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Israel lights the spark at Al-Aqsa again

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Since a boy named David slew the giant Goliath with a slingshot, the stone has served as an enduring symbol of how the weak can defeat an oppressor.

For the past month Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has tried to rewrite the Bible story by declaring war on what he terms Palestinian “terrorism by stones”.

There are echoes of Yitzhak Rabin’s response nearly 30 years ago when, as defence minister, he ordered soldiers to “break bones” to stop a Palestinian uprising, often referred to as the “intifada of stones”, against the Israeli occupation.

Terrified by the symbolism of women and children throwing stones at one of the world’s strongest armies, Rabin hoped broken arms would deprive Palestinians of the power to wield their lowly weapon.

Now the West Bank and Jerusalem are on fire again, as Palestinian youths clash with the same oppressors. Reports suggest soldiers killed one Palestinian youth and injured more than 100 others on Sunday alone. Talk of a third intifada grows louder by the day.

The touchpaper, as so often, is Israel’s transgressions at the al-Aqsa mosque compound, known as Haram al-Sharif, in Jerusalem’s Old City.

During the weeks of Israel’s high holidays, tensions have risen sharply. Israeli government ministers and ever larger numbers of Jewish ultra-nationalists, backed by paramilitary forces, have been ascending to the mosque area.

In parallel, Palestinian access has been restricted and settlers have stepped up seizures of Palestinian homes in occupied East Jerusalem to encircle al-Aqsa.

Palestinians believe Israel is asserting control over the site to change the long-standing “status quo” designed to keep Islamic authorities in charge.

Israel refers to the Haram as the Temple Mount, because the ruins of two ancient Jewish temples supposedly lie underneath. As Israel has swung to the right politically and religiously, government and settler circles have been swept by an aggressive Jewish messianism.

Palestinian efforts to resist have been limited. Israel has long barred Palestinian factions and organisations from any dealings in the city it calls its “eternal capital”.

The situation at al-Aqsa has come to symbolise in painful microcosm the Palestinian story of dispossession.

The mosque has also served as a red line, both because it is a powerful cause that unites all Palestinians, including Christians and the secular, and because it rallies the wider Arab and Muslim worlds to the Palestinians’ side.

But like Goliath, the Israeli prime minister appears to assume greater force will win.

First, he outlawed last month a group of Islamic guardians, many of them women, known as the Murabitoun, stationed at al-Aqsa. They had not even resorted to stones. Their crime was to try to deter Jewish extremists from praying at the site by crying “God is great”.

Then, Israeli police stormed the compound to evict youths who had barricaded themselves in. Severe restrictions on Palestinian access to al-Aqsa followed.

As youngsters took to the streets, Mr Netanyahu authorised live fire against stone-throwers in Jerusalem, and minimum four-year jail sentences for those arrested.

To ensure the judiciary complied, the police minister threatened the promotion of judges whose sentencing was not harsh enough.

Predictably, violence has not calmed but spiralled. On Saturday night a Palestinian youth stabbed to death two Jewish settlers near the Western Wall.

Israel has described such incidents as “lone-wolf attacks”. In truth, these unpredictable outbursts of violence are the inevitable result of the orphaned status of Palestinians in Jerusalem.

Israel responded with another unprecedented move. Palestinians were banned from the Old City for the following 48 hours unless they lived or worked there. Israel’s track record suggests this will soon become the new norm.

Mr Netanyahu also approved fast-track demolitions of Palestinian homes, more soldiers in Jerusalem and even tighter restrictions at al-Aqsa.

So where is this heading?

Doubtless Mr Netanyahu is in part proving his credentials to an ever-more religious and intolerant Israeli public. After Saturday’s deaths, Jewish mobs once again patrolled Jerusalem’s streets seeking vengeance.

But he is also cynically exploiting western fears to reinvent the David and Goliath story. He hopes the words “Islamic terrorism” – conjuring up Islamc State’s threats to religious freedom – will scotch western sympathy for Palestinian youths facing armed soldiers.

Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, warned in his speech to the United Nations last week that Israeli measures were “aimed at imposing a new reality and dividing Haram al-Sharif temporally”.

These are not idle fears. In 1994 Israel capitalised on a horrific massacre of Palestinians perpetrated by a Jewish settler, Baruch Goldstein, at the Ibrahimi mosque in Hebron to justify dividing it.

Today, Jews have prayer rights at the site, enforced by Israeli guns, and central Hebron has been turned into a ghost town – much as Jerusalem’s Old City looks since the weekend ban on entry for Palestinians.

Most Palestinians fear an Israeli-engineered spiral of violence in Jerusalem will be used to impose a similar division at al-Aqsa.

There is little Abbas can do. His PA is barred from Jerusalem and committed to helping Israeli security elsewhere. Like the Muslim world, he watches helplessly from afar.

Which is why Palestinian youths will continue reaching for the humble stone, exerting what little power they have against a modern Goliath.

A version of this article first appeared in the National, Abu Dhabi.

Jonathan Cook

Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His new website is jonathan-cook.net.

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14 Responses

  1. bryan on October 6, 2015, 12:54 pm

    Just as ethnic cleansing got really disreputable they have now engineered religious cleansing, (with an ethnic basis) but to be hostile to that would be really anti-Semitic, since as Palikari insists all the persecuted Zionists demand is FREEDOM AND EQUALITY!.

  2. ivri on October 6, 2015, 2:18 pm

    Well, there is logic behind everything. Of course, this is not anything close to an Intifada albeit there are vested interests in calling it so – the media love sensations and the Intifada word is a sure dramatizer. Then, Palestinians are in love with hyperboles and you will forever in interviews that “we will fight 1000 years to liberate Al Aqsa”, “I am ready to sacrifice everything for…”, “It is like death here so we have nothing to lose” etc., which is both a self-exciting exercise and a propaganda line.
    In reality this is all very limited. Despite what you may here in responses to the media, the vast majority of Jews and Palestinians have no interest at all in an Intifada-like conflagration – by now they all watch the nightly news from Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, even Lebanon and Jordan, and understand very well how bad matters can REALLY become. In addition, the two past Intifadas, particularly the second, have been severe enough for Israel to use the decade and a half since then to deploy just about everything seemed useful to block another one – based on the vast accumulated experience with it (and let`s not forget that Israel`s military is a pinnacle of this world).
    Notwithstanding the Palestinian leadership rhetoric they are fully aware of the real situation. A bit of bargaining (to get more of what they want) through the usual means can never hurt – after all this the region of the Bazaars – but there is no way in the world that they would want to put in jeopardy what they already have (try to visit Ramallah one day and see for yourself how it really looks).
    Add it all up and expect a “normal” level of troubles. It is possible though that as in all past eruptions this one would lead too, after then dust wills settle on this “round”, to a new status-quo mode – the “story” called Israel is all about that, step by step, phase by phase. The world is utterly mesmerized now by other arenas in the region, where things are bad in earnest (with global scale implications), making changes that normally would have caused uproar hardly noticeable.

    • Mooser on October 6, 2015, 2:33 pm

      I’ll save everybody the trouble since I endured it.
      Shorter “ivri”:

      ‘This is our big chance to seize Al Aqsa, now’s our chance!!’

      • ivri on October 6, 2015, 4:12 pm

        Wrong conclusion and in fact the opposite is true – that`s the one thing Israel definitely does not need. At the same time, worryingly, stupid acts are possible in this regard by Israel`s loonies who interpret its historical success streak as a sign that all is possible. I strongly hope they will be blocked. In case it does happen then all bets are off – it is impossible to predict what will ensue – but what might possibly mitigate things is the historically low point that the Islamic world is at now: embroiled in grave difficulties all around the world. But I remain confident that it will not be allowed to happen.

