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Not a third intifada but a kind of civil war

In this posting two Israeli journalists doubt the outbreak of a third intifada, 1) and 2), while two outside journalists think it more likely, 3) and 4).

Israeli police, some in plain clothes, carry away an extreme right-wing Jewish protester during scuffles in Jerusalem during the funerals of the three Israeli teenagers on Tuesday. Hundreds of right-wing protesters had blocked entrances to Jerusalem and chanted ‘Death to the Arabs’ and ‘Muhammad is dead’ and tried to grab Israeli Arabs off the streets.Photo by Tali Mayer / EPA

A third intifada? Many East Jerusalem officials expect the turmoil to die down

West Bank cities have not joined the violent protest, and despite all the violence, no protester has been killed or badly wounded.

By Nir Hasson
July 06, 2014

Mahmoud Abu Khdeir is the imam of the main mosque in Shoafat, a key Arab neighborhood in East Jerusalem. He’s also a head of the Abu Khdeir clan, one of whose members, 16-year-old Mohammed Abu Khdeir was abducted and murdered last week.

But over the weekend, the imam’s sermon was the most moderate in Jerusalem’s mosques. He harshly criticized Israel but did not call for violence.

Mahmoud Abu Khdeir is also the only family member who saw the teen’s body after it had been burned. “It’s a good thing I saw it after the sermon or I would have spoken differently,” he says. “I’ve seen many bodies but never imagined I’d see something like that.”

The parents asked to see the body but other family members did not let them. “I want his mother to remember him looking well,” says the boy’s uncle, Said Abu Khdeir. “But I’d like to photograph it so that all Israelis can see it. I don’t need the world to see, only the Israelis, to see what they did to him.”

The gruesome descriptions of the charred body, released by the Palestinian Authority based on a Palestinian pathologist who attended the autopsy, have stoked Arab Israelis’ rage over the murder.

Still, Shoafat is seen as East Jerusalem’s bourgeois neighborhood. The people are well off, the roads are relatively clean and Israel’s only light-rail system passes through it.

“Learn from history,” Said says, pointing at the junction from which Mohammed Abu Khdeir was abducted on Wednesday. At this precise spot, say people in Shoafat, the first intifada started in 1987. That year neighborhood residents got the authorities to change a bus route because of all the stone throwing. All this took place before the riots in the Jabalya refugee camp, often seen as the true beginning of the intifada.

In 2014, too, the demonstrators vented their wrath at a symbol of public transportation, the light-rail system. Even if the train’s route remains the same, it will be weeks or months before normal operations resume in Shoafat.

The image that will be remembered from Friday – the most violent day in East Jerusalem in a decade – is of a man trying to saw through one of the light-rail system’s electric poles. There are other signs of déjà vu from the first intifada – a Fatah poster, the formation of popular committees in every neighborhood, roadblocks being erected at night near the entrance to Shoafat, and vehicles being checked.

The pretext is rumors about Jewish cells searching for more Arab victims. In the last few days there has been a rash of reports about Palestinians being harassed in the city – a taxi driver who was hit by pepper spray, a young woman who was kicked off the train, a girl who was cursed at and a woman whose hijab was pulled off.

“A lot of people have been hurt and there’s a feeling that we need to defend ourselves,” says an East Jerusalem official.

Of course, it remains to be seen whether the turmoil of recent days will morph into a third intifada. But despite the déjà vu, as of Saturday night at least, most officials in East Jerusalem I spoke with said they expected the unrest to die down in the coming days.

Two things point in favor of calm. The cities of the West Bank did not join in the violent protest, unlike a few Arab cities inside Israel. And despite all the violence, no protester has been killed or badly wounded.

Palestinian youth throw stones toward Israeli police during clashes in Shuafat. Photo by Ahmad Gharabli / AFP

The riots in Jerusalem following Abu Khdeir’s funeral were very unusual. They spread from Shoafat to all of East Jerusalem’s Arab neighborhoods, including those considered very quiet. The police had blocked all the roads leading from the west to the east of the city. Every police station and Israeli institution became a target for rocks and firebombs.

Despite the harsh pictures of policemen beating a youth in Shoafat and other complaints of police brutality, the Jerusalem police deserve credit for getting through the day without a Palestinian being killed or seriously injured. If the unrest indeed subsides soon, it will be partly thanks to this.

