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…]


We are lifelong Zionists. Here’s why we’ve chosen to boycott Israel

Steven Levitsky and Glen Weyl write: The West Bank is increasingly treated as part of Israel, with the green line demarcating the occupied territories erased from many maps. Israeli President Reuven Rivlin declared recently that control over the West Bank is “not a matter of political debate. It is a basic fact of modern Zionism.”

This “basic fact” poses an ethical dilemma for American Jews: Can we continue to embrace a state that permanently denies basic rights to another people? Yet it also poses a problem from a Zionist perspective: Israel has embarked on a path that threatens its very existence.

As happened in the cases of Rhodesia and South Africa, Israel’s permanent subjugation of Palestinians will inevitably isolate it from Western democracies. Not only is European support for Israel waning, but also U.S. public opinion — once seemingly rock solid — has begun to shift as well, especially among millennials. International pariah status is hardly a recipe for Israel’s survival. [Continue reading…]


The occupation is destroying Israel, too

Assaf Gavron writes: We seem to be in a fast and alarming downward swirl into a savage, unrepairable society. There is only one way to respond to what’s happening in Israel today: We must stop the occupation. Not for peace with the Palestinians or for their sake (though they have surely suffered at our hands for too long). Not for some vision of an idyllic Middle East — those arguments will never end, because neither side will ever budge, or ever be proved wrong by anything. No, we must stop the occupation for ourselves. So that we can look ourselves in the eyes. So that we can legitimately ask for, and receive, support from the world. So that we can return to being human.

Whatever the consequences are, they can’t be worse than what we are now grappling with. No matter how many soldiers we put in the West Bank, or how many houses of terrorists we blow up, or how many stone-throwers we arrest, we don’t have any sense of security; meanwhile, we have become diplomatically isolated, perceived around the world (sometimes correctly) as executioners, liars, racists. As long as the occupation lasts, we are the more powerful side, so we call the shots, and we cannot go on blaming others. For our own sake, for our sanity — we must stop now. [Continue reading…]


Can the Palestinian uprising get organized and win international support before it is crushed?

Norman G. Finkelstein, Mouin Rabbani, and Jamie Stern-Weiner write: The Palestinians are today more isolated and fragmented than at any point since their initial dispossession in 1948. Key Gulf states have sought out Israel as an ally in their proxy conflict with Iran; Egypt’s current rulers consider Palestine a nuisance and Hamas an enemy; Turkey is otherwise preoccupied; and what’s left of Iraq and Syria have neither the capacity nor inclination to exert themselves on the Palestinians’ behalf. There is “a perception that…Palestinians are on their own,” leading Palestinian pollster Khalil Shikaki explains, and “so they take matters into their own hands.” It is in this respect hardly coincidental that Palestinians have rallied around what is not only a national symbol but also one that continues to resonate in the Arab and broader Muslim worlds.

To this should be added the increasingly barbaric Israeli-Egyptian blockade of the Gaza Strip, which along with the schism between the Fatah and Hamas movements will soon enter its second decade; unprecedented levels of official demonization of Palestinian citizens of Israel; lengthy hunger strikes by Palestinians detained without charge or trial; and regular killings by the Israeli military and settler militias in the West Bank—the last culminating in the late July arson-murder of 18-month-old Ali Dawabsheh and his parents outside Nablus. It speaks volumes that in the current context the latter factors are mere background noise.

Have the Palestinians finally embarked upon their long-heralded third intifada? That depends upon how one defines the term, and can therefore easily lead to semantic rather than substantive debate. The more pertinent questions concern how sustainable and effective the current revolt is likely to be. [Continue reading…]


Video: Voices of the Palestinian youth rebellion


Mismanaging the conflict in Jerusalem

Nathan Thrall writes: The streets of Jewish West Jerusalem are eerie and still. Silence hangs over the city, punctured occasionally by a siren’s wail. Buses are half empty, as is the light rail that runs alongside the walls of the Old City.

Heavily armed security forces, joined by army reinforcements, patrol checkpoints, bus stops and deserted sidewalks. Young men in plain clothes carry assault rifles. The evening news broadcasts images of stabbings and shootings. Among the few shops doing good business are those selling weapons and pepper spray.

