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Palestinian-Israeli tensions

Kersten Knipp / cmkNovember 8, 2014

Tensions are on the rise between Israelis and Palestinians, and talk has turned to the possible outbreak of a third intifada. But not everyone thinks these concerns are well-founded.

Muslim women shielding themselves from soldiers. (Photo: REUTERS/Ammar Awad)
Image: Reuters/A. Awad

Peace remains out of reach between Israel and the Palestinian territories: In the space of two weeks, two Palestinians drove into groups of civilians waiting at Jerusalem light rail stops. Three people died, and several more were injured.

Shortly before these incidents, Israeli soldiers near Ramallah shot and killed a 14-year-old Palestinian-American boy; an army spokesman said the boy wanted to throw a Molotov cocktail at the soldiers. A week before that, Israeli soldiers shot and killed a 13-year-old Palestinian in a violent demonstration. And at the end of October, radical rabbi and activist Yehuda Glick was injured in a drive-by shooting by a gunman on a motorcycle.

In recent weeks, the Israeli government has approved the construction of 1,000 new homes in the eastern part of Jerusalem, an area inhabited mainly by Palestinians. The government is also working on passing a law that would allow people who throw stones at Israeli security forces to be sentenced to prison terms of up to 20 years.

The unending violence and political tensions have stoked fears of a new intifada, a widespread Palestinian uprising in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. Two previous intifadas, in 1987-1993 and 2000-2005, resulted in many deaths. In the second intifada alone, some 500 Israelis and nearly 3,600 Palestinians were killed.

'Silent intifada'

Cars burning. (Photos: AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/Getty Images)
Palestinian protesters clashed with Israeli security forces in east Jerusalem this weekImage: Ahmad Gharabli/AFP/Getty Images

Could a third intifada be on the horizon? In a recent commentary for the Al-Jazeera news channel, Daoud Kuttab, a Palestinian journalist, spoke of a "silent intifada" and described how many Palestinians have separated themselves from the established political leadership over the years.

"These leaderless orphans have found their own means to survive and resist," he said, explaining how they had formed several different groups, like the Islamist Tahrir Party, founded in 1953. Palestinian women, on the other hand, formed their own group known as The Women of Al-Aqsa. They gathered around the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount and prevented Jews from praying on the Temple Mount, an act prohibited by law.

Is Palestinian society at risk of developing religious extremism? Lawyer Rania Madi, who represents the Palestinian human rights organization Badil in Geneva, doesn't think so. In an interview with DW, she said that a radicalization in the same vein as the terrorist organization "Islamic State" in Syria and Iraq was not to be feared. She said Palestinian society traditionally lives in religious harmony, and would reject such a development.

Nevertheless, Madi said she's worried as the third generation now grows up under Israeli occupation. "They see their relatives arrested, killed or have their rights taken away," she said. "Of course, such experiences can radicalize people."

Concerns about Jerusalem

In addition to these concerns, Palestinians are worried about the status of Jerusalem. Some day, the hope is that Jerusalem would become the capital of an independent Palestine. But this option, they fear, has been rendered impossible by current Israeli policy.

"If you look at Israel's plans, Jerusalem is no longer the capital of a future Palestinian state," stated Friday's edition of the Arabic language daily newspaper, Al Quds. "According to plans, Jerusalem is to be the undisputed capital of the Jewish state," a decision that has been widely publicized in Israel in the press and other media, according to the paper.

Many Palestinians have seen their concerns confirmed by the fact that the Temple Mount was closed off for several hours after the attack on Rabbi Glick. Israeli authorities said, however, that this was the only way that peace and security could be guaranteed in the area.

But since the September 2000 visit to the Temple Mount of then-opposition leader and later Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, accompanied by some 1,000 journalists, police, military and political leaders, Palestinians have been particularly sensitive when it comes to preserving their sacred sites.

Men trying to push past a blockade. (Photo: JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
Radical Jews tried to gain entry to the Temple MountImage: Getty Images/J. Guez

In recent weeks, radical Jews have called for a new Jewish temple to be built on the Temple Mount. Although the majority of Israelis have rejected this request, for now, it has not reassured Palestinians.

Prayer as a self-defense

Madi said many of her fellow Palestinians felt provoked, as they were prevented from praying on the Temple Mount. Palestinian Christians were also moved to pray together with their Muslim compatriots, using prayer as a way to defend themselves and their culture, added Madi. "It's about the right to practice their religion."

She does not think it will come to a third intifada, however. Scattered demonstrations are possible, she said, but a nationwide movement is highly unlikely as it would be prevented by Palestinian security forces. But police won't necessarily be able to hold back the anger of their compatriots.