Still, all the East Jerusalem Palestinians I spoke with said that as the investigation into Abu Khdeir’s murder drags on, the flames of the uprising are only rising.

At this point, no one in East Jerusalem doubts that Israeli Jews murdered Abu Khdeir. The family shows the footage of the abduction, points out the kidnappers and the color of their skin.

The police’s silence has led to a wave of rumors and conspiracy theories about why the truth is being concealed. Ahmed Sub Laban, a field researcher for the group Ir Amim, ran around all night from one scene of violence to another.

“We’re seeing a kind of civil war between the Palestinian residents and the settlers who are coming into the neighborhoods,” he says.

Things fall apart

With riots spreading and the south aflame with rockets, it seems a new major round of intifada-style fighting is upon us. Or is it?

By Joshua Davidovich, Times of Israel
July 06, 2014

If you thought things were tense before, boy did you have another think coming over the weekend, as violence following the death of an Arab teen, suspected by some to be a revenge killing for three Israelis slain last month, spiraled out of control and onto the front page, and that’s not even mentioning the near nonstop rocket fire on the south.

“Riots spread from Jerusalem to the [Arab] Triangle, Wadi Ara and Nazareth,” reads the very specific main headline in Haaretz, accompanying a picture of the stormy funeral of Muhammed Abu Khdeir, which helped set off the wave of protests.

Israel Hayom, with a maze of headlines, subdecks, logos and postage stamp sized pictures on its front, signaling both the multifaceted nature of the news and its editors’ trouble with making decisions, notes the “wave of protests,” “fire on Beersheba,” that we are “under fire” and that the “ground is burning.”

Yedioth Ahronoth, taking a similar tack, albeit with a more literary touch, heralds the “red south” and “fire at the junctions,” a reference to clashes between rioting Israeli Arabs and police at main intersections in northern Israel that led to injuries and road closures.

While it certainly feels like the beginning of Intifada the Third, Haaretz’s Amos Harel notes that it’s too early to say as much and in any case, history doesn’t really ever repeat itself.

“A US peace initiative that provides hope and fizzles out, murders of Israelis by Palestinians, the death of a Palestinian boy under questionable circumstances, mass protests in both the territories and Israel proper, Arab Israelis donning masks and stoning their Jewish neighbors’ cars, a massive mobilization by the police – all this reminds us of the autumn of 2000 when the Second Intifada broke out,” he writes. “Are we witnessing the beginning of a Third Intifada, following the false alarms of 2011 and 2012? It’s too early to tell – history rarely repeats the same way.”

In Yedioth, Alex Fishman tries to give another reason this might not be the Third Intifida: nobody wants it, though a war in the south is another story.

“Not just Israel, but also the Palestinian Authority and Hamas are not interested in descending to the chaos of a third intifada or a war with Gaza. But Hamas, in its weakened state, is stubbornly granting authority to extremists, and the path to armed conflict in just half an hour away: That’s how long it will take the security cabinet to convene and decide to hit Gaza from the air and ground. Everything is ready, only the order is missing.”

But while officials may not be interested in going down the path of conflict, on the ground the situation looks a lot different. The paper interviews the Sharon resident who found himself “nearly lynched,” in the words of Yedioth, by a mob at the entrance to Qalansuwa on Friday night. “Masked men surrounded my car and shouted ‘Jew, Jew get out of the car.’ Some of them threw rocks. I could see death staring me in the face. They wanted to kill me because I am a Jew and I understood that I needed to escape quickly,” recounts the man, who made it out just before they blew up his car.

It’s incidents like these that lead to the more jingoistic columns found in Israel Hayom. Haim Shain writes, in an article accompanying the picture of the same burnt out car, that Arab Israelis need to choose whether they are citizens of Israel or haters of the country.

“The hypocrisy of Arab Israeli celebrating is revolting. On the one hand, they aren’t ready to disconnect in any way from the nation-state of the Jewish people, and on the other hand, they loudly join in with the country’s biggest enemies. Unfortunately, they have not internalized that they are walking a thin rope, and it could crack if their treacherous ways continue.”

The paper’s Dan Margalit, meanwhile, tries speaking for the citizens of the south in calling for all-out war against Gaza. “There’s no doubt, in the communities surrounding Gaza they believe fully that if ministers and their families had to withstand a missile alert there would be a forceful response from the IDF. They also believe that if there were a significant ground invasion, it would stymie the terror from Gaza.”

