On the brink of Intifada III?
The escalation of violence between Israelis and Palestinians shows no signs of abating as Mel Frykberg reports from the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
An audacious and brazen assassination attempt was carried out by a former Palestinian political prisoner on a right-wing Israeli extremist from the Temple Mount Faithful at the end of October in Jerusalem.
The subsequent gunning down of the Palestinian would-be-assassin by Israeli security forces in disputed circumstances, underline yet again how East Jerusalem has become a powder keg waiting to explode, with many analysts predicting a third Palestinian Intifada as Israel continues to move Israeli settlers into the area and build more illegal settlements
The situation came to a head at the end of October when Rabbi Yehuda Glick was shot four times and seriously wounded by former Palestinian Islamic Jihad political prisoner Muataz Hijazi, aged 32, from East Jerusalem as Glick attended a conference in West Jerusalem.
Following the attempted assassination of Glick, Israeli special forces shot Hijazi dead at his home in East Jerusalem, by-passing any attempt at arrest, they systematically pumped over 20 bullets into him in front of his family. Massive rioting broke out after the killing.
Glick has been actively involved with bringing groups of Israeli settlers from the Temple Mount Faithful group into Al Aqsa, Islam’s third holiest shrine, sparking clashes with Palestinian youths and brutal suppression of the rioters by Israeli security forces.
The Temple Mount Faithful want to build a new Jewish temple in place of Al Aqsa and their provocative visits are aimed at changing the delicate status of the holy site, which falls under control of the Islamic Waqf.
Al Aqsa is a Red Line for Muslims worldwide and the attempt by Jewish extremists to take it over has been one of the factors fuelling the ongoing violence in East Jerusalem. Glick’s activities have made him a much hated figure by Palestinians and he has received regular death threats on his Facebook page.
Crack down demands
Glick and his cohorts have been calling for Israeli security forces to crack down even harder on Palestinian protesters despite Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordering the police and paramilitary border police to use an iron fist against Palestinians accused of disturbing the peace.
Glick further predicted that the Israeli government would only take “the necessary action” when a Jew was seriously wounded at Al Aqsa and this crackdown, he advised, would help facilitate the eventual take over of the mosque.
Israel’s crack down has already resulted in hundreds of children who are officially classed as “minors” being arrested and held in detention for weeks without trial and, according to usually reliable sources, viciously brutalised during the course of interrogations. One of those minors is Mahmoed Gheit, aged 16, from East Jerusalem.
They came for him at 2am in the morning as the Gheit family was sleeping at their home in Silwan in East Jerusalem. Approximately 50 heavily armed Israeli police special force members, their faces covered in black ski masks, smashed their way into the family’s tiny apartment and threatening to shoot his brother Abdullah Gheit, 20, if he opened his mouth.
“I was terrified they would kill me or hurt me badly. They didn’t knock or allow any time to open the door, they just smashed it in. An officer punched and kicked me before they stormed past me. It was very traumatic for my little sisters aged just five and 11 years old, who were crying,” Abdallah said.
The police then dragged Abdallah’s brother Mahmoed from his bed, without allowing him even to change his clothes, and threw him into a waiting vehicle that took him to Jerusalem’s Moskabiya police station for interrogation on allegations of throwing stones and Molotov cocktails at Israeli settlers in occupied East Jerusalem.
“I was allowed to see Mahmoed only once after he had been arrested. He looked weak and drawn and his body was covered with bruises,” Nahil Gheit, Muhammad’s mother said.
“He told me he was put in a very small cell underground with no light. He was tied to a chair in a stress position and beaten during interrogations. He was also tied to the ceiling for 17 hours and sleep deprived during questioning which went on for nearly three weeks,” said Nahil.
Mahmoed has been in custody for several months and his family won’t be able to see him until his trial, which has not yet been set but is expected to take place in another few months.
Nightly raids into the village of Silwan have become the norm. The situation flared up in July after Muhammad Abu Khdeir from Shuafat in East Jerusalem was kidnapped, tortured and burnt to death by Israeli extremists who were said to be carrying out a revenge attack after three Israeli settlers were allegedly abducted and killed by Hamas supporters in the West Bank.
