Jerusalem: Why should things not get worse?

David Shulman writes: These days Jerusalem is a sad and scary place. The city center has largely emptied out. Whether you are Jewish Israeli or Palestinian, there is a sense of lurking danger, random, episodic, entirely unpredictable. Although the number of stabbing incidents has decreased over the last few days, in the street you still sometimes look over your shoulder. People, even in extreme situations, manage to create a veneer of normalcy, easily torn away by the next explosion. But the police report a 2,000 percent increase in the public’s demand for handguns, and the government is easing the process of obtaining one. Once people have guns, they tend to use them.

Fear, also hate, makes for a light finger on the trigger, especially in an atmosphere of rabid nationalism that is deliberately fanned by government spokesmen and the prime minister himself. Army intelligence predicts the current violence will get worse; already, Hamas is said to have directed its forces on the West Bank to carry out suicide bombings. And why should things not get worse? As many of us have been saying for years, this situation is the natural and inevitable result of the Netanyahu world.

When it began some four weeks ago, much of the violence was initially focused on Jerusalem and clearly related to events on the Haram al-Sharif (the Noble Sanctuary, containing the Dome of the Rock and the Al-Aqsa Mosque), which the Jews call the Temple Mount—the most sensitive spot in the Middle East and always a flashpoint for potential conflict. For the last several months, before the current wave of violence, there has been a small-scale Intifada in Palestinian neighborhoods in the eastern part of the city; young Palestinians have been battling police and soldiers there night after night. These confrontations escalated out of control in September and October largely because of the perceived threat to the Haram, especially the possibility that groups of religious Jews will be allowed to pray there or even to build some synagogue-like structure. There was also the matter of police raids on the Al-Aqsa mosque, allegedly to search for weapons and explosives.

Palestinian fears that the Zionists intend to harm, perhaps destroy, the Haram go back to the very earliest years of the struggle in Palestine, long before the creation of the state. This anxiety is not entirely baseless. Official Israel, under pressure from abroad, has reaffirmed (via mediation by Jordan) its commitment to the existing arrangements on the Haram, still largely run by the Waqf, the Muslim Endowment Board, with only collective Muslim prayer allowed there. But we have a Jewish extremist fringe, led by crazed and vicious men such as Moshe Feiglin—a convicted criminal, a settler, and also, to our shame, a current member of the Knesset—who are continuously trying to establish some form of permanent Jewish presence on the Temple Mount, including a building and ready access to the Haram by these hyper-nationalist fanatics. [Continue reading…]

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