against Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who had condemned the attack on the synagogue. Jewish settlers chanted ‘death to Arabs’, encouraged the slaughter of Palestinian children, and distributed invitations to Jews to pray at al-Asqa Mosque.
The conflict, which is reeling out of control, stems from one place – East Jerusalem.
Since 1967, the area has been under the jurisdiction of Israel, with an illegal military occupation going unrecognized by the international community. Its unique status is further emphasized by the presence of al-Haram al Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary), a holy place for Jews and Muslims alike.
Al-Haram al-Sharif, Islam’s third-holiest site, is the compound which houses al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock. It is administered by the Jerusalem and Jordanian Islamic waqf (council).
Referred to as the Temple Mount by Jews, al-Haram al-Sharif is also Judaism’s holiest site, which Jews believe once housed two ancient Jewish temples.
This has long been a source of contention between Jews and Palestinians, with extremist Jews believing that the Islamic sites should be destroyed and a third Jewish temple built in their place.
Israel recently prohibited Muslim male worshippers under the age of 50 from entering al-Haram al-Sharif, while allowing extremist Jewish settlers, under the protection of the police, to perform religious rituals there.
The situation was further aggravated when Israeli police entered the compound and, for the first time since 1967, assaulted worshippers at the main mosque with teargas, stun grenades and rubber bullets.
Prominent leader and US-born rabbi Yehuda Glick has plans to make the third temple a reality, and Jews a permanent part of the compound. His last provocative visit on 29 October ended in his being shot and wounded. The following day, al-Haram al-Sharif was closed to Muslim worshippers.
It’s important to note that al-Haram al-Sharif represents more than just a religious site: it’s a symbol which unifies Palestinians and Muslims worldwide. It matters so much that, when Israeli leader Ariel Sharon visited the compound in 2000, with the protection of 1,000 armed security guards, the event triggered the Second Intifada.
No challenge to Israeli sovereignty
To the problems with al-Haram al-Sharif, one can add the settlements and forced land expropriations, which have done nothing to improve relations between Jews and Muslims in East Jerusalem.
Since 1967, when it was occupied by Israel, approximately 23 square kilometres have been expropriated from Palestinian East Jerusalem residents.
In addition, East Jerusalem is surrounded by Israeli settlements and the Separation Barrier, both of which have effectively separated over 200,000 Palestinian residents from the rest of the West Bank.
According to B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights organization, ‘Israel’s primary goal in Jerusalem has been to create a demographic and geographic situation that will thwart any future attempt to challenge Israeli sovereignty over the city.
To achieve this goal, the government has been taking actions to increase the number of Jews and reduce the number of Palestinians living in the city.’
There are different ways of achieving this: residency permits being revoked (14,000 since 1967); home demolitions (2,000 since 1967); building Jewish settlements while restricting the expansion of Palestinian residential areas (Israel recently approved the building of 200 new homes in East Jerusalem); building national parks (where construction is not permitted, further lessening the land available to Palestinians); and lastly, through home evictions.
In the early morning hours of 30 September, the residents of 25 apartments in Silwan, a Palestinian East Jerusalem neighbourhood, learned that their homes had been purchased, and would soon become the property of Jewish settlers.
It was not the first time Palestinians had been evicted from their homes in Silwan. What made it different was that it was the largest seizure of Palestinian property in East Jerusalem in 20 years.
Silwan is home to 50,000 Palestinians. The village, thousands of years old, sits right outside the walls of Jerusalem’s Old City and al-Haram al-Sharif, and ‘has been the target of intense settlement efforts by Elad and a flashpoint for tensions in the city,’ according to the Institute of Middle East Understanding (IMEU).
Elad, founded in 1986, is a rightwing settler organization which, according to IMEU, is ‘dedicated to colonizing occupied Palestinian East Jerusalem with Israeli Jews, particularly in and around the Old City and the neighbourhood of Silwan.’
The first Jews settled in Silwan in 1991. Currently, there are 500 Jewish settlers (90 families) residing there, under the protection of armed guards, in spite of the international declaration of the illegality of the settlements, and the violation of international law.
The Jewish National Fund (JNF), a quasi-governmental Israeli agency, and Elad, both registered charitable organizations in the US, use various methods to acquire Palestinian property in their efforts to create a predominantly Jewish population.
Through shady deals, the use of the Absentee Property Law of 1950, false affidavits, illegal transfer of public property and, in many cases, aided by corrupt Palestinian go-betweens, Palestinian land and homes are taken over by Jews.
With the most recent property confiscations, the Jewish population in Silwan will most likely increase to 700, compromising the safety of the Palestinian residents.
A 2012 UN Office for the Co-ordination Of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) report stated that ‘the continuous deployment of private security guards and police forces to protect the settlements, particularly in Silwan and Sheikh Jarrah, has led to frequent clashes, which undermined the physical security of Palestinian residents.’
Now, the home of the Palestinian who committed the car attack has been torn down, and the homes of those who committed the attack in the synagogue are set to be demolished. Additionally, the residency permit of the wife of one of the Palestinian attackers is to be revoked.
The current situation leaves one to wonder: are the events of the past few months a third intifada in the making?