As has recently been seen, the level of violence and conflict in Israel and the Palestinian territories has increased to a worrying scale. The question that needs to be asked, it seems, is whether we are on the edge of a third Palestinian intifada, or most worrying, will we look back five years from now and come to conclusion that the third intifada has already begun?
Intifada is an Arabic word which literally mean ‘shaking off’, it is often used in the context of an uprising or a rebellion. The previous intifadas that have been seen are what made the Israel-Palestine conflict world famous. The first intifada lasted from 1987 until 1993 and cost the lives of around two thousand three hundred people, (two thousand of them Palestinian). The second or ‘Al Aqsa’ intifada lasted from 2000 until 2005 (some differ on its end date). This uprising cost the lives of just under five thousand people.
Now these conflicts are defined as the Palestinians within Israel and the occupied territories rising up and attacking the Israeli armed forces, state, and civilians. This may be the case from an isolated viewing of the large scale violence that takes place in these periods of time, this assessment fails to take account of the causes of these uprisings and the amount of tension which exists in the region.
As even the least informed viewer of the news will know the Israeli government has for years sanctioned the building of settlements in Palestinian areas in both the West Bank and in areas of East Jerusalem, most notably in the Palestinian neighbourhood of Silwan. It not necessarily these settlements which account for the unrest and disenchantment among the Palestinians in these areas the problem is somewhat more complex than this. It involves the methods used by settlers and the Israeli armed forced tactic’s in dealing with the Palestinians.
In the past five years there have been several changes in both Israeli policy towards the Palestinians as well as the actions of settlers in these contested areas. This is significant since what is often covered in the news media is the number of suicide bombings and attacks by Palestinian Islamist militants as the main inflammatory action in this conflict. This assumption fails to take account of the views of the majority of Palestinians on the ground as well as their daily lives under the occupation of the Israeli armed forces and armed settlers.
What is portrayed in the news media is the Palestine Authority currently under Mahmoud Abbas as the legitimate, elected and recognised government of the Palestinian people. This is quite far from the case. Among Palestinians, the Palestinian Authority is nearly as unpopular as the Israeli government and, after the most recent fighting in Gaza, it is less popular than Hamas, who after a long period of fraught relations with Fatah can now openly fly their colours in the West Bank after a long absence and negative feeling among normal Palestinians. From what scant polling data we can find on Palestinian preferences, the PA is now at its lowest known level of popularity.
Rejection of leadership
There is a very clear reason for the Palestinian people’s rejection of the PA and their now wider affinity for Hamas. It is not that they are agreeing in greater numbers with the hard-line Islamist ideology of Hamas, it is rather that Hamas to the people on the ground is, in their eyes the only Palestinian party that stands up to Israel. It has been the policy of the PA since the end of the second intifada to take a non-violent and diplomatic approach through peaceful protests and petitioning international institutions like the United Nations and most recently signing up to the ICC.
It has becomes apparent to a large number of Palestinians that this international posturing and negotiating through the overtly pro-Israel and wildly unpopular United States has done almost nothing to prevent the spread of illegal settlements and repression of civil and human rights. This is seen by many as the reason for the rise of more hard-line elements within the Palestinian territories including but not limited to Hamas and Islamic Jihad. These groups are enjoying a sharp rise in recruitment and popularity and the only reason for this is the lack of international recognition of the conditions faced by Palestinians who seek international recognition of what the United Nations has already decided as of the 1970s is their right to a two state solution and an end to the annexation of their land.
Oppression of Palestinians
The Israelis have done comparably well in the post-1948 conflict that created their state. The Palestinians have been left in limbo as a result of what can only be described as the perfunctory attitude of the United Nations to Israeli abuses and continual flouting of UN resolutions and international law with no consequences. This is no more apparent than the coverage in the media of the most recent Gaza conflict. What was constantly referred to in every media outlet available in the West was the number of rockets fired by Hamas from the Gaza strip into Israel. Can I at least ask the question which has been bothering me for some time when considering this conflict: when in the history of warfare has the number of shots fired by one side been counted in such a way as to justify the bombing and invasion of a civilian area in one of the most densely populated parts of land on the planet? It seems ridiculous that when we hear about the Gaza conflict a hospital being deliberately targeted in an airstrike is mentioned in the same breath as x amount of rockets fired into Israel, as if this creates some kind of obvious justification. There is a further problem with this, the airstrikes by the Israeli forces cause real human damage on almost every occasion, rockets fired by Hamas reach their targets only three per cent of the time and not all of that three per cent results in death or injury to Israelis. The airstrikes and destruction of Palestinian homes is also made even worse due to the embargo on building materials imposed by the Israeli navy on shipments to Gaza.
This says nothing of the day-to-day lives of Palestinians living in the West Bank side by side with Israeli settlers. In recent years there has been a sharp rise in what are known in the area as ‘price tag attacks’. These attacks consist of settlers burning and vandalising Palestinian homes in the areas of their settlements as well as blocking the roads around more isolated Palestinian farms to prevent their owners from accessing or leaving. What is even more troubling is that these attacks are carried out by Jewish settlers who are given assault rifles by the Israeli government and even more worrying these settlers carry out these attacks often under the protection of the Israeli Army meaning that these acts more often than not achieve their desired effect; the further extension of Israeli settlements and more Palestinians displaced or killed.
Price tag attacks are probably the crudest of Israeli efforts to land grab in the West Bank. What has occurred with more and more frequency is the discovery of Jewish heritage all over the West Bank. This may sound a strange method of annexation but it is even more effective than intimidation and force. What will happen is Israeli ‘archaeologists’ will enter an area and begin digging in a field that just so happens to be in an area earmarked for new settlements. They will very quickly discover some piece of Jewish heritage, like a well or some old piece of jewellery. Within days there will be many Israeli pilgrims coming to see this new artefact and lo and behold overnight this place is turned into the new Jewish Lourdes. Soon after this the land will be built on by settlers with the protection of the Israeli army and another Palestine village will be living in the shadow of an Israeli settlement.