Headlines, Human Rights, Middle East & North Africa

MIDEAST: Riots May Point to Third Palestinian Uprising

Mel Frykberg

EAST JERUSALEM, Sep 30 2009 (IPS) - Palestinian politicians and Israeli political analysts are warning of a third Palestinian Intifadah following serious rioting in East Jerusalem last Sunday.

Clashes broke out between Palestinians protesters and Israeli security forces after a group of extremist Israeli settlers, escorted by Israeli soldiers and police, tried to enter the compound of Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third holiest shrine which is situated in Jerusalem’s old city.

Palestinian youths pelted the Israeli police with stones and chairs. The Israelis responded with beatings, teargas, sound grenades and rubber-coated metal bullets. Dozens of police and protestors were injured in the ensuing violence.

On Sunday Israel closed the West Bank off for Yom Kippur, one of Judaism’s holiest days. This religious holiday often coincides with the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, increasing tensions between Israelis and Palestinians.

An extremist Israeli religious settler group, The Temple Mount Faithful, mark Yom Kippur annually by trying to enter the Al-Aqsa compound which they believe is built on the remains of the second Jewish Holy Temple destroyed by the Romans in AD 70.

The organisation has stated repeatedly that they intend to destroy Al-Aqsa Mosque and build the Third Holy Temple on top of its remains.

Against a background of Israel’s increasing Judaisation of East Jerusalem in a bid to keep the city united under eternal Israeli control and to usurp Palestinian aspirations to East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state, Al-Aqsa has increasingly become a point of friction.

Muslim sensitivity towards Al-Aqsa and what is perceived as an outrageous assault on Islamic sensibilities has been a rallying cause for both Christian and Muslim Palestinians as well as Muslims of different political persuasions and nationalities.

The Lebanese resistance movement Hizbullah condemned the Israeli action while Hamas urged Palestinians throughout the West Bank, Gaza, and Israel to take to the streets and begin a new uprising against Israel in reaction to the clashes.

Archbishop Atallah Hanna, one of the highest ranking Christian clergymen in Jerusalem, declared Sunday’s violence a dark premonition of what he said were Israel’s plans for the city.

“We, as Christian Palestinians and Jerusalemites, cannot keep watching with our hands folded in the face of what happened. On Sunday it was Al-Aqsa, tomorrow it will be the Church of the Holy Sepulchre,” said Atallah, referring to the church built on the spot where Jesus is believed to be buried.

Dr Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) top negotiator, said “the attack on ordinary civilians and worshippers is unacceptable. Israel must cease all actions that will only inflame the situation.”

Muhammad Dahlan, another top-ranking PA official and the alleged instigator of the civil war in Gaza between Hamas and Fatah, warned that a third Palestinian uprising could well be in the pipeline.

Bassam Abu Sharif, a former senior advisor to late PA president Yasser Arafat, and member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), added his voice to a chorus of those raising the possibility of a third Intifadah against Israel.

“The Palestinians are preparing themselves to carry out another Intifadah of independence and freedom in response to Israeli violations, massacres and policies against the Palestinians, against Jerusalem, the confiscation of land, and the geographic separation of the Palestinian territories.”

On Monday night Israeli security forces raided Palestinian homes throughout East Jerusalem and arrested over 60 Palestinians Israel suspects of taking part in the riots.

On Tuesday IPS visited the site of the clashes, and despite the apparent surface calm, anger and resentment appeared to be simmering underneath.

Groups of heavily armed Israeli soldiers and police in vehicles and on foot were stationed at strategic corners in the old city and other areas of East Jerusalem as a state of high security was declared.

Several Palestinians appeared to be too scared to talk to IPS as Israeli police and soldiers moved in and monitored our conversations.

One Jerusalem resident who witnessed the clashes but wanted to remain anonymous told IPS, “There will be serious violence at Friday prayers if these Israeli fanatics again try their tricks. We are sick of them.”

Dr Samir Awad from Birzeit University north of Ramallah says a serious outbreak of violence is definitely in the offing.

“But I don’t think the Palestinians will be able to sustain a long-term Intifadah. They are too weak politically and economically in addition to being emotionally exhausted,” Awad told IPS.

“Palestinian are desperate, and despairing at the dead peace process. They have lost faith as U.S. President Barack Obama appears to have reneged on his promise re the settlements and exerting pressure on Israel.

“The possibility of the American administration having a counter plan involving plans for the establishment of a Palestinian state first and then addressing the settlements, East Jerusalem and the right of return as a way of countering Israeli recalcitrance seems overly optimistic,” added Awad.

However, Prof. Moshe Maoz from Jerusalem’s Hebrew University says the U.S. administration might still come up with the goods.

“Israelis sometimes misunderstand American culture which is more understated and cautious in comparison to Israelis, who tend to be outspoken and impatient. Just because Obama didn’t reiterate the settlement issue at the recent talks in New York does not mean he has given up on them,” Maoz told IPS.

“However, another Intifadah is quite possible if there is no breakthrough. Palestinian patience after 42 years of occupation is running thin.”

Dr Yousef Natsche, director of antiquities and tourism at the Islamic Waqf which administers Al-Aqsa, said he hoped there would be no further disturbances.

“But the provocative visits by Jewish extremists are increasing in both number and frequency and are supported by the Israeli authorities.

“Sunday’s violence is an indicator of what could happen in the future on an even larger scale if the Israelis continue not to heed our warnings,” Natsche told IPS.

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