In the city’s occupied East, residents are frightened, too. Massive cement cubes block exits from their neighborhoods. Lengthy lines at new checkpoints keep many from their jobs. Men under 40 who were barred from Al Aqsa Mosque on Friday prayed instead behind police barricades in the surrounding decrepit streets.

Last week, an Israeli minister called for the destruction of all Palestinian homes built in East Jerusalem without permits, a threat that targets nearly 40 percent of the city’s Palestinians because of restrictive zoning. Jerusalem’s gun-wielding mayor has called on Israeli civilians to carry arms. Jewish mobs chanting “Death to Arabs” have paraded through the streets.

Palestinian parents keep children indoors, afraid they will be arrested or shot. Nightly police raids visit their neighborhoods. Returning from work in West Jerusalem’s kitchens, hotels and construction sites, some Palestinians seek to protect themselves by wearing yarmulkes. On their cellphones, teenagers watch videos of stabbing attacks and of Palestinians shot at close range.

Several days ago, an East Jerusalem business owner told me that he and his employees were frightened to travel to the West. Like many others I’ve spoken with, he lamented the growing hatred and the killings, but rejected the idea that they had been without purpose. They had made clear to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he said, that a red line stands before Al Aqsa; no matter how weak the Palestinian leadership might be, he argued, the people would not allow Israel to restrict Muslims’ access to the occupied holy site, particularly while growing numbers of Israeli activists, some calling for the mosque’s destruction, are permitted to visit under armed protection.

Perhaps most significant, he concluded, the violence signaled that whatever the intentions of their leadership, Palestinians in Jerusalem and the West Bank will not indefinitely extend to Israel a period of calm while no corresponding reduction of the occupation takes place. [Continue reading…]


Why would a community leader with faith in Gandhi turn to violence?

Martin Luther King Jr. and his supporters had their commitment to non-violence severely tested.

In the West nowadays, however, most proponents of peace face less extreme challenges. It’s much easier to denounce war and stand up for peace if you are neither directly exposed to war nor subject to violent attacks.

For this reason, when it comes to the situation in the Middle East, many observers outside the region are inclined to focus on the innocent victims of war and occupation because they find it too difficult to identify with the armed adversaries. There is an unwillingness to entertain the notion that in certain sets of conditions, almost anyone might turn to violence. It’s much more comfortable to assume that some people have violent inclinations while others do not.

For anyone with this perspective, the story of Bahaa Alian, a Palestinian resident of Jerusalem, might be instructive.

Creede Newton and Dylan Collins write: On Tuesday, Oct. 13, two simultaneous attacks rocked Jerusalem in what was the bloodiest day of the current round of violence.

Around nine in the morning, Bilal Ranem, 23, and Bahaa Alian, 22, two Palestinian men from the Jabal al-Mukaber neighborhood in East Jerusalem, boarded a bus in nearby East Talpiot, an Israeli settlement. One was armed with a knife and the other with a pistol. As the bus began moving, the men started shooting and stabbing. Ten were injured, and two killed, including one of the attackers.

Rubi Muhatbi, an 18-year-old Israeli, told Yediot Ahronot, Israel’s most widely-read daily, that in that “moment, you feel fear and stress and you don’t know what to do. I preferred running away rather than confronting him… all I was thinking about was I was either going to survive this or I die.”

The attack was shocking by any standard, but it was made doubly so for us after the identities of the attackers were released. We quickly realized that we had met Bahaa Alian, the attacker who was killed, less than a year ago.

From what you’ve read in media reports, these two men were either terrorists who were quickly “neutralized” by Israeli security forces, or troubled Palestinian youth from an impoverished neighborhood, surrounded by Jewish-only settlements.

Perhaps both are true, but neither agrees with the impression Alian made when we met him. [Continue reading…]


Young Palestinians sound off on current unrest, Israeli occupation

Al Jazeera reports: While media headlines focus on the dramatic stabbing attacks by Palestinians and Israelis on one another in recent weeks, thousands of young Palestinians have at the same time taken to the streets of Israel, East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza Strip to demand an end to Israel’s decades-long occupation, protest violence by Israeli forces and settlers, and call for recognition of their human rights.

The stabbings are a new element, of course, while protests are an old story — except that today they involve a new generation of Palestinians, those who’ve grown up in the era of the Oslo Peace process and its attendant frustrations and failures. Like the protests of the First Intifada uprising of 1987, some of today’s demonstrations are peaceful, but others have transformed into clashes with Israeli forces.