If there was any question whether Israel’s top guns are taking recent developments lightly, though, Mossad chief Tamir Pardo puts a stop to that, with Haaretz reporting his view, given at a recent talk, that Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians puts our kerfuffle with Iran into context. [see posting below this one]

“Pardo said, according to the source, that the major threat to Israel is the conflict with the Palestinians. When some of the participants asked him to repeat what he said, he answered: ‘Yes, the biggest threat is the Palestinian issue.’ Someone asked whether the Iranian nuclear threat was the second largest threat. Pardo surprised his audience by saying Iran might produce or purchase a nuclear weapon in the future, but he wouldn’t ‘recommend rushing to obtain a foreign passport.’”

Clashes in east Jerusalem after teen’s burial revive intifada fears for Middle East

By Ruth Eglash and Griff Witte, Washington Post
July 05, 2014

JERUSALEM — Thousands of Palestinians furious over the killing of a local teenager swarmed the streets of East Jerusalem on Friday to demand a new intifada. The fierce ­clashes with police that followed the teen’s funeral stirred fears that a mass uprising could already be underway.

The protesters waved Palestinian flags and chanted, “Enough of the suffering, enough of the pain,” capping a week that has overflowed with both for Israelis as well as Palestinians.

On Monday, soldiers discovered the bodies of three Israeli teens who had been missing for more than two weeks. Then, on Wednesday, the badly burned remains of 16-year-old Mohammad Abu Khiederwere found in a forest. Although no definitive link has been established between the ­cases, there was no doubt in the Palestinian neighborhood of Shuafat on Friday that Khieder’s killing was carried out by Jewish extremists and that it was intended as revenge.

The killings have brought Israeli-Palestinian relations to their most combustible level in nearly a decade, and Friday’s running street battles between rock-throwing demonstrators and stun-grenade-firing police revived dark memories of intifadas, or uprisings, from decades past. An exchange of rocket fire and missile strikes in the Gaza Strip on Friday only added to the sense of building tensions.

Protests continued throughout the evening and overnight Friday, spreading to other Arab areas in the north of Israel. Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said Saturday that 20 people had been arrested in the clashes in Jerusalem and 12 were detained in the north.

An Israeli soldier throws a grenade during clashes with Palestinians in Jerusalem. Photo by Marco Bottelli/Demotix/Corbis

“We can’t live like this. Every day our people are killed,” said one Palestinian youth masked with a kaffiyeh, or Arab headdress, who declined to give his name for fear of being identified by the Israeli authorities. He said that he and his friends could only see another intifada in their future, one similar to the uprisings that convulsed this region in the late 1980s and early 2000s.

With peace talks dead and no end in sight to the Israeli occupation, the Israeli government “has gradually been building up the factors for the eruption of a new intifada,” said Qais Abu Layla, a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, who stressed that the new uprising would include nonviolent means, such as boycotts.

Others were more hopeful that the Middle East’s latest crisis would dissipate. The killing of Khieder “took place during a delicate situation, but I do believe it will not escalate much more than what we see today,” said Giora Eiland, former head of Israel’s National Security Council.

If Friday was the culmination of the violence, Shuafat has already paid a heavy price. By the end of the ­clashes, the main thoroughfare in the upscale Palestinian neighborhood was littered with rocks, bricks, garbage cans and pipes, along with smashed traffic lights. Three stations of the Jerusalem light-rail system, which runs through the neighborhood, were burned and marked with graffiti in Hebrew calling for “Death to Israel” and “Death to Jews.”

The day’s battle, which marked the third consecutive day of ­clashes for the neighborhood, began with protesters pouring out of mosques on the first Friday of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

After Israeli authorities released Khieder’s body to his family for burial, it was borne through the streets in a flag-draped coffin. His father, Hussein, later said that the body was so badly burned that the face could not be shown publicly, as is the custom.

Thawra Abu Khieder, a 20-year-old cousin of the slain teen, said the family was deep in mourning and disbelief.

Anger over the killing of 16-year-old Mohammad Abu Khieder spilled out onto the streets of East Jerusalem as Palestinian protesters clashed with Israeli police. (Reuters)
“The mother is still in shock. She can’t believe that her little boy is gone, not only because he was so sweet but also because he was taken from his own doorstep,” she said. “Acts of revenge do nothing. They only make people hate more and only open a door for more revenge and more bloodshed.”

