December 13, 2015

Israel-Palestine: Another Intifada!

Yohannan Chemarapally

SINCE early October, violence has escalated in Jerusalem and the occupied territories after the Palestinians took to the streets to protest. For more than a month there have been daily reports of civilian casualties. By the end of October, 72 Palestinians died at the hands of Israeli security forces and vigilante groups. A Palestinian child was among those killed near Bethlehem on October 29. Eleven Israeli Jews have also lost their lives at the hands of knife wielding Palestinians. A 29 year old Eritrean migrant worker in the city of Beersheba was killed by a Jewish mob which suspected that he was a Palestinian. The victim happened to be near the scene of an attack in which a Palestinian Bedouin killed an Israeli soldier and wounded 11 civilians. Many Bedouin have been deprived of their citizenship by the Israeli government. The government recently announced plans to evict 40,000 Bedouin from their homes in the Negev desert. Much of the violence was initially concentrated in the occupied city of Jerusalem though it has since spread to cities in Israel and the occupied West Bank. In the last week of October, the city of Hebron on the occupied West Bank became the scene of violent confrontation. Hebron is the West Bank's biggest city. The city has already lost 20 of its citizens to the bullet of the Israeli security forces in the month of October. Among those killed were two girls, aged 16 and 17. Israeli authorities had accused them of trying to kill their soldiers. Binyamin Netanyahu had won this year's election on a racist anti-Arab platform. Ultra nationalists in Israel, with the tacit approval of the Israel's government, have encouraged the creation of vigilante groups which often go unpunished for their actions, including murder, against Palestinians. An entire family was burnt alive in Duma in the West Bank by Jewish extremists earlier in the year. No one so far has been arrested despite the Israeli defence minister Moshe Yaalon claiming that the authorities know who the culprits are. FURTHER RESTRICTIONS ON PALESTINIANS The latest round of violence erupted after right wing Jewish zealots persuaded the Israeli government to place further restrictions on Palestinians going to offer prayers in the Al Aqsa mosque, the third holiest place of worship for Muslims worldwide. The current Israeli government is a coalition of extreme right wing Zionist parties. People belonging to other religions are only allowed to enter the mosque as tourists. The right wing Israeli groups and politicians want to change the rules and allow free entry to Jews. In Biblical times, the Temple Mount, sacred to the Jews, had stood at the site where the mosque stands today. The Muslims call the site Haram al Sharif. It was a provocative visit by the right wing Israeli leader, Ariel Sharon, to the Al Aqsa compound fifteen years ago that triggered the second Palestinian “intifada” (uprising). Hundreds of Palestinians were killed in the violence that followed. Sharon went on to become prime minister of Israel some years later. His predecessor in office at the time, Ehud Barak, had pledged that under no circumstances would Israel cede sovereignty of the al Aqsa mosque to the Palestinians. His successors in office have only hardened their stance on the issue despite international opprobrium. The government of Binyamin Netanyahu, that is dependent on the extreme right for its survival, has been busy laying the groundwork for a clandestine takeover of the administration of the hallowed mosque. Under the peace agreement signed in 1967 following Israel's annexation of East Jerusalem and the West Bank, the site where the mosque is located is under the administration of the Jordanian government. In mid-September, 40 Jewish settlers in occupied Jerusalem accompanied by Israel's agriculture minister, Uri Ariel and backed by Israeli security forces, forcibly entered the Al Aqsa compound. Force was used to disperse the Palestinians who had gathered to protest against the forcible entry of the Jewish zealots into the compound. The Israeli authorities once again put in place prohibitory rules allowing only Palestinian over 50 years to visit the mosque. This practice has been going on since the visit of Sharon fifteen years ago. The Palestinian Authority (PA) executive committee member, Hannan Ashrawi has said that the Israeli game plan to formalise control over the Al Aqsa mosque, has the potential to plunge the entire region into turmoil. “Israel is playing with fire. Clearly Israel is deliberately creating and escalating a situation of instability, insecurity and violence, thereby incrementally assuring by force its power/security control in preparation for the total annexation and transformation of Al Haram al Sharif.... By imposing its own version of the concept of the Temple Mount on the third most holiest Islamic site, Israel is not only provoking the Palestinians but the entire Muslim world”, Ashrawi said. The current uprising being witnessed is being dubbed as the “Jerusalem intifada” by the Palestinians. Other factors too have contributed to the latest uprising. They include Israeli restrictions on Palestinian rights in the occupied West Bank and the continued encroachment of the Jewish settlers. As for statehood, even the PA has acknowledged that Israel will never accept a two state solution. For most Palestinians, a third “intifada” is the only option left to end the occupation. From available indications, the current uprising has been spontaneous with the Palestinian youth being in the forefront. The major Palestinian parties had not taken the lead. In fact, the PA leadership has been urging the protestors to use peaceful means. Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, has been very vocal in its support of the protests but has been careful to not get actively involved fearing Israeli military reprisals on the Gaza Strip. One year after Israel's last war against Gaza, the people there have seen their dire living standards plummet even further. 2,251 Palestinians, most of them civilians, were killed in the 2014 attack on Gaza by Israel. The anger of the Palestinian youth was palpable when the Indian president, Pranab Mukherjee visited the West Bank in the second week of October. Palestinian students had staged a protest during the Indian president's visit to register their anger against the close security and political ties between India and Israel. The visit of the Indian president was an ill timed one, coming as it did in the midst of the turmoil in the occupied territories. Not many heads of State, even from western countries, like to visit Israel these days. Many world leaders and prominent international personalities have labelled Israel as an “apartheid State” intent on permanently reducing Palestinians to second class citizens. STOP THE ONGOING BLOODSHED The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, speaking at the UN Human Rights council in Geneva on October 28 appealed for a “strong and decisive” international intervention to stop the ongoing bloodshed. He said that the human rights situation in occupied territories and East Jerusalem were at their worst since 1948. “We need protection and we look to you to protect us”, Abbas told the assembled delegates. The Palestinian leader once again repeated what he had said at the UN General Assembly in September – that the time for negotiations with Israel are over. “It is no longer useful to waste time in negotiations just for the sake of negotiations, what is required is the ending of the occupation in accordance with international legitimacy”, Abbas said. The UN's High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ziad Ra'ad al Hussein speaking in Geneva on the occasion said that the present situation in the occupied territories if uncontrolled, could result in a “catastrophe” for the region. He said that disproportionate force was being used against the Palestinians and that “extrajudicial killings are suspected”. Prime Minister Netanyahu continues to feebly protest that his government has no plans of taking over the holy site. But many senior members in his cabinet are openly making the demand. The Israeli deputy foreign minister, Tzipi Hotovely, has said that she would like to see the Israeli flag flying over the “Temple Mount”. Extreme right wing groups which now have a decisive say in the running of the Israeli government want the Temple Mount to be rebuilt. The Israeli government has been financing the Temple Institute, an NGO which has been publicly advocating the building of a new Jewish temple on the site where the Al Aqsa mosque is situated. They want the mosque to be relocated. Extremist settler groups are colonising the area around the mosque by either buying up Palestinian houses or pressuring them to relocate. 10,000 new homes have been built in East Jerusalem by Jews in the last fifteen years. The US State Department in its 2009 International Religious Freedom Report acknowledged that “many of the national and municipal policies in Jerusalem were designed to limit or diminish the non-Jewish population of Jerusalem”. In the third week of October, Netanyahu added fuel to the fire by making yet another of his unsubstantiated statements. He alleged that the Palestinians had a role to play in the Jewish holocaust. He said that the Palestinian Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Haj al Amini al Husseini was the man who gave Hitler the idea of exterminating the Jews. Even ardent Zionists in Israel refused to support the latest Netanyahu claim. The German chancellor, Angela Merkel was forced to reassert her country's responsibility for the genocide of the Jews. After that, the Israeli prime minister, according the Haaretz newspaper told parliamentarians that Israel needs to “control all the territory for the foreseeable future” and added for good measure that he visualises Israel “forever living by the sword”. The Israeli prime minister confirmed in the last week of October that he is seriously considering the revocation of the residency status of the tens of thousands of Palestinians staying in Jerusalem. East Jerusalem is supposed to be the capital of the independent State of Palestine. In 2004, the International Court of Justice ruled that all areas captured by Israel in the 1967 war including East Jerusalem, were occupied territories. Israel had given permanent residency status to Palestinians after it formally annexed East Jerusalem in 1980. Palestinians residing in the city have refused to accept Israeli citizenship as such a move would have given credibility to Israel's illegal occupation. 3,50,000 Palestinians living in East Jerusalem have been effectively deprived of their political rights. Israel has stripped residency rights of more than 14,000 Palestinians since 1967. As it is, Palestinians in East Jerusalem find themselves blockaded as the Israeli authorities have made even daily commuting a daunting task. Israeli military checkpoints have sprouted everywhere. Palestinians have to subject themselves to humiliating searches as they go to work in factories and farms outside East Jerusalem. Israeli police have the right to frisk any Palestinian randomly and to fire live ammunition even at children throwing stones. Many of those killed in the recent uprising have been children and teenagers.