FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Israel Lights the Touchpaper at Al-Aqsa Again

Since a boy named David slew the giant Goliath with a slingshot, the stone has served as an enduring symbol of how the weak can defeat an oppressor.

For the past month Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has tried to rewrite the Bible story by declaring war on what he terms Palestinian “terrorism by stones”.

There are echoes of Yitzhak Rabin’s response nearly 30 years ago when, as defence minister, he ordered soldiers to “break bones” to stop a Palestinian uprising, often referred to as the “intifada of stones”, against the Israeli occupation.

Terrified by the symbolism of women and children throwing stones at one of the world’s strongest armies, Rabin hoped broken arms would deprive Palestinians of the power to wield their lowly weapon.

Now the West Bank and Jerusalem are on fire again, as Palestinian youths clash with the same oppressors. Reports suggest soldiers killed one Palestinian youth and injured more than 100 others on Sunday alone. Talk of a third intifada grows louder by the day.

The touchpaper, as so often, is Israel’s transgressions at the al-Aqsa mosque compound, known as Haram al-Sharif, in Jerusalem’s Old City.

During the weeks of Israel’s high holidays, tensions have risen sharply. Israeli government ministers and ever larger numbers of Jewish ultra-nationalists, backed by paramilitary forces, have been ascending to the mosque area.

In parallel, Palestinian access has been restricted and settlers have stepped up seizures of Palestinian homes in occupied East Jerusalem to encircle al-Aqsa.

Palestinians believe Israel is asserting control over the site to change the long-standing “status quo” designed to keep Islamic authorities in charge.

Israel refers to the Haram as the Temple Mount, because the ruins of two ancient Jewish temples supposedly lie underneath. As Israel has swung to the right politically and religiously, government and settler circles have been swept by an aggressive Jewish messianism.

Palestinian efforts to resist have been limited. Israel has long barred Palestinian factions and organisations from any dealings in the city it calls its “eternal capital”.

The situation at al-Aqsa has come to symbolise in painful microcosm the Palestinian story of dispossession.

The mosque has also served as a red line, both because it is a powerful cause that unites all Palestinians, including Christians and the secular, and because it rallies the wider Arab and Muslim worlds to the Palestinians’ side.

But like Goliath, the Israeli prime minister appears to assume greater force will win.

First, he outlawed last month a group of Islamic guardians, many of them women, known as the Murabitoun, stationed at al-Aqsa. They had not even resorted to stones. Their crime was to try to deter Jewish extremists from praying at the site by crying “God is great”.

Then, Israeli police stormed the compound to evict youths who had barricaded themselves in. Severe restrictions on Palestinian access to al-Aqsa followed.

As youngsters took to the streets, Mr Netanyahu authorised live fire against stone-throwers in Jerusalem, and minimum four-year jail sentences for those arrested.

To ensure the judiciary complied, the police minister threatened the promotion of judges whose sentencing was not harsh enough.

Predictably, violence has not calmed but spiralled. On Saturday night a Palestinian youth stabbed to death two Jewish settlers near the Western Wall.

Israel has described such incidents as “lone-wolf attacks”. In truth, these unpredictable outbursts of violence are the inevitable result of the orphaned status of Palestinians in Jerusalem.

Israel responded with another unprecedented move. Palestinians were banned from the Old City for the following 48 hours unless they lived or worked there. Israel’s track record suggests this will soon become the new norm.

Mr Netanyahu also approved fast-track demolitions of Palestinian homes, more soldiers in Jerusalem and even tighter restrictions at al-Aqsa.

So where is this heading?

Doubtless Mr Netanyahu is in part proving his credentials to an ever-more religious and intolerant Israeli public. After Saturday’s deaths, Jewish mobs once again patrolled Jerusalem’s streets seeking vengeance.

But he is also cynically exploiting western fears to reinvent the David and Goliath story. He hopes the words “Islamic terrorism” – conjuring up Islamc State’s threats to religious freedom – will scotch western sympathy for Palestinian youths facing armed soldiers.

Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, warned in his speech to the United Nations last week that Israeli measures were “aimed at imposing a new reality and dividing Haram al-Sharif temporally”.

These are not idle fears. In 1994 Israel capitalised on a horrific massacre of Palestinians perpetrated by a Jewish settler, Baruch Goldstein, at the Ibrahimi mosque in Hebron to justify dividing it.

Today, Jews have prayer rights at the site, enforced by Israeli guns, and central Hebron has been turned into a ghost-town – much as Jerusalem’s Old City looks since the weekend ban on entry for Palestinians.

