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…]


Palestinians ‘have become unreasonably reasonable’

Sam Bahour writes: “Give me liberty, or give me death!” Patrick Henry declared in a speech he made to the Virginia Convention in 1775, at St John’s Church in Richmond, Virginia. Fast forward 240 years, and if Israel and the US were able to pin those words to a Palestinian and decry incitement, they would do so in a heartbeat.

Like “terrorism,” “incitement” is a word that works great in conflict zones because it means everything and nothing at the same time. However, its misuse as a justification to perpetrate blatant human rights violations and maintain an illegal state of affairs that contributes to conflict being fanned, not diffused.

Both Israel and the US are guilty of misusing the claim of incitement in an attempt to justify their punishment of Palestinians.

For Israel to point to Palestinian incitement, which does exist, as the source of the present violence across Israel and Palestine is pathetic, at best. After dispossessing Palestinians numerous times and leaving more than half the population locked out of their homeland and scattered across the region to live a life of misery as refugees; after installing a system of institutionalized and structural discrimination inside Israel against the Palestinian Muslim and Christian citizens of Israel who remained in the country after Israel’s establishment; after placing (and pressing) a boot of military occupation on the necks of Palestinians in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza Strip for the past 48 years; after expanding an illegal settlement enterprise from 100,000 settlers to 580,000 settlers, all the while pretending to be engaged in bilateral negotiations to resolve the conflict; and while Israeli prime ministers and ministers continually claim that no Palestinian state will ever be allowed to emerge, while also claiming Palestinians are everything from snakes to subhuman, Israel has no right whatsoever to even hint at incitement as being a factor in this outbreak of violence.

For the US, be it Congress or the Administration, to ignore history and the facts on the ground and point to Palestinian incitement in a knee-jerk reaction to the current violence is criminal. [Continue reading…]


The violent status quo that Benjamin Netanyahu sustains

Roger Cohen writes: Iran has long been a useful distraction from Israel’s core problem, Palestine. Iran is far away from Jerusalem and Iranians seldom think about Israel. Ramallah is very close to Jerusalem and Palestinians think about Israel all the time. Sometimes they rise in fury against their overlord and wield knives.

Oppressed people will do such things. The oppression does not make random Palestinian stabbings of Israelis defensible. They are vicious crimes against innocent people. But it makes them understandable. Violence is the other face of the so-called status quo that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu believes to be in Israel’s interest. Violence is inextricable from the Israeli occupation of the West Bank that is almost a half-century old. Stateless non-citizens, living behind a high-tech wall among colonial settler garrisons, will not all acquiesce to their fate.

Palestinian violence and provocations can no more be an excuse for Israel’s status-quo policy than Iranian outbursts. Serious negotiation, serious diplomacy, can change dangerous situations — slowly and painfully.

No sentient human being can contemplate the Israeli-Palestinian conflict today and not feel disgust at its cynicism. It defies words. Every word has been exhausted on its blood-soaked sterility. President Mahmoud Abbas and Netanyahu have played games while their people die — and while President Obama and Rouhani negotiated a transformative deal that is an admonishment to them both.

The liberal Israeli newspaper Haaretz quoted Netanyahu recently saying that “we will forever live by the sword” and that he does not want a binational state but “we need to control all of the territory for the foreseeable future.” All the territory is binational. Therefore to control it in the way Netanyahu envisages, democracy must be sacrificed. The Jewish and democratic state of Israel withers. [Continue reading…]


UK academics boycott universities in Israel to fight for Palestinians’ rights

The Guardian reports: More than 300 academics from dozens of British universities have pledged to boycott Israeli academic institutions in protest at what they call intolerable human rights violations against the Palestinian people.

The declaration, by 343 professors and lecturers, is printed in a full-page advertisement carried in Tuesday’s Guardian, with the title: “A commitment by UK scholars to the rights of Palestinians.”

The pledge says the signatories, from a variety of universities in England and Wales, will not accept invitations to visit Israeli academic institutions, act as referees for them, or take part in events organised or funded by them. They will, however, still work with individual Israeli academics, it adds.

The advert says the signatories are “deeply disturbed by Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian land, the intolerable human rights violations that it inflicts on all sections of the Palestinian people, and its apparent determination to resist any feasible settlement”.

In a statement on behalf of the organisers of the boycott, Prof Jonathan Rosenhead, of the London School of Economics, said Israel’s universities were “at the heart of Israel’s violations of international law and oppression of the Palestinian people”. [Continue reading…]


French court upholds heavy fines while rejecting free speech for activists calling for boycott against Israel

JTA reports: France’s highest court of appeals confirmed earlier rulings that found promoters of a boycott against Israel guilty of inciting hate or discrimination.

The rulings passed on Tuesday by the Paris-based Court of Cassation confirmed the Nov. 27 convictions of 12 individuals by the Colmar Court of Appeals in connection with their 2009 and 2010 actions in supermarkets near the eastern city of Mulhouse.

The individuals arrived at the supermarket wearing shirts emblazoned with the words: “Long live Palestine, boycott Israel.” They also handed out fliers that said that “buying Israeli products means legitimizing crimes in Gaza.”

The court in Colmar imposed fines to the collective tune of $14,500 and court expenses on Laila Assakali, Yahya Assakali, Assya Ben Lakbir, Habiba Assakali, Sylviane Mure, Farida Sarr, Aline Parmentier, Mohammad Akbar, Jean-Michel Baldassi, Maxime Roll, Jacques Ballouey and Henry Eichholtzer. [Continue reading…]


A new generation of Palestinian resistance

Yassmine Saleh writes: Over the past several days, Palestinian youth in the West Bank have been exerting their political power — destroying parts of the Separation Wall surrounding the city of Abu Dis with a large hammer, rallying against the attacks on Jerusalemite Palestinians in the Old City, and clashing with Israeli soldiers at checkpoints.

The current wave of youth protest is not an anomaly in the Palestinian struggle against the Israeli occupation and colonization. Palestinian society is a young society. Youths make up a third of the population, with fully 30 percent of people between the ages of fifteen and twenty-nine. In Jerusalem, 35.2 percent of the population is below the age of fifteen. And young people have been the driving force behind recent uprisings, such as the First Intifada in 1987–93 and the Second Intifada in 2000–05.

The First Intifada was a watershed in the history of resistance to Israeli occupation and featured mass forms of popular resistance. People of all ages and social groups united in that struggle against the occupation.

Neighborhood committees started to watch over the security of every neighborhood. When schools and universities were closed under military orders, teachers in every neighborhood gathered students to continue their classes. Agricultural relief committees, founded in the late 1970s and early 1980s, started writing how-to booklets on home-based agriculture to counter the months and weeklong curfews that the Israeli army sometimes imposed on parts of the West Bank.

“Intifada” would come to English as a synonym for “uprising” in its wake.

The uprising today is taking new forms. [Continue reading…]


Netanyahu considers move that might divide ‘united’ Jerusalem

The Times of Israel reports: ime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is considering revoking the permanent residency status of East Jerusalemite Arabs in a measure aimed at halting an ongoing spate of terror attacks, many of which have emanated from Arab neighborhoods of the city.

Netanyahu raised the idea in a security cabinet meeting two weeks ago, according to a Sunday report from Channel 2 news.

The proposal came as the security cabinet passed a slew of measures designed to prevent further Palestinian attacks in the current wave of unrest.

“We need to examine the possibility of canceling their residency. There needs to be a discussion about it,” Netanyahu reportedly said.

The proposal would affect some 80,000 people, according to the report.

The idea was met with surprise by some in the cabinet who saw the move as a step toward dividing Jerusalem through ceding control over Arab neighborhoods. [Continue reading…]


Video: Gaza is still occupied


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…]


The end of the Abbas era

Nathan Thrall writes: The stabbings, shootings, protests and clashes now spreading across Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza and Israel present one of the greatest challenges yet posed to the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, and his strategy of bilateral negotiations, diplomacy and security co-operation with Israel. The unrest – its proximate cause was increased restrictions on Palestinian access to al-Aqsa Mosque – reflects a sense among Palestinians that their leadership has failed, that national rights must be defended in defiance of their leaders if necessary, and that the Abbas era is coming to an end.

Abbas came to power with a limited window to achieve political results. More a drab functionary than a charismatic revolutionary leader like Yasser Arafat, he was seen as a bridge to recovery from the ruinous years of the Second Intifada. At the time of his election, in January 2005, Palestinians were battered, exhausted and in need of an internationally accepted, violence-abhorring figure who could secure the political and financial support necessary to rebuild a shattered society. The Fatah movement was divided and discredited by the failure of Oslo, corruption scandals and the abandonment of its liberation strategy before independence had been achieved. Abbas, who had led outreach to the Israelis since the 1970s, seemed a sufficiently unthreatening transitional figure. He had few serious challengers: Hamas abstained from the presidential election; Fatah’s founding leaders had been assassinated many years earlier; Marwan Barghouti, in Israeli prison since 2002, withdrew from the race. And the Bush administration, newly re-elected, favoured Abbas.

