By Jean Shaoul
19 November, 2014
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has promised to respond with a “heavy hand” to the killing of four rabbis and the wounding of eight others in a Tuesday morning attack on a synagogue.
The attack by two men, armed with a gun, axes and knives, took place in an ultra-orthodox neighbourhood of West Jerusalem. Israeli police shot and killed the attackers at the scene.
The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine said that its members, identified by police as cousins Ghassan Abu Jamal and Uday Abu Jamal, had carried out the attack, calling it a “heroic operation” and a “natural response to the crimes of the occupation.”
Hamas and Islamic Jihad praised the attack, saying it was in response to the death of Yusuf Ramouni, a bus driver from East Jerusalem who was found hanged inside his vehicle on Sunday. While the police claimed Ramouni’s death a suicide, Palestinians said he had been beaten and murdered.
In contrast, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas issued a statement “condemning the killing of worshippers in a house of God in West Jerusalem.” He called for a halt to Israeli “raids into al-Aqsa” and “provocations” by Israeli settlers on Palestinian lands.
Israel’s police chief, Yohanan Danino, raised the alert level in Jerusalem to the second highest and ordered police nationally to prepare for any possible scenario. Security forces stormed the Jabal al-Mukaber neighbourhood in large numbers while police arrested a number of the attackers’ relatives. Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch said he would seek some easing of gun control rules so that military officers and security guards could carry weapons while off-duty. Right-wing Israeli protests have taken place throughout the city.
Netanyahu ordered the demolition of the homes of the attackers’ families in East Jerusalem. He accused Hamas, the Islamist group that controls Gaza, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas of inciting violence. The prime minister’s spokesperson Mark Regev went further, equating Hamas with the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, which controls large swathes of Iraq and Syria.
With Israel having already waged a bloody war against Gaza in July that led to 2,200 deaths, overwhelmingly Palestinians, Washington is clearly concerned at Netanyahu risking an escalation of a situation already teetering on the brink of what many are terming a third Palestinian Intifada. The US is particularly worried by Netanyahu’s targeting of Abbas, a key US asset.
President Barack Obama issued a statement condemning the attack, while declaring: “At this sensitive moment in Jerusalem, it is all the more important for Israeli and Palestinian leaders and ordinary citizens to work cooperatively together to lower tensions, reject violence, and seek a path forward towards peace.”
Shin Bet (internal security) chief Yoram Cohen publicly rejected claims that Abbas encouraged terrorism, saying, “Abu Mazen [Abbas] is not interested in terror and is not leading his people to terror.”
The attack and Israel’s response portend a wider conflict between Israel and the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories and within the Palestinian-dominated towns and cities of Israel itself that could embroil neighbouring Jordan. It follows mounting provocations by the Israeli authorities in support of nationalist religious zealots who, along with ultra-right politicians of the Jewish Home Party in Netanyahu’s ruling coalition, have called for an end to rules banning Jews from praying at the site of al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock on Haram al-Sharif, known as Temple Mount to the Jews, and full Israeli sovereignty over the site.
Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount was the site of the Jewish temple destroyed 2,000 years ago, of which all that remains is the Wailing Wall. But Haram al-Sharif is one of the three most important sites in Islam.
Israel seized the Al-Aqsa site along with the rest of East Jerusalem in the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. Israel annexed East Jerusalem in defiance of international law.
According to Muslim belief, the Prophet Mohammed rose to heaven from the Dome of the Rock. Jordan’s King Abdullah II, who claims descent from the Prophet, is guardian of the city’s Islamic holy places by tradition and by the 1994 peace treaty with Israel. Any challenge to the religious status quo would also challenge his legitimacy in Jordan and throughout the Arab world.
Whereas just a decade ago a few hundred religious Jews visited the site, some 8,500 visited it last year. In the last few weeks, hundreds of Jews and several politicians have marched onto the Mount, including prominent members of the ruling Likud party and Jerusalem’s mayor, Nir Barkat, escorted by armed police.
This has given rise to repeated clashes between Israeli riot police and Palestinian youth at the compound, culminating on October 29 when a Palestinian assailant shot and wounded Yehuda Glick, a prominent messianic activist and nationalist provocateur. Israel then closed the compound to Muslim worshippers.
Since then, visits by Jewish Israelis to the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount have increased. Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza are refused access.
As tensions have mounted, five Israelis and a foreign national visiting Jerusalem have been run over deliberately or stabbed by Palestinians, while the security forces have killed a dozen Palestinians.
Jordan also fears that right-wing Israeli elements will force the annexation of Area C in the West Bank, triggering a third flight of Palestinians to Jordan, politically destabilising the country, where Palestinians already form a majority.
Jordan’s Abdullah has made clear that any unilateral Israeli move on the al-Aqsa compound would force a review of the 1994 peace treaty. On November 5, he withdrew Jordan’s ambassador to Israel.
With friction between two of Washington’s most important regional allies cutting across its plans for military escalation in Iraq and Syria, US Secretary of State John Kerry flew to Amman to try and persuade Abdullah and Netanyahu to calm the tensions.
Netanyahu publicly proclaimed his adherence to the status quo, but at the same time made it easier to sentence young Palestinians who throw stones at Israeli security forces to up to 20 years in prison. Some 800 young Palestinians have been locked up in the past two months.
Netanyahu also approved new housing for Jews in Jerusalem, including 500 units to expand an existing Jewish enclave north of the city, Ramat Shlomo, and 2,600 units at Givat Hamatos, a hill in southern Jerusalem that links two other neighbourhoods lying outside Israel’s pre-1967 borders. The construction will encircle the Palestinian village of Beit Safafa, which is also being bisected by a highway linking Jewish settlements to the city centre.
