BY ADAM LUCENTE
Reporting from East Jerusalem
‘Intifada’ is an Arabic word meaning ‘uprising.’ It was used to describe events between 1987 and 1993 (the First Intifada) as well as 2000 and 2005 (the Second Intifada). These seminal Palestinian uprisings against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza included suicide bombings, demolitions, targeted killings, demonstrations and full-on armed conflict.
The most recent large-scale unrest in Israel and the Palestinian territories began in September 2015 over the Temple Mount. The site is holy to Jews and Muslims alike. Jews believe it is where Abraham attempted to sacrifice Isaac and where the Second Temple stood, of which only the nearby Western Wall remains. It is the holiest site in Judaism. Muslims considered it the their third holiest place, and where Mohammad ascended to heaven.
This latest conflict includes widespread protests by Palestinian citizens in Israeli cities such as Tel Aviv and Nazareth, a growing Jewish far-right street protest movement that has entered Arab neighborhoods, and the always-contentious Temple Mount issue. These occurrences have the potential to push Israel into widespread civil conflict throughout the whole country in a way previous intifadas did not.
Access to the Temple Mount provided the catalyst for the recent unrest. The Temple Mount area, which is under Muslim religious authority and technically controlled by the King of Jordan Abdullah II, has been off limits to Jewish prayer since Israel captured it in the 1967 Six Day War. There are a variety of religious and political reasons for this.
However, a movement to allow Jewish prayer there has gained momentum recently. And a group of Jews entering the area set off violence that led to the current situation. Of course, other factors contributed to the latest conflict as well, such as the lack of progress in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
That being said, several unique developments are underway. First, Israel is witnessing numerous demonstrations by its Palestinian citizens (as opposed to those in the West Bank and Gaza). The insurrection aspect of the Second Intifada was largely confined to the West Bank and Gaza. The PLO, Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups carried out frequent attacks within Israel during this time, but mass protests by Palestinians in Israel constitute a new development. And they show no signs of dying down anytime soon.
Furthermore, these protests are not always going peacefully, as Israeli media reports note. On October 6, six police officers were injured in clashes as they dispersed Palestinian protesters who reportedly threw rocks in Yaffa, a mixed Jewish-Arab city just south of Tel Aviv. A protest in the largely Palestinian city of Nazareth in northern Israel ended similarly, with police using stun grenades and protesters blocking streets and setting tires on far.
Such demonstrations demonstrate this uprising’s potential to spread throughout the country, including areas with lots of Jewish citizens. It further shows that the occupation is not the only source of discontent in the Palestinian community, or that Palestinian citizens of Israel feel strongly enough about their compatriots in the West Bank and Gaza to protest themselves.
The emergence of a far-right Jewish street protest movement in Israel additionally may push the country into civil conflict. On October 8, Rockland County Times witnessed hundreds of mainly Orthodox Jews who gathered at the Western Wall for a showing of patriotism. They hoisted Israeli flags and sang religious songs, belting “Adonai, Adonai (a Hebrew word for God)” into the cool Jerusalem night. Some of them were sporting shirts that read “Kahane was right,” referring to the late Rabbi known for controversial remarks towards Arabs.
In keeping with the Kahanist tradition, the protest moved out of the Old City and into Jerusalem, including some Arab locales. At this time, observers including Rockland County Times heard the protesters chanting anti-Arab slurs. Like Palestinian protesters hurling rocks in Israel, such confrontations provoke tensions.
The day after the October 8 rally, Rockland County Times observed an East Jerusalem imam who took to literally the same streets to lead worshippers in chanting “with our spirit and our blood we sacrifice ourselves for Al-Aqsa,” referring to the mosque on the Temple Mount.
Moreover, the fact that this conflict somewhat centers on the Temple Mount gives it potential to escalate. It would not be accurate say the Second Intifada was caused by it, but after then candidate for prime minister Ariel Sharon visited the site on September 28, 2000, violence soon ensued.
‘Intifada’ is not a new concept. There have been two before this one, and if history is any indication there will be ones after it as well. However, this third reincarnation shows signs of civil conflict throughout Israel. Israel has yet to witness large-scale Palestinian protests ending in violence. Arab neighborhoods have yet to witness copious amounts of right-wing Jews marching on their streets. Yet both these situations are starting to happen. Yes, this may be the beginning of the Third Intifada, and it may have more widespread Jewish-Arab confrontation than intifadas past.