Photo by Joshua Tartakovsky (C) All Rights Reserved 2012.
By Joshua Tartakovsky, November 6, 2015
The Third Palestinian Intifada unfolding before our eyes, is taking on a chaotic and unpredictable dimension. But here also lies its advantage as far as the Palestinians are concerned. Out of the blue and unexpectedly, a given Palestinian attacker may stab as many people as possible, resulting in chaotic scenes of Israelis chasing the attacker and shooting him to death. In Beersheba, an uninvolved Eritrean was lynched by an angry mob in the confusion that ensued after a Palestinian stabbed a soldier, took his gun and engaged in a shooting spree. In Jerusalem, a Jewish man who was mentally ill was shot and killed after he physically confronted security guards. Israelis have been stricken with panic and anger by a phenomenon of stabbing carried out by a relatively small number of people.
In the aftermath of the first several incidents of stabbings of civilians by Palestinians inside Israel, the Israeli security state responded by placing hundreds of armed soldiers in multiple locations of Jerusalem. Placing soldiers armed with guns who could shoot a stabber within seconds did help to create a temporary sense of security among many Israelis who otherwise feared to leave their homes. In addition, Israel placed checkpoints at the entrances to Palestinian neighborhoods in occupied East Jerusalem and subjected its residents to severe security checks, seeking to uncover knives. The familiar scenes from the occupied West Bank, of lone soldiers checking tens of men and women who wait patiently in their cars, was now seen in East Jerusalem that falls under Israeli security control and is part of the Jerusalem municipality. Israel even placed a buffer wall near the neighborhood of Jabal al-Mukabbir, located to the southern eastern of the supposedly undivided capital of Israel. But the intense security measures did not seal off attacks. A stabbing took place in Ammunition Hill in Jerusalem this past Friday by a stabber who came from East Jerusalem. Clearly, one who is intent on carrying out a stabbing attack can do so anyway, though the large number of soldiers means he may be neutralized faster. Stabbing also took place in other cities in Israel where terrorist attacks usually do not take place.
Life in Jerusalem has returned to a temporary calm, but stabbings can still take place at any moment. Jerusalemites now walk the streets apprehensively, watching people who appear suspicious with fear, not knowing where the next attack may come from. While life has returned to ‘normal’ and people frequent cafes and bars with a sense of defiance, much depends on whether stabbings will resume in greater frequency. Israelis were temporarily relieved after major security measures were taken in East Jerusalem and soldiers were placed throughout the city, but as new attacks take place nearly every passing day throughout the country, they are becoming increasingly frustrated and angry, if not depressed. There is a sense of impotency.
The knee-jerk reaction of Israeli leaders has been to call for tougher measures against Palestinians. With a political solution nowhere in sight and with Prime Minister Netanyahu failing to create a Palestinian state, the inclination of many Israelis is to move even more to the right. The murder of Israeli civilians inside Israel, at times carried out by Palestinians who hold an Israeli ID and live inside the country, is seen by Israelis as a sign that many Palestinians are bloodthirsty and seek to kill Jews for no reason and that therefore a political solution is not possible. Indeed, it is undeniable that several of the stabbings had a particularly brutal element to them. Israel’s Prime Minister Netanyahu blamed Palestinian incitement as the main cause for the stabbings and he may have a point. Muslim religious figures in Jerusalem and Gaza have called on Palestinians to stab Jews, even waving knives in the air to demonstrate their point. This may mean that there is a religious dimension to the conflict and that violence may be partially motivated by incitement and bigotry, not merely by an occupation or by oppression.
Indeed, the central complaint of several Palestinian political figures has been that Israel seeks to infringe on and even damage the sacred site of the Al Aqsa Mosque located on the Haram al Sharif or Temple Mount. The mount is sacred to both Muslims and Jews, as Jews view it as the former location where the Temple once stood while Muslims hold it to be the Noble Sanctuary. While rabbis have traditionally prohibited Jews from visiting the area due to its sacredness, a growing number of religious-Zionist Jews have attempted to visit the space and pray there. This was seen as a provocation by Muslims who feared that nationalist-religious Jews may eventually seek to demolish the Dome of the Rock and rebuild the Temple in its stead. They insisted on prohibiting Jewish prayer in the sacred place, therefore infringing on Jewish religious rights. Nationalist Jews claimed in response that prohibiting Jewish prayer in the mount amounts to discrimination. The Israeli police has largely taken extreme precaution on the issue and followed political directives to arrest Jews who attempted to pray on the mount. At the same time, the area is occupied by the Israeli border-patrol that frequently faces stone-throwing youth and in turn fires tear gas inside the sacred mosque. While Jews should have the right to pray in a sacred place and while it is interesting to note that liberal organizations have ignored the fundamental right of people to worship, it is also true that the area is subject to a military occupation by Israel and that as long as Palestinians do not enjoy full political rights and their freedom to worship is guaranteed, they will view Jewish religious worship on the site with apprehension.