No one expected these conditions to last. Palestinian fatigue from fighting Israel would wear off. The West Bank and Gaza would be rebuilt. Hamas wouldn’t stay out of politics forever. Continuing occupation would foment resistance. Leaders who suppressed that resistance would be discredited. And a new generation of Palestinians would grow up with no memory of the costs of intifada and no understanding of why their parents had agreed not only to refrain from fighting the Israeli army but to co-operate with it, under agreements that Abbas had negotiated. [Continue reading…]


Video: Voices of the Palestinian youth rebellion


‘Netanyahu joins a long line of people that we would call Holocaust deniers’

The New York Times reports: Israeli historians and opposition politicians on Wednesday joined Palestinians in denouncing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel for saying it was a Palestinian, the grand mufti of Jerusalem, who gave Hitler the idea of annihilating European Jews during World War II.

Mr. Netanyahu said in a speech to the Zionist Congress on Tuesday night that “Hitler didn’t want to exterminate the Jews at the time, he wanted to expel the Jews.” The prime minister said that the mufti, Haj Amin al-Husseini, had protested to Hitler that “they’ll all come here,” referring to Palestine.

“ ‘So what should I do with them?’ ” Mr. Netanyahu quoted Hitler as asking Mr. Husseini. “He said, ‘Burn them.’ ”

Prof. Meir Litvak, a historian at Tel Aviv University, called the speech “a lie” and “a disgrace.” Prof. Moshe Zimmermann, a specialist of German history at Hebrew University, said, “With this, Netanyahu joins a long line of people that we would call Holocaust deniers.”

Isaac Herzog, leader of the opposition in the Israeli Parliament, said the accusation was “a dangerous historical distortion,” and he demanded that Mr. Netanyahu “correct it immediately.” [Continue reading…]


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…]


Video: Jamil Dakwar and Nathan Thrall talk about violence in Israel and the occupied West Bank


Israeli mob lynches Eritrean after bus station attack

Al Jazeera reports: An Eritrean man has died after he was shot and beaten by a mob after he was mistaken for an attacker during a raid in southern Israel, Israeli police say.

The attack on Sunday night at a bus station in the city of Beersheba saw a Palestinian man armed with a rifle and a knife kill an Israeli soldier and wound about 10 other people.

The Palestinian attacker was killed, while a security guard shot the Eritrean bystander, identified by Israeli media as 29-year-old Haftom Zarhum, thinking he was an accomplice of the assailant. [Continue reading…]


ISIS launches Palestinian ‘lone wolf’ adoption program

The Associated Press reports: The Islamic State group has launched an unprecedented media campaign calling on Palestinians to step up attacks against Israeli soldiers and civilians, taking advantage of a wave of violence between the two sides to deliver rare incitement against Israel.

In a video posted Monday, the group urged Palestinians to carry out attacks using every means at their disposal, including knives, vehicles, poison and explosives.

In the past two days, IS posted six videos in which militants deliver speeches to the backdrop of scenes from recent stabbings and other attacks carried out by Palestinians against Israelis. The extremist group also published several articles written by prominent IS writers.

The videos coincide with a wave of Israeli-Palestinian violence and ratcheted-up tensions among Israelis after a series of seemingly random lone-wolf attacks by Palestinians.

In the video titled “Return Terror to the Jews,” a masked fighter praised Arabs who are attacking Israelis, describing them as “lone wolves who refused to be subdued and spread fear among the sons of Zion.”

The Islamic State group, which has established a self-declared Islamic caliphate in the third of Iraq and Syria that it controls, operates a sophisticated media machine and often releases high-tech propaganda videos. Although IS operatives often describe Jews and Christians as infidels, the group has rarely issued videos that touch on Israel.

The IS group has no organized presence in the West Bank or Gaza Strip. But dozens of Palestinians in Gaza are believed to be inspired by the group’s extremist ideology, seeing Gaza’s Islamic militant Hamas rulers as too soft. [Continue reading…]

Unless there are reports of Palestinians involved in the current wave of attacks who say that they actually were inspired by ISIS, what appears to be behind ISIS’s media campaign is an utterly cynical attempt to elbow its way into the issue.

ISIS calls for attacks and when they happen, it takes credit as an inspirational force.

At the same time, Israeli politicians prattle on about terrorists, and a public that prefers to ignore the political roots of the violence will become amenable to the idea that ISIS is gaining a stronger foothold among Palestinians. The propaganda thence serves both ISIS and the Zionists.