Is Israel Facing a Third Intifada--And If So, Why Now?

Violence has escalated dramatically in the two weeks since the brutal murder of Eitam and Naama Henkin in front of their four children by a Palestinian terrorist in the West Bank.  Five members of a Hamas cell were arrested for the murder within days.  This is in sharp contrast to Israel's failure to charge anyone for the July 31 arson attack in the West Bank town of Duma that killed 18 month Ali Dawabshe, his father, Sa'ad, and his mother, Reham. The IDF suspects Jewish terrorists are responsible for the attack --in fact, Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon said that Israeli authorities believe they know who committed the attack but they will not put the terrorist(s) on trial (at least for now) because they do not want to reveal intelligence sources.  Ya'alon did, however, express a desire to bring the perpetrator(s) to justice if they could gather evidence that could be presented without disclosing intelligence sources.  And three Jewish extremists were arrested and held in administrative detention after the attack, but we don't know if they were arrested because they are suspects in the Duma attack or if they were arrested for other reasons.  But these gestures have little meaning to Palestinians who will only believe they will receive justice when they see arrests for the murders.
 
Zack Beuchamp at Vox has provided an excellent summary of the violence that has gone both ways since the Henkin murder.  Especially disturbing is the violence at and surrounding the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif where Palestinian extremists who feel threatened by Jewish religious extremists have been throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails at Jews who have come to pray on the Temple Mount. Many are worried that Israel is at the start of a third Intifada.  Daniel Seidmann, one of the sharpest analysts of all-things-Jerusalem, doesn't call the increase in violence an Intifada, but he does, however, say "the entire fabric of this conflict has changed".  Seidmann is worried that a nasty political conflict is transforming into an even more dangerous and impossible-to-resolve religious conflict.  
 
Why the upswing in violence, and why now?  First, keep in mind the brutal nature of the occupation even in normal times.  Former Shin Bet leader Avraham Shalom discussed the occupation in the Oscar-nominated movie, The Gatekeepers.
 
The future is bleak.  It's dark, the future.  Where does it lead?  To a change in the people's character because if you put most of our young people in the army, they'll see a paradox.  They'll see it strives to be a people's army, like the Nahal unit, involved in building up the country.  On the other hand, it's a brutal occupation force, similar to the Germans in World War II.  Similar, not identical.  And I'm not talking about their behavior toward the Jews.  That was exceptional, with its own particular characteristics.  I mean how they acted to the Poles, the Belgians, the Dutch. . . To all of them... The Czechs.  It's a very negative trait that we acquired, to be... I'm afraid to say it, so I won't.  We've become cruel, to ourselves as well, but mainly to the occupied population, using the excuse of the war against terror.

 

Anna Baltzer, a Jewish-American who works with the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, made a video describing the grinding day-to-day inconveniences and the more than occasional horrors of the occupation.  No doubt Israel's defenders will find a few questionable statements in this video and use them to try to discredit everything she says.  And she did make some questionable statements.  For example, she said that Israel expelled 750,000 Palestinians during the 1947/48 war.  That's not quite true.  Some 50,000 Palestinians were indeed expelled from Lydda and Ramle in 1948.  Other Palestinians left under varying circumstances.  But what is indisputable is that Israel refused to allow any of the 750,000 back in after the war.  We can quibble about individual statements here and there, but that would be losing the forest for the trees.  What is important is to listen to what she witnessed while visiting the West Bank.  What's important is to focus on how the occupation has affected the lives of Palestinians living under an oppressive regime.  While one can debate some of her claims, the overall picture she presents has the ring of truth.

 

 

 
 
OK, so the occupation is brutal.  But that's nothing new.  It's been brutal for decades.  But why the increase in violence now?  There are two reasons. 1) Palestinians feel that Israelis do not value their lives.  This point is driven home by the contrast between how Israel comes down hard and swift on Palestinians who kill Jews, yet the Dawabshe murderers remain uncharged even though Israeli officials claim to know who committed they are. And the second reason is loss of hope.  Haaretz reporter Amira Hass explains
 
Young Palestinians do not go out to murder Jews because they are Jews, but because we are their occupiers, their torturers, their jailers, the thieves of their land and water, their exilers, the demolishers of their homes, the blockers of their horizon. Young Palestinians, vengeful and desperate, are willing to lose their lives and cause their families great pain because the enemy they face proves every day that its malice has no limits. . . .
 
Not even this newspaper has the economic resources to employ 10 reporters and fill 20 pages with reports on all the attacks in times of escalation and all the attacks of the occupation in times of calm, from shooting through building a road that destroys a village to legalizing a settlement outpost and a million more assaults. Every day. The random examples we do manage to report are but a drop in the ocean, and they have no impact on the comprehension of the situation for a large majority of Israelis.
 
The goal of this unilateral war is to force the Palestinians to give up all their national demands in their homeland. 
 

 

Nahum Barnea, one of Israel's most respected journalists, agrees with Hass that loss of hope is one of the major forces driving the recent violence. I recommend his entire column, but here is a brief excerpt.

 

Israel is a bad occupier, and always has been. Instead of giving the occupied population hope, it settled among it. Instead of taking care of the people’s welfare, success, safety – it treated them with a lack of generosity and respect, refusing to either live with them or disengage.

 

That doesn’t mean that terrorism is morally justified. Terrorism is the rotten fruit of despair, the monster it births. But it doesn’t come from nowhere: It has a mother and father, grandparents, and siblings.

 

Israeli officials have given the Palestinians good reason to give up hope. Deputy Foreign Ministry Tzipi Hotovely closed the door on any hope for a Palestinian state on September 27.  Here is the Times of Israel's account of what she said.

 

[Handovers of] Judea and Samaria aren’t even on the list of options we're offering the Palestinians," [Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely] announced. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, while professing to support the creation of a Palestinian state in principle, "never said that the evacuation of Judea and Samaria is an option. He says we learned the lessons of the [2005 Gaza] Disengagement and that the world needs to get used to this idea. That’s one of the messages that I place great emphasis on."

 

The world needs to internalize that the West Bank is to remain under Israeli "de facto sovereignty," Hotovely said. "It’s not a bargaining chip. It does not depend on the Palestinians' goodwill. It’s the land of our forefathers. We don't intend to evacuate it, certainly not for the Islamic State or al-Qaeda or other extremist organizations that would sure to gain control over the territory

 

And Deputy Defense Minister Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan hammered the point home even harder on October 9 when he said, "Palestinians have to understand they won’t have a state & Israel will rule over them."  The good Rabbi has never been shy about expressing his views.  In 2013 he said, "A  Jew always has a much higher soul than a gentile, even if he is a homosexual"  and "[Palestinians] are beasts, they are not human."  What makes Ben-Dahan's statements especially alarming is that he was recently appointed to be in charge of civil administration Area C of the West Bank. In other words, he has a large influence on the daily lives of those Palestinians who live in Area C.

The message to Palestinians is clear: Don't expect any changes. Don't expect any relief. If you live in East Jerusalem or much of the West Bank you should expect to live with a boot stomping on your face forever. (Hat tip to George Orwell)

None of this should be taken as an excuse for Palestinian violence.  I am not sympathizing with Palestinian terrorists by explaining why violence is occurring any more than a doctor sympathizes with cancer by telling his patient to give up smoking. In order to cure a disease one must understand the underlying cause.  And the underlying cause for the violence is a brutal occupation regime that appears like it will last forever.

John F. Kennedy once said, "Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable."

 


Highly Recommended: Listen to an interview with Daniel Seidmann. Pay close attention to what he says at the end.