I’m not a great fan of op-eds, especially political. Everybody’s take is different, it depends which voices are shouting the loudest in your ear. However, so much has been going on and my friends in Jerusalem are telling me that the current atmosphere there reminds them of the opening days of the Second Intifada in the autumn of 2000. Tension and fear. A sense of foreboding.
“I can feel it in my bones, what’s coming” people are saying. What’s coming looks a lot like more violence.
There are fewer pedestrians on the streets, even on Jaffa Street. People tend to look over their shoulders, stand further apart on the tram stops and have become cautious and alert in public places. Most of all, it would seem, stoic melancholy overlying a dark rage has returned. So very familiar.
The wave of shootings, vehicle attacks and stabbings has had a profound effect. The faces of murdered innocents plaster news sources and there is to be a relaxation on gun ownership. Talk of a Third Intifada is everywhere. The most recent atrocity, an early morning synagogue attack killed five, four of whom were rabbis and one of whom was a member of an almost dynastically revered rabbinical family. Images of bloodstained carnage splattered all over the media suggests an increasing boldness by perpetrators, heedless of their own lives, presumably sacrificed in the cause of jihad. This, together with subsequent rejoicing in East Jerusalem together, unbelievably, by a moment’s silence in the Jordanian Parliament for the perpetrators surely defines a red line. When innocents are killed it is heinous. When they are at prayer, lost in contemplation of the Divine, such action is beyond depraved.
Yet some commentators are suggesting, atmospherics notwithstanding, in a number of substantive ways the current reality differs sharply from the time of the two intifadas (1987-92 and 2000-04). The new violence, though indiscriminate, brutal and murderous, is more narrowly focused. It is limited, for now, to specific areas of the country and to areas surrounding East Jerusalem.
But Judea and Samaria, the West Bank, has so far stayed largely quiet.
Why? Because the Palestinian Authority leadership in the West Bank appears to be playing a double game.
On the one hand, the Palestinian press, one assumes with the connivance and imprimatur of the office of Mahmoud Abbas, is engaging in incitement, spreading fear and anger about supposed Israeli plans to upset the delicate rules for Jewish worship on the Temple Mount/Al-Aqsa Mosque area. Abbas himself has spoken of Jews “desecrating” and “contaminating” the site — the holiest place in Judaism. This in and of itself is provocative insofar as it clearly defines the Muslim attitude to the ‘kuffar’ or unbeliever, as being dirty, unworthy and sub-human when compared to Muslim purity, indeed religious supremacism is enshrined in every word of the Qu’ran. Furthermore, its adherents appear to face no moral dilemma by storing Molotov cocktails and missiles inside its walls.
According to the status quo arrangement, Jews may visit at certain times but cannot pray at the Temple Mount. The same applies to Christians, but less provocatively. Indeed, the rickety structure they have to use to get there is in danger of falling down. Rebuilding it is of itself an act of provocation.
Whether such an arrangement is fair or just is another question. But there are no plans to change it, indeed Benjamin Netanyahu has reaffirmed Israel’s commitment to it.
Meantime, overlaying all the incendiary rhetoric, PA security forces are continuing to co-operate with the Israelis in ensuring relative quiet on the West Bank. This reflects the general lack of Palestinian enthusiasm to provoke another mass confrontation with Israel.
Such a double game is dangerous. While the attacks on Israeli civilians have been presented in some news reports as spontaneous, isolated acts of rage, an examination of the biographies of the perpetrators so far suggests something rather different.
All of them are or were committed members of terrorist or revolutionary organisations, either the PFLP – a Marxist-Leninist revolutionary organisation – Hamas or Islamic Jihad, groups that have been fanning the flames of anger over the trumped-up threat to the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount.
It’s unlikely that the terrorists who carried out the attacks received specific and personalised orders but it’s hardly a stretch to suggest that a general green light has been issued. The Palestinian Islamists want to leverage Muslim concerns regarding Al-Aqsa into a violent uprising with themselves at its head. Why now? Perhaps Hamas and Islamic Jihad hope to launch themselves back to regional and global attention by spuriously associating an Israeli threat to a Muslim holy site. Even in the most unlikely event of people getting back to the negotiating table, I can’t see it working.