By Mannat Tipnis:
It’s been two months since the devastating carnage in Gaza and Israel came to a lull, after more than half a century of senseless violence with no substantial efforts at trying to reach an acceptable peace agreement, one would think there would at least be an effort to avoid hitting the red line and targeting pressure points that are known to generate more anger and hostility. Two months down the devastating month of August, nothing much has changed in either Gaza or the West Bank. The only difference is that now, the relatively peaceful Jerusalem which enjoyed higher wages and greater privileges, including the right to travel in Israel and considered itself luckier than the cousins behind the wall in the West Bank, is now the center of what is being termed the onset of the Third Intifada.
It was on February 25, 1994, that US-born Jewish extremist Baruch Goldstein stormed into the Ibrahimi Mosque in the Palestinian city of al-Khalil (Hebron) and opened fire. The aim was to kill as many people as he could. At that moment, nearly 800 Muslim worshipers were kneeling down during the dawn prayer in Ramadan, the holiest month of the Muslim Calendar. He killed up to 30 people and wounded over 120.
Exactly 20 years later, the Israeli army stormed Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest Muslim site, and opened fire. The timing was no accident. The Israeli Knesset (Parliament) chose the 20th anniversary of the Goldstein massacre of Palestinians in al-Khalil to begin a debate concerning the status of the al-Aqsa compound. Right-wingers – which constitute the bulk in the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – want the Israeli government to enforce its “sovereignty” over the Muslim site, which is administered by Jordan. Israeli MP Moshe Feiglin is the man behind the move, but he is not alone.
For years, Muslims have enjoyed the exclusive right to pray on the Haram in Israel’sÂ “indivisible” capital. The Al Aqsa, from where they believe the Prophet Muhammad made his night journey to heaven, is more than just a religious symbol, a threat to the Haram-al-Sharif has the ability to soothe over political and geographical differences that are currently dividing the residents of West Bank and Gaza even in a scenario where Mahmoud Abbas is accusing Hamas of lying to destroy efforts to broker national unity and target Fatah leaders. The recent attempts to attain sovereign control over the Temple Mount are being seen as part of the series of escalations to slowly attain the overall Zionist objective of occupation, colonization and dispossession.
Even when Israeli military commanders in 1967 announced the seemingly miraculous newsÂ “Har ha-bayt be-yadeinu” (The Temple Mount is in our hands), the Jordanian-appointed Muslim religious authorities were left in charge of the Haram. Others could visit, but not pray. Mainstream Rabbis concurred, repeatedly banning Jewish “ascension” to the mount. Today, extremist right wing Jews are being supported in their demands by more than one ministers of Netanyahu’s cabinet. With the Economy Minister Nafatali Benett declaring that this would be an important step into finally establishing a Jewish majority in the East, to the Housing Minister and the Deputy Parliament Speaker putting their weight behind the move, any attempt by Netanyahu to call for reason comes too late. With members of his own party and the Lukid party openly defying him and visiting the Al Aqsa mosque to pray.
For now, the violence seems to be spiraling out of anyone’s ability to control it. The attempted assassination of Yehuda Glick (a right wing activist), was followed by a 21 year old driver slamming into pedestrians at a Jerusalem light railway stop killing eight people including a three month old baby. Some 30 Palestinians were injured on Nov. 7 after Israeli forces responded to unrest in the Shuafat refugee camp in East Jerusalem. On Nov. 9, Israeli media reported that Palestinians from Bir Nabala, a town near Jerusalem, drilled and hammered a large hole in a wall along a West Bank highway. On November 10, two Israeli’s were killed by Palestinian men in separate stabbing attacks In the West Bank and Tel Aviv. Last Friday, Israeli police shot and killed a man wielding a knife. Meanwhile, a new YouTube video extolling the virtues of vehicular assault against Israelis is going viral. For the first time since the Wailing Wall riots of 1929, arguably the most violent turning point in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Jerusalem is now again the epicenter.
The fear of the Judaization of Jerusalem and the clash it is generating with Palestinian youths coming out on the streets throwing rocks and firecrackers, coupled with the fact that they are essentially political orphans without a leadership to look up to only increases the risk of further violence. Israel has now deployed more than 2000 security officers in East Jerusalem to prevent an escalation, these are security officers who have been trained to believe that the Palestinians are inherently bent on the destruction of Israel. Recent comments by the strategic affairs minister Yossi Kuperwasser when he sated at a press conference that Palestinians are brought up in a “psychological infrastructure” to believe that Jews are “descendants of apes and pigs” and have no “historical connection” to Jerusalem does not help the situation at all.
Israel’s ridiculous decisions to ban a puppet show, and the launch of a film on the problems of drug use in the Old City, simply because it received funding through the Palestinian government in Ramallah, is part of a systematic effort to deny local leaders any hold in East Jerusalem. As a result of this, alternative union groups have sprouted to fill the vacuum. The Tawir Party, the Women Of Al Aqsa, have taken it upon themselves to defend the mosque. With Mahmoud Abbas calling for “all necessary measures” to defend their right, declaring Israeli actions as tantamount to a declaration of war, Hamas announcing the establishment of a popular army to defend Haram- al- Sharif, the Jordanian’s calling their ambassador back in protest, to the Arab league stating that Israel has reached the ‘red line’, the fear is that the repercussions in the Muslim world will be so strong that governments will be forced to react because of the wrath of their own people. This could lead to a radicalization and violence that may endanger the lives of Israeli and Jewish people worldwide. Israel is playing with fire, which is probably due to the fact that in the light of their victory in August, they feel that they are invincible. The moment this escalates into a religious war, it becomes a completely different ball game, Israel needs to realize how furiously this fire could spread.
Mr. Netanyahu has also promoted new construction for Jews in East Jerusalem. On November 3rd, his government approved the building of some 500 units to expand an existing Jewish enclave North of the city, Ramat Shlomo. This followed approval to start construction of 2,600 units at Givat Hamatos, a hill in southern Jerusalem that links two other neighborhoods lying outside Israel’s pre-1967 borders.
The Economist ran a report this month about the illegal settlement expansion by Israel in Jerusalem. On November 4th, Mrs Abu Rajab, a grandmother, opened the door to her house and found a crowd of armed police outside. They ordered the 18 Abu Rajabs, among them a five-month-old baby, to evacuate. Hours later in the same Jerusalem suburb of Silwan, whose breeze-block dwellings cling to steep hillsides just beneath the Old City, the Abu Subeih and Burqan families were also brusquely evicted. All three families are now homeless, their possessions buried under rubble: the city’s wreckers gave them no time to retrieve furnishings. Israel demolishes houses citing construction rules, but this coinciding with the escalations in East Jerusalem can only be seen as a deliberate attempt to keep Palestinians under siege.
The Palestinians have been left to pick up the ruins after the IDF stormed into the mosque, Netanyahu may be trying to calm things down of the face of it, but the real fear lies in the radicalization of the populations of Israel and Gaza who may lose hope of co-existence, who in the face of danger may take up arms again, and see rationale in it. At a time when the Middle East is boiling and extremist organizations are not restricted by boundaries between nations, the effects of this radicalization may be very hard to overturn.