Flaring West Bank violence could signal intifada
JERUSALEM - A sharp increase in violence, with dozens killed and hundreds injured, in the West Bank could possibly signal the start of a new Palestinian uprising against Israeli control.
Fighting was spurred by what Palestinians said were violations of agreements by Israeli police and Jewish settlers at al-Asqa mosque in Jerusalem. Palestinians are concerned changes in policy would allow Jews to pray at the site — the third holiest in Islam.
Fighting flared at the mosque between worshippers and Israeli police in September. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas warned the conflicts could lead to another intifada.
The clashes followed Israeli provocations, starting with unscheduled police-guided tours. The tourists were mainly armed Jewish settlers visiting the mosque’s courtyards and saying Jewish prayers there. Previous agreements limited Jews to praying at the Western Wall, west of the compound, and not in the complex itself.
When Jewish settlers tour the courtyards of al-Aqsa mosque, they often are accused of trying to inflame Palestinian sentiments. The Jews pray facing the Dome of the Rock and many loudly curse the Prophet Mohammad. Some take olive saplings or dirt from the compound’s gardens.
“They’d do anything to incite Palestinian worshippers,” said Khadija Khuwies, 38, one of the Palestinian volunteers known as Mourabitoun — sentinels — guarding al-Aqsa.
The Israeli encroachment contradicted a November 2014 guarantee by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to Jordan’s King Abdullah II that Israel had no intention to change the status quo in al-Aqsa. Jordan was accorded a “special” custody of shrines in Jerusalem under its 1994 peace treaty with Israel.
On September 15th, Israeli police stormed the mosque courtyards and buildings claiming they were acting under a “security operation” ahead of the Jewish New Year. Palestinians accused Israel of escalation, seeking to divide the site to allow Jewish prayers there.
According to Abdullah Hourani of the Gaza-based Centre for Research and Documentation, by the end of September Israeli forces and settlers had killed four Palestinians in the West Bank. Israeli soldiers also shot Hadeel al-Hashlmoun, 18, who was on her way to school in the Old City of Hebron — a crime that the London-based watchdog Amnesty International termed an “extrajudicial killing”.
On October 1st, Eitam and Naama Henkin, Israeli settlers travelling on the main road near Nablus, were killed by gunmen firing from a passing car. Four days later, Israel claimed that five Palestinians affiliated with the militant Hamas movement confessed to having carried out the shooting.
“In response to the attack, settlers attacked Palestinians and their property in many parts of the West Bank,” reported B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights centre.
Tensions escalated further when Muhannad Halabi stabbed to death two Israelis on October 3rd. Halabi was shot at the scene, sparking confrontations across the Palestinian territories.
On October 4th, an Israeli police officer killed 19-year-old Fadi Alloun, who was alleged to have plotted a stabbing attack against a 15-year-old Israeli settler.
Following the incident, Israel tightened restrictions in Jerusalem, including al-Aqsa, banning access to the mosque for 48 hours, a step worshippers described as “unprecedented”.
On October 13th, the Palestinian Health Ministry said 29 Palestinians, including seven children, had been killed since the beginning of the month. More than 1,400 Palestinians were wounded. Five Israeli settlers were killed and about 67 sustained injuries in attacks by Palestinians.
The youngest casualty since the beginning of the violence wave was 2-year-old Rahaf Hassan, who was killed in an air strike that targeted her house in the Gaza Strip. Rahaf’s mother, Nour Hassan, 27, was also killed and her husband, Yahya, and their toddler son were injured.
While 11 Palestinians were killed in the Gaza Strip, most of the deaths and injuries were in the West Bank and Jerusalem where Israeli soldiers and police used live rounds and rubber-coated bullets and also fired tear gas at protesters at al-Aqsa.
Referred to in Arabic as al-Haram al-Sharif — the Noble Sanctuary — al-Aqsa is Islam’s third holiest shrine after Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia. It is on a hilltop compound in Jerusalem’s walled Old City. One of the region’s most intense flashpoints and the site of scores of clashes with Israeli police, the compound houses the Dome of the Rock, which enshrines the rock from which the Prophet Mohammad is said to have ascended to heaven on a winged horse.
The site is known to Jews as the Temple Mount, the holiest in Judaism. It is the place worshippers turn towards during prayer.
According to rabbinic sages, it is where God gathered dust to create the first human, Adam. Ultra-orthodox Jews insist that the site is where their two revered temples are buried, just underneath al-Aqsa, and is where the third temple will be built before the messiah comes.
Jerusalem affairs specialist Jamal Amro said Israel plans to control the al-Aqsa compound, having turned all of Jerusalem into its vassal.
“Israel is carrying out a ‘pilot broadcast’ to test Palestinian reaction to Israeli settlers’ growing intrusions and the Israeli government’s temporal partition of the site before finally controlling it,” Amro said. He said the Israeli government has ambitions beyond dividing the compound.
“They won’t stop until they take over the entire site and ban Palestinian prayers there completely,” Amro said. “They want the 144,000 square metres [that make up the site]. They want all of it.”