Israeli and Palestinian descent to the abyss
The new wave of Palestinian anger expressed on the streets of Jerusalem and the West Bank comes as no surprise. Any attempt by Israel to modify the praying arrangements at al-Aqsa compound would likely have unleashed violent reactions from Palestinians. After all, the second intifada began when Ariel Sharon paid a highly provocative visit to the site in September 2000.
But lessons from history have been lost on Israeli leaders. Despite its denials, the Israeli government, under pressure from settlers and far-right parties, has been shaking the status quo arrangements devised with Jordan following the 1967 war that saw East Jerusalem pass under the control of the Jewish state.
Under these arrangements, only Muslims are allowed to pray on the Haram al-Sharif that hosts al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock. This is the third holiest place in Islam and Muslims have been praying there for 1,300 years. Jews, who believe that al-Aqsa was built on the site of the ancient biblical temple destroyed by Romans 2,000 years ago, are allowed to pray at the wall beneath the mosque.
Palestinian fears have been exacerbated in the past few months by Israel restricting “for security reasons” their access to al-Aqsa while regularly allowing groups of radical Jews, including cabinet members and high-profile activists, to enter the site. More and more voices in Israel, including in mainstream media, are calling for the right of Jews to pray on the Temple Mount/ al-Aqsa compound.
This wave of Palestinian anger over al-Aqsa comes against the backdrop of the total collapse of the peace process and the relentless settlement building on Palestinian lands occupied by Israel in 1967 that makes it impossible for Palestinians to establish an independent state.
A series of events recently inflamed tempers: Most notably there was the torching at night by Jewish terrorists of the Dawabsheh family home in the West Bank village of Duma in late July, burning to death a toddler and his parents. To this day, the culprits have not been jailed. Likewise, Israeli Jews who burned alive Palestinian teenager Mohammed Abu Khdeir in Jerusalem in June 2014 are yet to be sentenced for the crime.
Predictably, Israel’s reaction to the Palestinian outburst of anger and stabbing spree that left at least seven Israeli Jews dead has been more violence and repression.
The Israeli military has become extremely lax in its rules of engagement, shooting live rounds at students demonstrating in the West Bank or during clashes with young Palestinians. Scores have been killed or wounded. Most of the alleged attacks by Palestinians have been met with lethal fire even in instances in which it was possible, as clearly shown by video footage, to subdue attackers.
In sharp contrast, an Israeli Jew went on a stabbing spree, wounding three Palestinians and a Bedouin in the Israeli town of Dimona before being arrested unharmed by security guards.
The question now is how to stop the spiral of violence between Israel and the Palestinians. In addition to deployment of police, border guards and army units, the Israeli cabinet has decided to encircle Arab neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem, home to 300,000 Palestinians, speed up the process of demolishing the family homes of “Palestinian terrorists” and revoking their residency permits in the city.
It is doubtful that this use of force will make things better. What is needed might just be measures to give hope for the Palestinians, who today feel they have nothing left to lose — such as freezing construction in Jewish settlements, respecting the status quo and reviving the peace process.