Netanyahu’s attempted to calm tensions by prohibiting Israeli nationalist members of parliament from visiting the area and by agreeing with Jordan, which has formal political role over the space, to install video cameras on the mount, have largely failed to achieve their aim. The intifadacontinues.
While the Palestinian uprising in certain cases has taken on a religious-nationalist tone, it is hard to deny that Palestinian resistance to a military occupation in the West Bank is to be expected and morally justified. Few would agree to live under a harsh military occupation that entails a water and land grab for very long, and Palestinians have been subject to military courts since 1967. Israeli soldiers have been cracking down heavily on Palestinian demonstrations in the West Bank. So far, 75 Palestinians were killed since the outbreak of the uprising and over 1,500 Palestinians were arrested. While some Palestinians were shot after attempting to stab Israelis, and while the context in which they were shot has been obscured by pro-Palestinian activists, many more were shot while demonstrating and throwing stones at an occupying force. Palestinian cities and villages have been subject to sieges and checkpoints and the all-prevailing military occupation of the West Bank is showing no signs of ending.
The new uprising or intifada catches Israel at a particularly soft spot. While Israeli forces are accustomed to demonstrations in the occupied West Bank and the Israeli public can digest attacks against settlers in the ‘wild west’, stabbings of civilians inside Israel is an entirely different matter. The fact that at any given moment, a person may emerge from the crowds and stab another, leaves Israelis tense and nervous. If the current stabbing phenomenon continues Israelis are likely to demand even harsher military retaliation. Indeed, the rising political star of the right-wing Jewish Home party, Yinon Magal, warned Palestinians of a second Nakba (disaster) if attacks continue. Israeli forces have attempted to inflict collective damage on Palestinians andbrutally tear-gassed private homes while issuing warnings. But can an additional military crack down prevent a lone Palestinian from stabbing an Israeli? In a country where 20% of the population within Israel is Palestinian, it is clear that Israel cannot seal-off the Palestinians, as much as it may want to.
Albert Einstein famous said that “I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.” The same can be said about the currentintifada. While the second intifada was characterized by bombs and shooting, the third one is characterized by stabbings. Israel cracked down heavily on the West Bank since 2002 and confiscated many weapons and bombs. But now Palestinians are resorting to a weapon that is both primitive and easy to obtain. The unpredictability of a stabbing attack and the futility of preventing it are where its strength lies. The use of stabbing as the preferred weapon of choice succeeded in creating apprehension and despair among many Israelis who lost their sense of safety. Indeed, herein lies its success. It does not take many attacks by stabbings to create panic. Fear is the new weapon and by creating fear among Israelis, Palestinians have already won.
Following the first intifada of 1987, the pendulum of Israeli opinion shifted to the left and Israeli Prime Minister Rabin signed the Oslo accords with Palestinian leader Arafat in 1994. After the breaking down of the talks in Camp David in 2000, the second intifada erupted and the pendulum of Israeli opinion shifted to the right and remained there ever since. If the new intifada sustains its flames, the pendulum of Israeli opinion will probably shift even more to the right, and a greater military crackdown will ensue along with subsequent mutual bloodletting. But in the coming years, Israel may not enjoy the full freedom it had in earlier years as the US burdened by international constraints may infringe on its space to carry out a military crackdown. That would mean that at some point, after much blood is spilled, and after Israelis realize that they cannot prevent stabbings completely, there may be an attempt to seek a political solution. That day may appear far ahead now, but perhaps we are at the beginning of a new stage in the Palestinian uprising, where stabbings can take place at any place and at anytime and fear is used as a weapon.