Most Palestinians fear an Israeli-engineered spiral of violence in Jerusalem will be used to impose a similar division at al-Aqsa.

There is little Abbas can do. His PA is barred from Jerusalem and committed to helping Israeli security elsewhere. Like the Muslim world, he watches helplessly from afar.

Which is why Palestinian youths will continue reaching for the humble stone, exerting what little power they have against a modern Goliath.

A version of this article first appeared in the National, Abu Dhabi.

More articles by:

Jonathan Cook won the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are “Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel’s Experiments in Human Despair” (Zed Books). His website is http://www.jonathan-cook.net/

June 20, 2018
Bill Hackwell
Unprecedented Cruelty Against Immigrants and Their Children
Paul Atwood
“What? You Think We’re So Innocent?”
Nicola Perugini
The Palestinian Tipping Point
K.J. Noh
Destiny and Daring: South Korean President Moon Jae-In’s Impossible Journey Towards Peace
Gary Leupp
Jeff Sessions and St. Paul’s Clear and Wise Commands
M. G. Piety
On Speaking Small Truths to Power
Dave Lindorff
Some Straight Talk for Younger People on Social Security (and Medicare too)
George Wuerthner
The Public Value of Forests as Carbon Reserves
CJ Hopkins
Confession of a Putin-Nazi Denialist
David Schultz
Less Than Fundamental:  the Myth of Voting Rights in America
Rohullah Naderi
The West’s Over-Publicized Development Achievements in Afghanistan 
Dan Bacher
California Lacks Real Marine Protection as Offshore Drilling Expands in State Waters
Lori Hanson – Miguel Gomez
The Students of Nicaragua’s April Uprising
Russell Mokhiber
Are Corporations Are Behind Frivolous Lawsuits Against Corporations?
Michael Welton
Infusing Civil Society With Hope for a Better World
June 19, 2018
Ann Robertson - Bill Leumer
We Can Thank Top Union Officials for Trump
Lawrence Davidson
The Republican Party Falls Apart, the Democrats Get Stuck
Sheldon Richman
Trump, North Korea, and Iran
Richard Rubenstein
Trump the (Shakespearean) Fool: a New Look at the Dynamics of Trumpism
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
Protect Immigrant Rights; End the Crises That Drive Migration
Gary Leupp
Norway: Just Withdraw From NATO
Kristine Mattis
Nerd Culture, Adultolescence, and the Abdication of Social Priorities
Mike Garrity
The Forest Service Should Not be Above the Law
Colin Todhunter
Pro-GMO Activism And Smears Masquerade As Journalism: From Seralini To Jairam Ramesh, Aruna Rodrigues Puts The Record Straight
Doug Rawlings
Does the Burns/Novick Vietnam Documentary Deserve an Emmy?
Kenneth Surin
2018 Electioneering in Appalachian Virginia
Nino Pagliccia
Chrystia Freeland Fails to See the Emerging Multipolar World
John Forte
Stuart Hall and Us
June 18, 2018
Paul Street
Denuclearize the United States? An Unthinkable Thought
John Pilger
Bring Julian Assange Home
Conn Hallinan
The Spanish Labyrinth
Patrick Cockburn
Attacking Hodeidah is a Deliberate Act of Cruelty by the Trump Administration
Gary Leupp
Trump Gives Bibi Whatever He Wants
Thomas Knapp
Child Abductions: A Conversation It’s Hard to Believe We’re Even Having
Robert Fisk
I Spoke to Palestinians Who Still Hold the Keys to Homes They Fled Decades Ago – Many are Still Determined to Return
Steve Early
Requiem for a Steelworker: Mon Valley Memories of Oil Can Eddie
Jim Scheff
Protect Our National Forests From an Increase in Logging
Adam Parsons
Reclaiming the UN’s Radical Vision of Global Economic Justice
Dean Baker
Manufacturing Production Falls in May and No One Notices
Laura Flanders
Bottom-Up Wins in Virginia’s Primaries
Binoy Kampmark
The Anguish for Lost Buildings: Embers and Death at the Victoria Park Hotel
Weekend Edition
June 15, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Dan Kovalik
The US & Nicaragua: a Case Study in Historical Amnesia & Blindness
Jeremy Kuzmarov
Yellow Journalism and the New Cold War
Charles Pierson
The Day the US Became an Empire
Jonathan Cook
How the Corporate Media Enslave Us to a World of Illusions
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail