Jerusalem on the brink
By Ben White
It was just after midday on Oct. 5, 13-year-old Abd Al-Rahman Shadi Obeidallah was standing with friends in Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem. Young Palestinians had been throwing stones at the Israeli occupation forces stationed nearby when, without warning, a soldier fired two live bullets. Abd Al-Rahman was struck in the chest. An hour later, he was pronounced dead at the local hospital.
Abd Al-Rahman was one of 42 Palestinians killed by Israeli occupation forces between Oct. 1-19, around half of whom were shot by Israeli occupation forces suppressing protests in the Occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza Strip. Others were killed in the course of conducting alleged attacks against Israelis.
In the same period, more than 1,800 Palestinians were injured by live ammunition or rubber-coated metal bullets. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
(UN OCHA), in the period between Oct. 6-12, the number of Palestinian deaths (12) and injuries (2,074) in the West Bank and Israel was the highest such figure recorded in a single week, since their records began in 2005.
Meanwhile, according to the Israeli military spokesperson, in the same time frame (Oct. 1-19) some three dozen stabbing and shooting attacks by Palestinians inside Israel and the Occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, killed eight Israelis and wounded more than 70 others.
So is this the start of a Third Intifada? The number of Palestinian fatalities is higher than the equivalent period in the First Intifada (1987-1993), but lower than the first three weeks of the Second Intifada (2000-2005), when Israeli occupation forces fired a million bullets and killed more than 100 Palestinians.
But neither the numbers game nor focusing on historical comparisons is the best guide for assessing events as they are unfolding now. The Second Intifada proved to be significantly different from its predecessor, as a result of key developments during the intervening years, and one might expect a third such uprising to have similarly unique characteristics.
The bloody events of recent weeks are part of a chronology of Palestinian youth rebellions going back several years. In 2011, young activists agitated for national unity in what became known as the 15 March protests. That same year, young Palestinians across their historic homeland – and outside of it – held unprecedented Nakba Day demonstrations that burst through borders.
Hunger strike solidarity protests, notably in 2011-2012, similarly united Palestinian youth from Haifa to Ramallah, while in 2013, the campaign to stop an Israeli government project for mass expulsions in the Negev saw Palestinian youth mobilize, once again, across colonially-imposed frontiers.
We are also witnessing the continuation of a Jerusalem uprising that actually began some time ago. In December 2013, Israel’s political-security cabinet met to discuss measures in response to, in the words of Haaretz, “the deteriorating security situation in East Jerusalem and the increase in nationalistically motivated rock-throwing and other violent incidents.”
The plan that emerged some months later spoke of “uncompromising enforcement and punishment against those who seek to undermine Israeli control,” as well as harsher penalties for those convicted of stone-throwing, an increased police presence and more surveillance.
The Jerusalem uprising surged considerably after the kidnap and murder of Mohammad Abu Khdeir in July 2014, spurred on by the Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip. According to UN OCHA, almost half of all Palestinian injuries in 2014, some 2,803 were recorded in the Jerusalem governorate – “particularly within the Israeli-annexed municipal area of Jerusalem.”
Over the summer of 2014, Israeli police arrested more than 700 Palestinians in East Jerusalem, including at least 250 minors, a wave of repression that continued into the fall: over a three week period in November, Israeli authorities arrested a further 190 Palestinians in the city.
According to Israel’s Shin Bet, incidents of Palestinians throwing Molotov cocktails in Occupied East Jerusalem rose from 122 in 2013 to 320 in 2014. There were also a number of attacks that claimed the lives of Israelis in August-November, including a synagogue shooting and car ramming.
Jerusalem is an apartheid city. From the land illegally annexed by Israel after 1967 to expand the city’s municipal boundaries, a third was expropriated for the establishment of settlements. Palestinian communities are choked, with an anticipated housing shortage set to affect 150,000 Palestinians by 2030. In 2014, 98 Palestinian-owned structures were demolished.
Meanwhile, radical Jewish groups continue to move in to Palestinian neighbourhoods, evicting families and creating mini-fortress settlements. As Ariel Sharon once said, “We have set a goal for ourselves of not leaving one neighbourhood in East Jerusalem without Jews, not even one.”
The municipality treats Palestinian residents with a combination of neglect, contempt, and hostility. In 2014, the residency status of 107 Palestinians was revoked. There is a shortage of 1,000 classrooms in municipal schools. 75.4 percent of all Palestinian residents live below the poverty line.
A Jerusalem uprising was thus always only a matter of time. But will it be a catalyst for a broader uprising, or intifada? Will Palestinian youth, fighting Israeli apartheid and tired of their factions’ ineffectiveness or complicity, be able to maintain momentum and expand the circles of revolt?
The odds are stacked against them. Israeli authorities in East Jerusalem are arresting Palestinians in their hundreds, a wave of repression that could be far more effective than roadblocks. Meanwhile, Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority (PA) remain resolutely opposed to a widening of the unrest, and will do what they can to restore the ‘calm’ demanded by Netanyahu.
Nonetheless, other factors suggest that, if not now, a wider uprising or new intifada is a likely prospect. These include the PA’s ever-weakening influence, the evolution of a new political consciousness amongst young Palestinians, and, the fact that the Israeli government, trapped in a colonial cul-de-sac of its own making, knows only the tools of repression that engender resistance.