Almost every evening since early July the residents of the area’s neglected and poverty stricken homes, which proliferate in Silwan’s hills like rabbit warrens, witness clashes between frustrated Palestinian youth and Israeli security forces.
This summer Israel’s mass arrest campaign against Palestinian youth in occupied East Jerusalem has seen the arrest of over a thousand Palestinians, at least a third of them minors according to the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI).
Tension, arrests, shootings and bloody clashes have marred Silwan for years. Resentment amongst a disadvantaged Palestinian population suffering chronic unemployment and blatant discrimination in terms of housing, education and every conceivable human right, , has been building up against the influx of privileged Israeli settlers, and their mushrooming settlements, all illegal under international law.
Despite claims by Israeli government members and security officials that an iron fist will crush the resentment of Palestinians who face an increasingly hopeless future, the opposite appears to be happening.
Attacks on Jerusalem’s light railway, which runs through East Jerusalem and is widely seen as a symbol of Israel’s occupation, take place regularly, with windows smashed, services disrupted and passengers forced to disembark.
Israeli police have installed three surveillance balloons above hot spot areas over East Jerusalem and declare that they intend to bring in two more. They have also deployed hundreds more soldiers and police across the neighbourhoods.
However, despite hundreds of arrests and the threat of stiff penalties for anyone caught and arrested, the clashes and attacks continue. Many youths are simply beyond caring what will become of them, their actions are fuelled by deep seated anger and feelings of impotence and more attacks and unrest are to be expected as these frustrations increase.
Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continues to pander to the right-wing elements of his coalition government in his desperate bid to stay in power, despite further inflaming tensions at the expense of both the peace process and Israel’s relationship with the international community.
Instead of trying to calm the situation down Netanyahu has kowtowed to the right-wing elements, which together with the ultra orthodox, prop up his ailing government.
The Israeli premier has called for over a thousand more illegal settlement units to be built in East Jerusalem in defiance of warnings by the European Union (EU) that Israel’s future relationship with Europe depended on taking steps to secure the two-state solution.
Even when members of the US administration, Israel’s eternal ally, strongly criticised Netanyahu, and his relationship with the US hit an all time low over Israel’s provocative behaviour in East Jerusalem, the Israeli leader refused to budge and instead played the victim.
A senior but so far unnamed member of the US administration called Netanyahu a “chickenshit” leader saying that while on the bright side the premier was too scared to carry out his public threat of attacking Iran, on the negative side, he continues to grovel to his right-wing coalition partners and is too afraid to make peace with the Palestinians.
Some analysts have also said that although the US will continue to cooperate with Israel over security matters, the Jewish state can no longer take it for granted that the White House will automatically provide diplomatic cover for Israel’s continued malicious behaviour.
The Palestinians could take their case to the UN Security Council to push for a resolution on formal recognition of a Palestinian state in several years, as well as defined borders. They could also join the International Criminal Court, which would then enable them to lay charges against Israel.
Although the Americans might still use their automatic veto to undermine the Palestinians there is always the possibility that the White House could come up with an alternative resolution that would prove to be detrimental to Israel.
So serious has the situation become that the UN Security Council held an emergency session at the end of October on Israeli construction in East Jerusalem, saying it posed grave doubts over Israel’s durable plans for peace with the Palestinians.
However, critics say Netanyahu doesn’t care if Israel is politically isolated or even if a third Intifada breaks out as long as he can continue to draw support from Israeli settlers and his right-wing coalition partners who advocate the complete takeover of East Jerusalem and accelerated settlement building there and elsewhere in the Israeli occupied West Bank.
He is expecting early elections to be called and a recent speech he gave in the Israeli Knesset, or parliament, reflected his campaign for a fourth term in office.
His speech made clear that exacerbating tensions between Palestinians and Israelis is not high on his list of concerns and, that in order to support domestic expansionism he is prepared to jeopardise Israel’s vital foreign interests, including undermining relations with the US and Europe, as well as destroying any hopes for peace with the Palestinian Authority (PA) and implementing the two-state solution.