The seemingly permanent conflict between Israel and Palestine took a turn for the worse last month when Israel, East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip and the occupied West Bank saw fatal clashes and increased tensions in what is arguably the worst outbreak of violence between Israelis and Palestinians since the Gaza War last year.
The discontent started when a rumour spread in Palestinian circles that hard-right Jewish religious extremists were pushing for a rule change in who could access the Temple Mount in Jerusalem (important for being the third most holy site in Islam and the holiest in Judaism) – the rule was that anyone could visit, but only Muslims were allowed to pray there as Jewish law (supported by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel) had prohibited access for Jews. The Israeli Government denied that any changes were occurring, but this was not enough to satisfy many angry Palestinians who have a deep distrust of the Israeli State.
When the Israeli Defence ministry banned the Mourabitat (an Islamist protest group which Israel says is violent) from Temple Mount, the Palestinians saw this as confirmation of their fears. In the lead up to Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year), Israeli police led a raid on the site and discovered a stash of assorted bombs and rocks which they feared would be used against Israeli worshippers who would be visiting the site for New Year. The first violent clash came on the day after, with police and Palestinian protestors clashing. These battles continued and Israel responded with preventative measures such as an increased police presence on the Mount and increasing the penalty for stone-throwing, which is the favoured mode of attack for many protestors. Several on each side were wounded.
What followed this was an even more serious spike in violence. A series of Arab on Israeli ‘lone wolf’ stabbings (together with shootings and running over with vehicles) over the past several weeks have taken place across Israel in several major conurbations such as Tel Aviv and Petah Tivka with men, women and children all being targets. This hasn’t come without Israeli reprisals – Israeli forces have shot dead several suspected attackers, with some debate centring on if those shot were actually attackers or not. In addition, rockets have been fired at Israel from Gaza with the Israeli Defence Force then bombing Hamas sites in Gaza as retaliation. There is no doubting that tensions are rising.
Many have called this outburst of violence the ‘Third Intifada’ – Intifada meaning ‘uprising’ in English – specifically a Palestinian uprising against Israel. The First Intifada started in 1987 and lasted until 1993, the Second from 2000 to 2005. These uprisings can take many forms, but violence is a constant throughout them all, with thousands of lives being lost in both Intifadas. Whether or not this turns into a full-blown intifada remains to be seen, but it will require some tact from the Israeli Government to try and stop further escalation.
There have been international attempts to stop the violence, including a proposal by the French government to station international forces on Temple Mount to keep the peace, although this was rejected outright by the Israelis. US Secretary of State John Kerry has stepped in to try and find a solution meeting with both Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Germany and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Jordan. Kerry’s seemingly sensible idea of installing cameras at the compound to monitor behaviour drew scorn from both sides, especially the Palestinian side. Nothing is simple in the Middle East, especially when both leaders have poked the beehive with their rhetoric and neither truly seem to want or expect a two-state solution anytime soon.