As Palestinian veterans and analysts grapple with the question of whether current events bear the hallmarks of a new intifada, Al Jazeera reached out to a number of Palestinians under the age of 30 throughout the region. We asked them two questions:

(1) Where do you see the current unrest headed?

(2) If these protests and clashes continue, how do you expect Israeli forces, settlers and the Palestinian Authority to respond? [Continue reading…]


Education under occupation: everyday disruption at a Palestinian university

By Brendan Browne, Queen’s University Belfast

As the clock moves towards 12.45pm I begin to anxiously await the flurry of emails that I’ve come to expect in advance of my 2pm class. The class is on law and human rights. Students email to say that a deterioration in the security situation means they must stay within the relative safety of their own area, their parents naturally apprehensive that travel across the West Bank could potentially be dangerous.

This has become the everyday reality this semester for students attending Al Quds University, and Al Quds (Bard) University – a partnership with the American liberal arts institution.

The university soon gives the call for all staff and students to evacuate. In an entirely depressing but ultimately predictable scenario, Palestinian students will not be able to take their classes in literature, law, biology or media. Those on site make their way to the agreed “safe” area with alcohol-drenched cotton balls handed out by the ever vigilant staff of the Palestinian Red Crescent to ward off the effects of the inevitable deluge of tear gas.

The university has tried to continue life as normal. On October 13, Al Quds university welcomed the president of India, Pranab Mukherjee on campus with great pomp and splendour to receive an honorary degree. Indian flags adorned the beautiful campus grounds and academics dressed in ceremonial gowns to applaud the visit of the world leader.

Welcoming the Indian president on campus.
Brendan Browne., Author provided

But there were also protests from students angry at recent violence against them in Jerusalem, using this platform to draw attention to their ongoing suffering. Within 45 minutes of the Indian contingent leaving, Israeli forces stormed the campus and violently arrested eight students while simultaneously causing significant damage to property, according to the student group Mojama’a Alanshita which posted a video of some of the arrests on Facebook.

[Read more…]


‘Those disguised as Arabs’

AFP correspondent, Andrea Bernardi, writes: It’s fairly common to see Israeli agents infiltrate the crowds of Palestinian stone throwers during demonstrations. I’ve witnessed this plenty of times in Jerusalem. The goal of these “mustarabiin” — literally “those who disguise themselves as Arabs” — is to stop the protesters. They usually take out their weapons without using them, or, more often, point them into the sky, as if they were about to shoot into the air.

But today, I filmed these undercover agents for the first time firing live bullets into a crowd of protesters.

I showed up to cover a “Day of Rage” that Palestinian students staged at the Bir Zeit University in Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank. At the end of the demonstration, the protesters headed toward the DCO checkpoint near the Bet-El settlement, which has often been the scene of clashes between the two sides. [Continue reading…]


Is a third Palestinian intifada on the way – or has it already begun?

Peter Beaumont writes: A weekend of febrile violence in the West Bank and east Jerusalem has led to growing fears of a third Palestinian intifada. One of the latest victims was a 13-year-old boy killed by Israeli forces during clashes outside a refugee camp in Bethlehem.

Abdel Rahman Shadi, who lived in Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem, was struck in the chest by Israeli fire and died after undergoing emergency surgery in Beit Jala hospital on Monday – the second youth to be killed in 24 hours.

There is concern among diplomats and analysts in the region that the escalating violence could turn into a new intifada, or uprising. Four Israelis were killed in attacks by Palestinians on Friday and Saturday.

The front page of one mass-circulation newspaper on Sunday stated simply: “The Third Intifada.” Elsewhere in the Israeli media, columnists were more circumspect. Some asked whether the latest events fitted the pattern of the two previous intifadas, which began in 1987 and 2000, and if not, how the current escalation could be curbed before becoming one.