After Khieder was buried in the neighborhood cemetery, hundreds of Palestinian youths threw rocks at Israeli police, who responded with stun grenades and rubber bullets. Police officials said 13 officers were lightly wounded, and Palestinians said more than 30 people were hurt as the confrontation raged.

In several other Arab neighborhoods, residents clashed with police, although Rosenfeld said protests in Wadi Joz, Ras Al Amud and the Old City were quickly dispersed. There were no reports of unrest in Palestinian-controlled areas of the West Bank.

As clashes continued late into the evening, Israelis in the southern part of the country took cover in bomb shelters as Palestinian militants continued to fire rockets into Israel from the Gaza Strip.

Earlier in the day, the BBC quoted an unnamed official from the militant Islamist group Hamas, which rules the seaside enclave, as saying that a cease-fire with Israel was forthcoming. But no such cease-fire materialized, and Israel responded to the more than 15 rocket attacks with an airstrike against what it called “Hamas terror sites.”

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman visited the southern town of Sderot, which has borne the brunt of the rocket fire, and said Israel should not consider a cease-fire with Hamas, because “no such agreement can be reached with Hamas,” Israeli news media reported .

He went on to criticize Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s statements from Thursday night that “quiet will be answered with quiet.”

“This is a serious mistake,” Lieberman said.

Netanyahu also said Thursday that if the rocket attacks don’t stop, troops mobilized near Gaza on Thursday afternoon “will act forcefully.”

Israel blames Hamas for the kidnapping and killing last month of the three Israeli teenagers in the occupied West Bank. The teens — Naftali Fraenkel, 16, Gilad Shaar, 16, and Eyal Yifrach, 19 — were buried Tuesday .

But Israel must tread a fine line in confronting the group, which is considered a terrorist organization by Israel and the United States but also serves as the de facto government in Gaza. Other groups in the territory are seen as more radical and could benefit if Hamas is attacked.

“Israel realizes that if it weakens Hamas, it might create a vacuum allowing the Islamic Jihad and Salafi groups to become more powerful,” said Mkhaimar Abu Sada, an associate professor at Al-Azhar University in Gaza. “Israel is more interested in keeping Hamas ruling Gaza. But in the meantime, the Israelis would like Hamas to abide by the cease-fire and stop Palestinian groups from launching rockets.”

Witte reported from London. Sufian Taha contributed to this report.

This cycle of vengeance could spark a third intifada

The tit-for-tat killings of Israeli and Palestinian teenagers have raised the prospect of another, even bloodier confrontation

By Jonathan Freedland, Guardian
July 05, 2014

The faces are, if not the same, then similar. The smiling boys in the photographs look like each other and like teenage boys everywhere: eager, amused, naive. They are brimming with life. Except these four boys are dead. Naftali Frankel, Gilad Shaar and Eyal Yifrach were murdered first, their bodies found on Monday, and Mohamed Abu Khdeir was murdered after that, his life apparently taken in revenge for the other three. All four, the three Israelis and the Palestinian, have something in common besides those teenage smiles: their lives were ended by people capable of believing that to slaughter an innocent child is a noble act of service, somehow a good deed in the cause of the nation.

The dread thought now is that there will be more such people, Palestinians who feel it their sacred duty to avenge Mohamed’s death by killing more blameless Israeli children. And that they will be followed by Israelis who feel compelled in the name of national pride or holy vengeance to snatch and kill another equally blameless Palestinian child. And on and on it will go.

When the suicide bombing was a grim novelty back in the 1990s, as Palestinian groups sent young men to detonate themselves on buses, in discos or pizzerias, it seemed the very depths of hell had been plumbed. What more vile act could there be? Yet the events of this week suggest a prospect no less bleak: a tit-for-tat cycle in which these two peoples snatch and murder their young.

Today, there was still no conclusive evidence that Hamas was behind the murder of the Israeli boys, just as it has not been proved that the Palestinian boy was the victim of extremist Jewish vigilantes. But that is what both sides believe, so that’s what matters. Steadily, the driest, most combustible tinder is piling up.

