Murmurs of a Third Intifada

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Jews praying at the Western Wall, or Kotel (Photo Courtesy of Yael Mizrahi).


WASHINGTON — Claims of a third Palestinian Intifada have been increasing over the past month, as Jerusalem has seen an upsurge in violence, leaving 6 Israelis dead, and scores of Palestinians incarcerated. The tenuous stability of Israeli-Palestinian relations in the city remains tense, which never fully recovered since violence erupted last June—with the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers, and the subsequent revenge killing of 16-year-old East Jerusalem resident Mohamad Abu Khedir. Now, Jerusalem is heading into uncharted and increasingly dangerous territory.

These assertions of renewed popular revolt against Israeli occupation stem from the recent social media campaigns sardonically labeled the run-over intifada, which has gained popularity following recent attacks, when three Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem turned their vehicles into weapons and ran over pedestrians—leaving 4 Israelis dead. The campaign incites Palestinians to “revolt and resist, even by your car.” Last week saw its continuation as two separate attacks in Tel-Aviv and the West Bank left 2 Israelis dead. Whether or not this violence will escalate into a broader popular revolt, this debate should not detract from the very real expression of despair and anger voiced by the younger Palestinian generation.

This intensifying violence comes amid rising tensions over the status of the Temple Mount. Following the Six-Day war of 1967, when Israel seized control of the old city of Jerusalem, they vowed that Muslims would retain the sole right to pray at the site, which is Islam’s third holiest, after Mecca and Medina. Non-Muslims and tourists are allowed to enter, while Jews pray at the Western Wall, located at the foot of the mount. The status quo is enforced by Israeli police, and has remained relatively stable over the years. Recently however, rabbis and prominent Israeli politicians have visited the Haram, expressing their desires to regain the rights to pray at the holy site. The temple mount has a sordid history, and has often been the epicenter of violent clashes between the two sides. In 2000, Ariel Sharon’s visit to the site was considered the spark that ignited the second Intifada.

The disagreement is far from symbolic, as Palestinians believe the tightening restrictions on the entrance to Al-Aqsa, coupled with an increase of incursions by Jewish worshippers, is part of a larger policy aimed at preventing the possibility of an independent Palestinian state which would have East Jerusalem as its capital. This fear has been the driving force behind the recent acts of terror, which has also resulted in Palestinian loss of life, as Israeli forces recently shot and killed two protestors, one Palestinian, and one Israeli Arab.

Prime Minister Netanyahu has reiterated the need to uphold the status quo, though his words may have come too late. Israeli ministers blame the incitement and wave of violence on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, while Abbas has blamed Hamas leadership for the deteriorating reconciliation deal signed between the two parties in June. As the blame game continues, local Jerusalem youths continue to throw firebombs at Israeli police, as well as stones at passing buses and light-rail cars. Once a symbol of Jerusalem’s unity—the rail served both its Jewish and Arab constituents—it has now turned to symbolize Jerusalem’s atrophy; as more than forty-percent of the trains are out of service, and many are scared to use them due to the recent attacks.

According to most Israeli and Palestinian commentators, these events do not constitute a classic intifada because they lack the critical mass, and coordinated leadership of the previous uprisings. Since this summer’s violence, Israeli security forces and the Palestinian Authority have virtually cleansed the West Bank and East Jerusalem of all terrorist infrastructures through an extensive policy of interrogations and arrests. Palestinians are also increasingly wary; exhausted by years of failed negotiations, they feel unsure whether violent means can bring an end to the daily indignities they suffer under a life of occupation. Abbas must continue to stand by his assertion that a third Intifada is not in the Palestinian’s best interests—violence only begets more violence.

On the Israeli front, increased patrols and border security will do little to curtail the violence as such singular attacks are nearly impossible to prevent. Without a strategic long-term policy, and the resolute upholding of promises such as retaining the Muslim character of the Noble Sanctuary, there will be no way to control the dangerous acceleration of tensions. Israeli leaders must refrain from engaging in fiery rhetoric and summoning the Israeli public’s anxieties for the sake of political gain.

The future of Jerusalem looks bleak, as both Israelis and Palestinians claim the city as their capital. A third of the cities 800,000 residents are Ultra-Orthodox Jews, the majority of whom do not work or serve in the Israeli military, and a third are Palestinians, who resist the Israeli annexation of their neighborhoods, and refuse to vote in municipal elections.

The sober truth is that regardless of these aforementioned recommendations, the bloodshed will continue.  However, it would not hurt if the leaders, as well as the public on both sides, took a step back from the overly simplistic blame game, and tried to understand the other sides’ basic frustrations and fears. Israelis are scarred by the memory of the second intifada, where cafés and buses were routinely blown up. Palestinians of East Jerusalem feel increasingly marginalized with continued settlement building, restrictions on movement, and fears of the change in the status quo at the Temple Mount. We must try to move away from a zero-sum game. There is no glory or viable solution in the cycle of revenge; continuing to operate under such a mindset will only result in more bloodletting.

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