Not only in the Israeli media has the question been asked. The issue was given added urgency by the Facebook posting of Muhanad Halabi, a 19-year-old Palestinian student who stabbed two Israeli men to death in the Old City on Saturday, who linked his actions directly to a “third intifada”. [Continue reading…]


Intifada: The writing was on the wall

Gideon Levy writes: Only rarely does a cliche as well-worn as this one hit the mark so precisely: The writing is on the wall, indeed. My readers will pardon me; no response, explanation or analysis seems more pertinent, at this juncture, when the danger of a third Palestinian Intifada breaking out seems greater than at any time in the last decade. Anyone claiming to be surprised has not been living in the Middle East over the last 10 years. Anyone who claims to be surprised has, along with most Israelis, been burying his head in the sand for a decade. The only surprising thing is that a renewed uprising has taken a decade to occur.

Israeli security figures are still trying to minimise the obvious, insisting that this is only a “wave of terror,” not an Intifada. They said exactly the same thing when the two previous Intifadas erupted. When the first Intifada began, I met members of the entourage of the then Minister of Defence Yitzhak Rabin, visiting the United States at the time, in a large New York department store. There was no reason to hurry home to Israel, they said; everything was under control. Nor was the second Intifada exactly anticipated. Yet both erupted, intensely, the second worse than the first. The dimensions of the third will be greater still.

Not yet clear is whether the events occurring right now will develop into a full-blown Intifada or not, but meantime there will be no period of quiet between the Jordan River and the sea any time soon. It’s true that there have been various factors preventing, thus far, the outbreak of a third Intifada: the heavy price paid by the Palestinians for the second Intifada that failed to achieve anything whatever for them; the absence of a leadership moving the people toward another broad uprising; internal Palestinian divisions, greatly intensified in recent years, between Fatah and Hamas; the international isolation of the Palestinians amid growing international indifference; and the slightly improved economic situation on the West Bank. [Continue reading…]


Israeli cabinet approves lethal force against non-lethal threats

The New York Times reports: Israel’s security cabinet approved a series of measures on Thursday as part of a crackdown on rock throwing and firebombing by Palestinians in Jerusalem, including minimum sentences and greater leeway for the police to open fire — steps that opponents say contravene basic legal principles and may only escalate the violence.

Police officers will now be authorized to use Ruger rifles that fire .22-caliber bullets, which have less impact than other types of live ammunition but can still be lethal or cause serious injury.

Under the new regulations, police have permission to open fire not only when their own lives are threatened, as was the case previously, but also when there is “an immediate and concrete danger” to civilians, according to a government statement.

In addition, the government is preparing legislation to impose minimum prison terms of four years — the maximum is 20 years — for adults who throw rocks, homemade firebombs or shoot fireworks directly at people during confrontations. Increased fines will be imposed on convicted minors, ages 14 to 18, and their parents, and child support benefits will be revoked for jailed minors, the statement added. [Continue reading…]


The weakness behind Israel’s power

Saree Makdisi writes: It’s no wonder that this video clip went viral earlier this month. It shows a masked Israeli soldier throwing a sobbing Palestinian child to the ground, holding him in a headlock, squashing him, and then grappling with an assortment of women and girls as he tries — and ultimately fails — to wrest the terrified boy away from his mother.

Those few moments of footage revealed for all the world to see the sordid reality of Israel’s everyday war against the Palestinian people. An army that is equipped and ostensibly prepared to take on other armies — but that was last tested against a real army over four decades ago — continues to be unleashed against a largely defenseless civilian population. And it continues to fail abysmally at its assigned task of bringing that population under control and breaking its will to resist. Indeed, in political terms, the ending of the video is as instructive as the beginning: as the child is finally freed, the Israeli soldier, stripped of his coward’s facemask, is forced ignominiously to slink away, defeated — though not before sullenly and gratuitously flinging a parting stun-grenade into the faces of the child and his family, having, for all his brutality, accomplished precisely nothing.

The scene sums up on a small scale the past decades of Israeli violence, and it captures the lesson that the Israelis seem incapable of getting into their heads once and for all: that the sheer capacity for brute force — at which they admittedly excel—does not, in itself, translate into political gain, and can, indeed, backfire politically to produce the opposite result from what was intended: courage instead of fear; steadfastness instead of collapse; defiance instead of submission. [Continue reading…]


Jerusalem’s sickness runs deeper than the occupation

Amjad Iraqi writes: This past week, my fellow writers on +972 have correctly highlighted that the recent escalations in Jerusalem – of Palestinians throwing stones, the Israeli authorities encouraging live fire against them, and the clashes on the Haram al-Sharif – are neither new nor unexpected. They are inevitable outcomes of Israel’s occupation and the resistance and discontent that naturally generates against it.

