An Israeli government plan to build hundreds of homes for the country’s Druze population faces stiff opposition after it was revealed that the new community would be located on the lands of Palestinian refugees. The town, due to be built west of the Sea of Galilee in northern Israel, would be the first new community for members of Israel’s Palestinian minority since the state’s founding 68 years ago.
A rarely told story of the 1948 war that founded Israel concerns Nazareth’s survival. It is the only Palestinian city in what is today Israel that was not ethnically cleansed during the year-long fighting. Nazareth was not only an anomaly; it was a mistake. The reason Nazareth survived is because of the actions of one individual: Ben Dunkelman, a Canadian Jew.
Moments before an Aegean Airlines flight was due to take off, three Israeli passengers took security into their own hands and demanded that two fellow passengers, from Israel’s Palestinian minority, be removed from the plane. Dozens more Israeli Jews joined the protest, refusing to take their seats. Like a parable illustrating Europe’s bottomless indulgence of Israel, Aegean staff caved in to the pressure.
Last November, just days after lethal attacks in Paris by ISIS, the government of Benjamin Netanyahu outlawed the northern wing of the Islamic Movement in Israel. He compared the group, which is tied to the Muslim Brothers, to ISIS in an attempt to frame the ban as part of the global war on terror. But in reality, the Israeli government’s action was long in the making and driven by considerations of local power politics.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been accused of exploiting a shooting attack in Tel Aviv on New Year’s Day to intensify a campaign of incitement against the country’s large minority of Palestinian citizens. Palestinian leaders in Israel have also harshly criticised the police for making sweeping arrests of Nashat Melhem’s relatives in what they believe is an attempt to pressure him into turning himself in.
Nazareth has the largest concentration of Christians in the Holy Land but also a two-thirds Muslim majority after the city became a place of sanctuary for many refugees in 1948. That has made it especially vulnerable to Israel’s divide-and-rule strategies. Benjamin Netanyahu sought to foment discord here in the late 1990s, during his first term as prime minister, by backing a plan to build a huge mosque overshadowing the city’s main holy site. Now back in power, he is up to the same kind of mischief.
In his Jerusalem office, Rabbi Chaim Richman has steeped himself in an unlikely mix of 2,000-year-old Judaic tradition and the latest in American cattle-breeding technology. His aim is to genetically engineer a perfect red heifer. If he succeeds, he believes it will open the way to destroying one of the holiest sites in Islam, the al-Aqsa mosque, and building a Jewish temple in its place.
Israeli officials met executives at Google last month to persuade them that, for the sake of peace, they must censor the growing number of Palestinian videos posted on YouTube. But these videos are simply a record of Palestinians’ bitter experiences of occupation. It is these experiences, not the videos, that drive Palestinians to breaking point.
Tens of thousands of visitors have come to Sheikh Raed Salah’s protest tent in the past three weeks, since Netanyahu declared his Islamic Movement an “illegal organisation”. In an interview, Salah calls the move “a declaration of war not just against our movement but against Islam and against the whole Palestinian community [in Israel]. Everyone feels targeted.”
With dismaying predictability, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu lost no time in exploiting the massacre in Paris by outlawing the Islamic Movement, a popular party among Israel’s Palestinian citizens. Netanyahu justified the decision by conflating the movement with Hamas and ISIL, even though the Islamic Movement rejects violence and operates entirely within Israeli law.
The decision by the Israeli government to outlaw the country’s main Islamic Movement marks a dangerous turning point in Israel’s relations with its large Palestinian minority. The move effectively drives underground a religious, political and social movement representing the views of a sizeable portion of Israel’s 1.6 million Palestinian citizens.
Benjamin Netanyahu took advantage of a meeting this week with Barack Obama – their first in 13 months – to suggest it was time the US president recognised Israel’s illegal annexation of the Golan. Though he did not mention it, Netanyahu’s motives may have included the fact that last month US oil firm Genie announced it had found reserves there with the potential to produce “billions of barrels”.
In many Palestinians’ minds, non-violence has become tainted by association with Mahmoud Abbas’ years of ineffectiveness and his security coordination with Israel. But some Palestinian intellectuals are advocating non-violent resistance on pragmatic grounds, emphasising the futility of violence faced with Israel’s military superiority.
Despite claims it is seeking to calm tensions in Jerusalem, Israel is intensifying activities to encircle the al-Aqsa mosque and strengthen its control over the holy site, Israeli archaeologists have warned. Sounding the alarm as the US brokered a deal that will see cameras installed in the mosque compound, the group accused Israel of making rapid changes to the physical landscape around al-Aqsa to obscure the area’s Islamic character and create an ever-more arduous “obstacle course” for worshippers.
Israel has little but stopgap measures to defend against Palestinian protests. Its intelligence agencies cannot predict the lone wolf, its guns cannot deter the knife, its military might cannot subdue the craving for justice and dignity. The current unrest may recede, but more waves of protest of ever greater intensity are surely not far behind.
Israeli human rights groups say videos taken on phones challenge the accuracy of official Israeli accounts of the circumstances in which police have killed or injured Palestinians. The footage provides concrete evidence that police have been “quick to shoot to kill” rather than arrest Palestinians in Jerusalem and Israel who were suspected of involvement in attacks on Israeli Jews.
Benjamin Netanyahu has announced a crackdown on Palestinian political leaders in Israel, blaming them for the current unrest, in what appeared to be an attempt to bolster his severely dented image as ‘Mr Security’. After a security cabinet meeting, Netanyahu directed officials to assemble the evidence to make possible the outlawing of the northern wing of the Islamic movement.
The violence rocking the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem and now Gaza is on the verge of spilling into Israel, Palestinian leaders in Israel warned. A wave of unrest has swept Palestinian towns in Israel over recent days. Aggressive policing, vigilante-style attacks by Israeli Jews and a crackdown on the Palestinian leadership in Israel have quickly heightened tensions.
The rapid escalation in violence in Jerusalem and the West Bank suggests the Israeli-Palestinian conflict may be entering a new phase, according to analysts. But the term “intifada” risks obscuring as much as it reveals. The clashes are not chiefly about resistance. They have been provoked by the growing stranglehold the settlers enjoy, both on the ground and on government policy.
For the past month Benjamin Netanyahu has tried to rewrite the Biblical story of David and Goliath by declaring war on what he terms Palestinian “terrorism by stones”. The touchpaper for the latest clashes are Israeli transgressions at al-Aqsa mosque compound. Tensions have risen sharply as ever larger numbers of Jewish ultra-nationalists have ascended to the mosque area.