Mohamed was abducted and killed from his home in East Jerusalem, the most contested place in a conflict where every inch is contested. It’s the holy Muslim festival of Ramadan. In this climate, all it takes is one spark. The question haunting both sides is, could this week trigger the start of what would be a third intifada?

It’s worth remembering the period that led to the outbreak of the second Palestinian uprising, in September 2000. It came after the very public failure of a peace process, at Bill Clinton’s log cabin retreat of Camp David. When the breakthrough didn’t come, it left behind not so much disappointment as a vacuum. In the absence of any diplomatic activity, the hardmen took over.

Expectations for John Kerry’s peace initiative were much lower. Yet its collapse this spring was bound to have an effect. The lesson of Middle East diplomacy seems to be that failure does not send you back to square one: it sends you back several steps further. That could be what we are witnessing now, a diplomatic defeat that does not make things as bad as they were before but much worse.

That, incidentally, should give future would-be peacemakers, especially in the US, pause. The conventional wisdom always held that any initiative was better than none, that common sense dictated it was better for the two parties to be talking to each other than not. The experience of 2000 and perhaps 2014 suggests otherwise – that unless some of the underlying conditions that have led every past effort to fail have been addressed, a stagnant stalemate might be preferable to talks that begin only to end in disaster.What’s more, a conflagration this time could be even more lethal than the one that broke out in 2000. For one thing, the regional climate has changed. The most murderous sectarian violence is taking place just over Israel’s northern border in Syria, and beyond there in Iraq. On the other side stands a Jewish settler movement more aggressively messianist and bellicose than before. The evidence has been mounting for a while, in so-called price tag attacks on Palestinian property, designed to prove that any challenge to the settlement enterprise will exact a price, and in the regular assaults on Palestinian olive groves, uprooting trees that are centuries old.

Some of this settler fury is directed at the institutions of Israel itself, including the army, which the most extreme settlers now view as a hostile force. Until now, the settler leadership has usually been happy to stand behind and rely upon the Israeli state, confident that it has allies at the highest level, including in the cabinet, who will defend its interests and people. But the vigilante attack on Mohamed Abu Khdeir, if that’s what it was, suggests another possibility: that settlers will increasingly take the law into their own hands.

Put simply, there are solid reasons to fear that a third intifada could be far more bloody than the uprisings that have gone before. Which means the task facing leaders on all sides could not be clearer: they have to calm this situation, not inflame it.

Some of the outward signs have not been encouraging. Despite reports of a truce between Hamas and Israel, the former’s rockets kept on coming . And Israel has kept up its air strikes on Gaza. The rhetoric of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has hardly been designed to cool the fever. Perhaps he referred to the killers of the Israeli teenagers as “wild beasts” in order to reflect the rage he knew his countrymen felt, but it’s always dangerous to imply an enemy is less than human, because it makes any action against that enemy legitimate. Mohamed Abu Khdeir was killed a matter of hours after Netanyahu spoke.

For all that, Israel and Hamas have both acted with more restraint than may be obvious. Backed by the cautious voices of Israel’s military high command, Netanyahu has resisted demands made by the wilder members of his coalition, including for the re-conquest of Gaza, and so far seems determined to avoid escalation to all-out confrontation. It’s worth noting the Israeli authorities acted swiftly to punish four soldiers who posted pictures of themselves calling for revenge, sentencing them to 10 days in military prison. For its part, Hamas has not unleashed the firepower everyone knows it has, including missiles that could reach Tel Aviv and beyond. The former Israeli intelligence chief who remarked that Hamas is no Isis is surely right.

Perhaps this is the best one can hope for, that the voices of sanity prevail. Among them should be that of Rachel Frankel, mother of 16 year-old Naftali, who, when she heard that a Palestinian teenager had been murdered in apparent revenge for her son, condemned it immediately. She broke into her own period of mourning to issue a statement: “There is no difference between blood and blood. Murder is murder. There is no justification and no atonement for murder.” She knows that a teenage boy is just a teenage boy, and that a mother’s tears taste the same – no matter who weeps them.

Twitter: @Freedland

Notes and links

Israeli police arrest six over Mohamed Abu Khdeir killing, Guardian, July 6th, 2014

Video shows faces of suspected killers of Palestinian teen, Electronic Intifada, July 5th, 2014

Waiting for a third intifada, October 2013

Why the Palestinians don’t rebel, May 2014, Al Shabaka analysis .

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