    • eljay on October 6, 2015, 2:49 pm

      || ivri: … the media love sensations and the Intifada word is a sure dramatizer. … ||

      One wouldn’t expect anything less from the “Pallywag brigade“, eh? (I’m still amazed that that term made it through moderation.)

      || … Then, Palestinians are in love with hyperboles and you will forever in interviews that “we will fight 1000 years to liberate Al Aqsa”, “I am ready to sacrifice everything for…”, “It is like death here so we have nothing to lose” etc. … ||

      Not unlike Zio-supremacists who spout all sorts of hyperbole regarding their “eternal homeland” and what they will do to save the “Jewish State” from being “wiped off the map and pushed into the sea”. Oh, and let’s not forget the Holocaust…

      || … The world is utterly mesmerized now by other arenas in the region … ||

      There’s no better time to implement an (ex)terminal solution.

      • Citizen on October 7, 2015, 3:51 am

        As Mooser said.

    • lysias on October 6, 2015, 3:01 pm

      Israel`s military is a pinnacle of this world

      Pinnacle? I could have sworn Israel’s military has now lost a series of wars.

      • eljay on October 6, 2015, 3:04 pm

        || lysias: … Pinnacle? … ||

        It’s like he said: Zio-supremacists are in love with hyperboles.

        (Everything is the absolute very best -and- not quite as bad as the worst.)

      • ivri on October 6, 2015, 4:22 pm

        @lysias
        Well, that`s because the way they redefine “defeat” today in the political correct lingo. Similarly, the US was “defeated” in Afghanistan and perhaps even in Iraq. Once upon the time defeat meant that the other side vanquished your forces – perhaps took your land.

      • Mooser on October 6, 2015, 5:54 pm

        “Once upon the time defeat meant that the other side vanquished your forces – perhaps took your land.”

        Yeah “Once upon a time”. Another fairy tale. You’re full of it, I mean, them.

      • Mooser on October 6, 2015, 6:30 pm

        “Well, that`s because the way they redefine “defeat” today in the political correct lingo. Similarly, the US was “defeated” in Afghanistan and perhaps even in Iraq. Once upon the time defeat meant that the other side vanquished your forces – perhaps took your land.”

        Of course, back in those days, the Jewish people were the uncontested masters of the earth, and dumb “laws of war” and “politically correct” nonsense never concerned us! After all, we weren’t the ones suffering. We just took what we wanted, all over Europe, right “irvi”?
        If only we could return to those glory days of 1750- 1950 or so, the days of unrestricted warfare and booty. We were champs at it, right “ivri”? We were always on the winning side, right, “Irvi” And today, with our vastly increased resources, and the hundreds of millions of young men ready to fight and die for our cause, how can we lose?

    • lysias on October 6, 2015, 3:04 pm

      making changes that normally would have caused uproar hardly noticeable.

      “Im Schatten des Krieges wird manches Unmögliche möglich [In the shadow of war, many impossible things become possible]”.

      Guess who said that, and about what?

    • bryan on October 7, 2015, 3:15 am

      @ivri – “Palestinians are in love with hyperboles”

      Just to be picky on two points:
      (1) “hyperboles” is a horrible Americanism (just like “Superbowls” for a game that no-one else cares about): hyperbole is the plural of hyperbola (http://www.wordreference.com/definition/hyperbole)
      (2) if the Palestinians are masters of hyperbole, then the absolute maestro, one might say the “pinnacle” of the art form, is a certain Palestinian of recent immigrant stock, who quickly adapted to the new environment. Did you see his recent speech at the UN? I would rather listen to a real Palestinian like Abbas any day, measured and respectful, than have to hear a Johnny-come-lately ranting and raving and insulting an august assembly of world leaders, that incidentally gave Israel the only shred of legitimacy it possesses.

      • Mooser on October 7, 2015, 12:25 pm

        “Irvi”, no doubt, distinguishes himself by pronouncing it “hyper-boles” instead of “hy-PUR-bə-lee”.

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