Palestinian protests

In an atmosphere of inculcated ignorance and prejudice, it is easy for Netanyahu to persuade public opinion that the recent wave of Palestinian protests and attacks is solely the result of “incitement” from Palestinian officials and media. The Israeli right suggests that Palestinians who stab or drive cars at their oppressors are easily inflamed into action by words that appeal to ancient prejudice. As the Israeli public discourse grows ever more detached from reality, Israel’s military commanders sound like an oasis of sanity – at least, by comparison.

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.

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.

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.

Palestinians suffer under four types of occupation, according to the Freedom Theatre. Three, including Israel’s military occupation, are external. The deepest of all, however, is the internalization by the oppressed of the culture and narrative of the oppressor. Freedom Theatre artistic director Nabil al-Raee says: “We are trying to build a generation that can first free themselves, then fight for the freedom of others.”

With East Jerusalem already smouldering, it emerged this week that the Israeli parliament is to consider a bill that could set the region ablaze. The measure would lift limitations on Jews visiting the al-Aqsa mosque compound, the most sensitive site in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. If passed, the legislation would likely trigger a much-anticipated third Palestinian intifada, and set off protests across the Muslim world.

In a sign of how unpopular the PA’s security cooperation has become, crowds of Palestinian youths attacked a police station in Ramallah last month, during an incursion by the Israeli army. In unprecedented scenes, the youths shouted “Collaborators!” at the Palestinian police, attacked three police vehicles, and threw stones at the station as officers cowered inside.

A new report “Trigger-happy”, by Amnesty International identifies a pattern of behaviour by Israeli soldiers of shooting live ammunition at unarmed Palestinians, sometimes as they are fleeing. Over the past three years, dozens of Palestinians have been shot dead in the West Bank and hundreds seriously wounded. Thousands more have sustained injuries from rubber-coated bullets and tear gas.

Israel alone had the means, track record, stated intention and motive to kill Yasser Arafat. Without Israel’s fingerprints on the murder weapon, it may be impossible to secure a conviction in a court of law, but there is evidence enough to convict Israel in the court of world opinion.

With Europe’s most talented young footballers preparing for the kick-off of the under-21 championships, Israelis are celebrating the biggest footballing coup in their history. But criticism from global statesmen such as Desmond Tutu has bolstered the recent launch of a campaign by Palestinian groups and European and American solidarity activists for a sporting boycott of Israel, modelled on the international campaign that targeted apartheid South Africa.

Israel’s increasing integration into European competitions, despite its refusal to revive peace talks with the Palestinians, respect human rights and halt illegal settlement, is, according to critics, contrary to sporting values and should be met with international opposition of the kind faced by apartheid South Africa.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has done little to capitalise on his recent diplomatic success at the UN. So instead, it was left to a group of 250 ordinary Palestinians to show how the idea of a “state of Palestine” might be given practical meaning. On Friday, they set up a tent encampment that they intended to convert into a new Palestinian village called Bab al-Shams, or Gate of the Sun.

If there was a moment defining the shift in Israel’s strategic position over the past year, it occurred in September when the Israeli embassy in Cairo was overrun by hundreds of Egyptian protesters, some armed with sledgehammers. It was not quite the fall of Saigon. But it indicated how in a few months Israel had gone from a state adept at shaping its regional environment to one increasingly buffeted by forces beyond its control.

The Palestinian application for statehood, handed to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon last week, has now disappeared from view — for weeks, it seems — while the United States and Israel devise a face-saving formula to kill it in the Security Council. Behind the scenes, the pair are strong-arming the Council’s members to block Palestinian statehood without the need for the US to cast its threatened veto.

Film shot on mobile phones captured the moment when at least 1,000 Palestinian refugees marched across no-man’s land to one of the most heavily protected borders in the world, the one separating Syria from the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights. Waving Palestinian flags, the marchers braved a minefield, then tore down a series of fences, allowing more than 100 to run into Israeli-controlled territory. As they embraced Druze villagers on the other side, voices could be heard saying: “This is what liberation looks like.”

Paradoxically, during the street protests and political upheavals that rocked the Arab world in recent months, the Palestinians were mostly invisible. Far from leading the regional convulsions, the Palestinians saw their own struggle eclipsed. Belatedly, however, the first shoots of the “Arab Spring” have appeared in the divided Palestinian lands of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

More than a thousand Palestinians who staged a day of rage in the West Bank city of Hebron last week were left with few illusions about how their struggle for liberation differs from that of Tunisians, Egyptians and Libyans. The protesters were confronted, on one side, by massed ranks of Israeli paramilitary police, while Palestinian security forces assisted by blocking the entry of demonstrators from the other side. Squeezed into their own little Tahrir Square, the protesters suffered tear gas and baton attacks from the Israeli police while the Palestinian forces mutely stood by.

Hundreds of Palestinians clashed with Israeli security forces across East Jerusalem yesterday in the worst rioting in years, after Hamas called for a “day of rage”. Police fired rubber bullets, stun grenades and tear gas at protesters who hurled stones and set up barricades with rubbish bins and burning tyres. In one neighbourhood, Israeli police officers disguised as protesters wrestled demonstrators to the ground and handcuffed them. Sixteen Palestinians were taken to hospital with broken bones, eye and stomach injuries.