All this comes as Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem are being demolished, ostensibly because they have been built or extended without permission, which is, in practice, impossible to obtain. According to the United Nations, 298 Palestinians were evicted and their homes demolished in 2013 and well over 100 this year.
There have been riots and clashes between Palestinian Israelis and Israeli police in the northern towns following the brutal killing by police of 22-year-old Kheir Hamdan in Kafr Kana, near Nazareth. Netanyahu and Economics Minister Naftali Bennett both suggested Hamdan was a “terrorist.” Netanyahu called on the interior minister to investigate stripping the Palestinian Israeli protesters in Kafr Kana and elsewhere of their citizenship and their right to live in Israel. He told them to “move to the Palestinian Authority or to Gaza… Israel will not put any obstacles in your way.”
Is Another War Coming To The Occupied West Bank?
19 November, 2014
Observers of the evolution of the relationship between Israel and the Palestinians have long argued that there are only two likely outcomes of the alternating violence and diplomacy between the two sides that has gone on nearly 70 years now. One is a “two-state solution” wherein Israel accepts a rump Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank. That possibility has by now been more or less forestalled because of the massive land theft and colonization drive of Israeli squatters on Palestinian land in the West Bank. (The UN General Assembly partition plan of 1947, whatever one thinks of its legitimacy, awarded the West Bank to Palestine). The other is a “one-state solution” wherein Israel bestows Israeli citizenship on the stateless Palestinians. There is no obvious path to such a decision on the part of what are essentially fascist ruling parties in Israel and it is hard to imagine a scenario in which such a thing happens.
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman have another ending to the story in mind. And that is the “transfer” of Palestinian-Israelis and of Palestinians in the West Bank to some other country, probably Jordan. This crackpot plan of uprooting and moving 5 million people is also not very likely on the face of it.
But there is one scenario in which “transfer” (i.e. ethnic cleansing) could occur. That would be a repeat of the 1947-48 civil war in British Mandate Palestine, which eventuated in the ethnic cleansing by Jewish militias of 720,000 Palestinians out of a pre-war total of 1.2 million. Jewish terrorist organizations such as the Stern Gang simply mowed down Palestinian villagers with machine guns to scare their neighbors into fleeing their homes, which the nascent Israelis then usurped. After Israel was established, Prime Minister David Ben Gurion simply locked the Palestinians out of their homeland for good, creating a massive refugee problem in the West Bank, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon that has never really been resolved to this day (only Jordan gave the Palestinians citizenship, and even there it is sometimes revoked).
Israel conquered the West Bank in 1967 and militarily occupied it, then contravened the Geneva Convention of 1949 on the treatment of occupied populations by flooding Israeli squatters into the territory. It also illegally annexed part of the Palestinian West Bank and awarded it to the Israeli district of Jerusalem, which is roughly 35 percent Palestinian. It also has gradually forced many Palestinians in East Jerusalem to depart, confiscating their property, and is building Jews-only squatter settlements all around Jerusalem with an intent of turning Jerusalem into a Jews-only city.
The Israeli government has now put 600,000 Israeli squatters into the Palestinian West Bank (including Palestinian Jerusalem), among nearly 3 million Palestinians. There is constant Israeli construction of housing on usurped Palestinian land. Squatters dig their wells deeper into aquifers and cause the wells in Palestinian villages to go dry. There is a low-intensity struggle between the incoming squatters and the indigenous Palestinians. Israelis have attacked mosques and villagers. Palestinians have killed Israelis whom they view as land thieves.
These two populations are not separate from one another in the West Bank. Nothing would be easier than for tit-for-tat killings to spiral out of control. Then you’d have a war on the West Bank, which of course the Israelis would win, being very well armed by the US and very well organized.
In the course of this coming civil war in the West Bank, Israeli squatter organizations would seek to repeat the Stern Gang’s achievements in 1947-48 of making the Palestinian population flee its homes for Jordan. Jordan, a country of 6 million, would suddenly be a country of 9 million.
On past experience, no one would do anything about such an ethnic cleansing of the West Bank Palestinians, who would end up penniless and living in tents in the desert. The spokesmen for Western governments would say they regret that it happened and maybe offer some aid money. The Arab publics would be outraged but the governments would do nothing. Some European governments might slap ineffectual sanctions on Israel. Others would praise the Israeli ethnic cleansing campaign.
The fascist parties in Israel would lock the Palestinians out of the West Bank permanently and flood in more settlers. They might even “transfer” the Palestinian-Israelis, stripping them of their citizenship and making Jordan 10 million, half of them in refugee tents in the desert). They would give press conferences where they regretted that the Jordanian government did not treat its new citizens well enough.
The Jordanian state likely could not survive being almost doubled in population overnight overnight, with most of the newcomers hostile to the Hashemite monarchy. There would likely be a republican revolution in Jordan against King Abdullah II. The ethnic cleansing would be extremely destabilizing for the Middle East for decades to come and Israel’s security environment would deteriorate drastically. Eventually reprisals with things like small rockets would create such a sense of crisis that gradually Israelis might begin emigrating abroad in fair numbers, a process that could snowball.
The killings at the Jerusalem synagogue yesterday and the spate of Israeli killings of Palestinians in the West Bank are all small harbingers of this coming civil war.
Juan Cole teaches Middle Eastern and South Asian history at the University of Michigan. His new book, The New Arabs: How the Millennial Generation Is Changing the Middle East (Simon and Schuster), will officially be published July 1st. He is also the author of Engaging the Muslim World and Napoleon’s Egypt: Invading the Middle East (both Palgrave Macmillan). He has appeared widely on television, radio and on op-ed pages as a commentator on Middle East affairs, and has a regular column at Salon.com. He has written, edited, or translated 14 books and has authored 60 journal articles. His weblog on the contemporary Middle East isInformed Comment.