Expecting a third Intifada
The next Intifada could see the Palestinian people in struggle not only against Israel but also against the Palestinian Authority, writes Khaled Amayreh in Ramallah
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A handcuffed Palestinian youth is detained by Israeli policemen during clashes on Friday in Jerusalem's Old City. Israeli police stormed Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, fired tear gas and threw stun grenades in an attempt to disperse the protesters
Observers in occupied Palestine are increasingly of the opinion that a fresh Intifada or uprising is in the offing as the Israeli authorities keep provoking Palestinians, including stepping up efforts to gain Jewish prayer rights at Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam's third holiest shrine.
The Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) has warned that provocative Israeli actions at Haram Al-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary) could trigger a religious war between Jews and Muslims. The organisation called on the world community to stop Israeli aggression before it was too late.
The warning came after Israeli security forces attacked Muslim worshipers during Friday's congregational prayers on 5 March. Israeli paramilitary police fired tear gas and stun grenades, injuring as many 50 Palestinians, many of them elderly. Some of the injured were transferred to the two main hospitals in East Jerusalem, but many had to be treated on site as Israeli troops impeded emergency medical efforts.
The Israeli police said it "intervened" in reaction to stone throwing towards the nearby Al-Buraq Wall, which Jews call the "Western Wall plaza". Palestinians have been protesting a series of Israeli provocations, including efforts by Jewish religious groups to gain a foothold at Al-Aqsa Mosque. Last week, Israeli troops escorted a number of Jewish fanatics into the Haram Al-Sharif esplanade where they started holding religious rituals. Muslim worshipers in the area hurled stones towards them, prompting soldiers to attack the Muslims.
The overall atmosphere was further galvanised by a recent decision by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to add two Islamic sites -- the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron, which Jews call the Cave of the Patriarch, and the Bilal bin Rabah Mosque in Bethlehem, known to the Jews as Rachel's Tomb -- to a newly-founded list of Jewish heritage sites.
Another source of tension has been a decision by the Israeli mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, to destroy an entire Arab neighbourhood in the eastern part of the city in order to build tourist facilities. Deemed an "act of rape" and "ethnic cleansing", Palestinians argue that the demolition of dozens of homes in the Silwan neighbourhood is but a further attempt to judaise Arab East Jerusalem.
Some conscientious Jewish figures acknowledge the malicious intent of the Israeli authorities and Mayor Barkat. Abraham Burg, former speaker of the Knesset, has accused Barkat of allowing oppression and injustice to run wild in a city where "justice once dwelt".
Writing in Haaretz on 7 March, Burg pointed out that "the Israeli-Jewish and Arab-capital" is "becoming the capital of the hallucinatory, dangerous fanatics. This is not the city of all its residents. It is a sad city that belongs to its settlers, its ultra orthodox, its violent residents and its messiahs... the Israeli spirit of justice is being run roughshod by politicians, settlers and judges. The national soul is being slain with red tape and bureaucratic indifference."
In fact, government-backed Jewish organisations, mostly funded by wealthy Jews from the United States, have been creating a foothold in the Arab neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah where Palestinian families have been forcibly evicted from their homes in coordination with the police apparatus. Settlers claim that some homes belonged to Jews prior to 1948 while others were purchased in secret deals. When aggrieved Palestinians go to Israeli courts for redress, the Israeli judge routinely sides with the settler squatters.
Settler lawyers often claim that homes in such towns as Hebron and Jerusalem belonged to Jews during the British Mandate era. The same lawyers overlook the fact that tens of thousands of homes in what is now Israel belonged to Palestinian families whose members were either massacred, as in Deir Yassin, or ethnically cleansed and forced into exile, as happened in Jerusalem's neighbourhoods of Lifta, Ain Karm, Talbiyeh and Al-Malha, to name a few.
When this writer asked an Israeli lawyer involved in efforts to arrogate Arab real estate in East Jerusalem why it was legal for Jews to reclaim their presumed property in the West Bank while it was not for Palestinians relative to property in what is now Israel, the lawyer said, "because we are strong and you are weak".
Standing up to oppression, several thousand pro-peace Palestinians and Israelis gathered in Jerusalem Saturday night, 6 March, to protest against the growing evictions of Arab families by police-backed Jewish settlers. It is unlikely, however, that demonstrations will force the Israeli government to rethink its drive to judaise Arab East Jerusalem.
Actually, far from showing the slightest consideration for Palestinian concerns, Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak this week approved the construction of 112 new settler units in the West Bank. The decision makes a mockery of the Israeli government decision earlier this year to freeze settlement expansion for eight months. It also reveals that promises and undertakings by the Netanyahu government have little credibility.
With a conspicuously helpless Palestinian Authority (PA) doing next to nothing -- and arguably capable of nothing -- in the face of Israel's arrogance of power, frustration among ordinary Palestinians is building. It is not unlikely that the seeds are being sown of a full-fledged Intifada if the present trend continues. However, a fresh Intifada would confront the Western-backed PA with a real dilemma that could put into question not only its legitimacy -- such as it is -- but also its very survival.
This week, Israel delivered a stern warning to the PA: "Stop the stone throwers, or we will." The problem, however, is that a crackdown by PA security forces on Palestinians reacting to Israeli provocations and aggression would be very unpopular, as it would show PA security forces repressing their own people on Israel's behalf. On the other hand, should the PA decide to side with the masses against Israel it would risk its own survival, as the Israeli army would be forced to retake Palestinian population centres as happened in 2001 and 2002.