To this day, many observers are not comprehending the extent to which the occupation has mutated the city to produce what the writer Teju Cole accurately described as “cold violence…a suffocating viciousness” to erode Palestinian presence in the city. Jerusalem has become a sick city as a result of this cold violence, and is getting sicker with every passing year.

But the source of this sickness is deeper than the occupation alone. The real problem – of which even the occupation is a symptom – is the nationalist and religious fervors emanating from many among both Israelis and Palestinians, which foment the greed, competitiveness, obsession, insecurity, and desire for control (if not domination) of the city’s space and its narrative.

We see this from the rhetoric of political leaders, to the symbols and slogans displayed in the public sphere, to the physical and at times deadly violence waged on the ground. It exists in the massive Jewish settlements and infrastructures cutting across occupied lands and neighborhoods, and it exists in the photos of killed Palestinian militants cropped in front of the Sakhra and Aqsa. [Continue reading…]


Can Netanyahu change Al Aqsa status quo?

Ben White writes: In 2014, almost 11,000 Jews entered the Al-Aqsa mosque compound. This represented a 28 percent increase from the previous year – and almost double the number of Jewish visitors in 2009. While in 2012, Jewish activists entered the compound on average once every 2 weeks, in 2013 this had become once every 4 days, and in 2014, closer to every 2-3 days.

The UN has described how this week’s confrontations were preceded by “three consecutive weeks of [Israeli forces] preventing all Palestinian women, as well as all men under 50, from entering Al Aqsa Mosque Compound during the morning hours, to secure the entry of settlers and other Israeli groups.” Last week, the Israeli government outlawed two Muslim groups, “informal movements of mostly Arab women and elderly men”, who protest Jewish activists’ visits to the compound. [Continue reading…]

Middle East Eye reports: Dozens of Palestinians were reportedly injured on Friday when Israeli and Palestinian Authority forces suppressed protests across the West Bank amid continuing entry restrictions the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem.

At the Qalandiya military checkpoint, three Palestinians were shot with rubber-coated steel bullets as youth threw rocks and Molotov cocktails at Israeli forces who responded with stun grenades, tear gas and .22-caliber bullets, Maan News Agency reported.

Clashes were also reported on Friday in Hebron, Nablus, Tulkarem, Qalqiliya and near Bethlehem where PA security forces assaulted demonstrators and, according to Maan, detained 13 young people. [Continue reading…]


Playing with fire at Al-Aqsa

Khaled Diab writes: The growing familiarity of clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinian protesters inside Al-Aqsa Mosque this week has not weakened the effect of the conflict on my Palestinian neighbours and friends in Jerusalem.

The picturesque, stone-lined alleyways of an already tense Old City are seething with anger and frustration, punctuated by Israeli surveillance helicopters that hang in the air. Even unreligious Palestinians who have never stepped foot inside churches or mosques are furious. They partly envisage their wider demise encapsulated by the struggle over the Noble Sanctuary, as they call it, or the Temple Mount, as it is known to Jews.

The symbolism of the confrontation around the holy site quickly triggered an international response. The three days of clashes provoked a stern warning from neighbouring Jordan, with which Israel has a peace accord. “Any more provocations in Jerusalem will affect the relationship between Jordan and Israel,” warned Jordan’s King Abdullah II. “Jordan will have no choice but to take action, unfortunately.” [Continue reading…]


Israel plans to demolish 17,000 Arab buildings in West Bank, UN says

The Guardian reports: Israel plans to demolish up to 17,000 structures, most of them on privately owned Palestinian land in the part of the illegally occupied West Bank under full Israeli military and civil rule, a UN report has found.

Between 1988 and 2014, Israel’s Civil Administration, the governing body that operates in the West Bank, issued 14,000 demolition orders, of which more than 11,000 are still outstanding and could result in the demolition of up to 17,000 structures owned by Palestinians in Area C, including houses, sheds and animal shelters, according to the report by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). In Area C, according to the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, Israel retains control of security and land management and “views the area as there to serve its own needs”.

Nearly 4,500 of the demolition orders affected Palestinian Bedouins, who human rights groups argue are at the centre of Israeli plans to force them off their land to allow for expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, which are illegal under international law. [Continue reading…]