Monday, March 10, 2008

A Third Intifada Brewing

From The Christian Science Monitor:

Bethlehem, West Bank - Fadi al-Amour and his friends – high school seniors – spent more time last week on the street than in class. Every day, they marched on Rachel's Tomb, guarded by Israeli soldiers, and, along with hundreds of other young Palestinians, pelted the nearest symbol of Israeli power with rocks and Molotov cocktails.

"We were implementing what our leaders in the prisons tell us we should be doing. Even Marwan Barghouthi has warned that this is where we're going: the third intifada," says Mr. Amour, mentioning the Fatah figure jailed by Israel in 2002 for his role in the last intifada, which lasted from 2000 to 2004.

From Gaza rocket strikes and West Bank riots to a deadly shooting inside Jerusalem late last week, many Palestinians are saying – or perhaps hoping – that these incidents of violence will spark a new, much broader conflict with Israel.

Those who are encouraging a further escalation say it's overdue. Others, including many who remember the misery of past intifadas, worry that this will just drag the Palestinian cause down a dead-end street.

"There might be an escalation in the coming weeks and months, and an escalation has already been going on in Gaza in recent weeks and months," says Ali Jarbawi, a political scientist at Birzeit University, near Ramallah.

But, he says, there might be a danger in rushing to label the events of the last few weeks as the start of another intifada. "People are feeling a sense of despair. They're frustrated by the [new Israeli-Palestinian negotiations] leading nowhere, and [by] the internal situation between Hamas and Fatah," he says. "But I don't see that translating into a concrete, continuous event, which I think is something that defines an intifada. Let's wait and see."

But among many average Palestinians, the feelings that were present during the first intifada (1987-93) and the second one are resurfacing again, and quickly.

On Sunday, at the mourning tent at the family home of Alaa Abu Dhaim, who killed eight Israelis late last week at the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva in Jerusalem

("eight Israelis" means eight children, by the way - the man shot up a school)

before being shot and killed by a security guard, there were many mixed feelings expressed about where Palestinians are headed, as the Islamic militants of Hamas continue to battle Israel on one front and secular Fatah leaders are sitting down at the negotiating table with their Israeli counterparts on another.

Mr. Abu Dhaim, a man in his mid-20s who was due to be married soon, was from the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Jebel Mukaber, meaning he had an Israeli-issued residency card and was free to travel and work in Israel.

For many across the tight-knit community of Jebel Mukaber, there was an acknowledgment that Abu Dhaim's act might be a sign of returning to the days of intifada. There was also much reluctance to see that happen.

"We hope this isn't the start of something bigger," says Mahmoud Abu Dhaim, an uncle of the young man being celebrated as a shahid, or martyr. "For years they've been talking about peace but there's no progress. So now we're going back instead of going forward."

Another uncle, Tawfiq, says his nephew was "extremely normal and showed no sign of political affiliations or training."

Conflicting reports have linked the gunman to Hamas and then to Hizbullah; the green and yellow flags of both movements began springing up in Jebel Mukaber after the news broke. Family members said that Israeli police here told them if the family didn't take down all of the flags, as well as the "shahid posters" that already plastered the walls of the neighborhood, they wouldn't be allowed to have a mourning tent at all.

The celebratory flyers read: "The Islamic Movement in Jebel Mukabar congratulates its people for the martyr Alaa Abu Dhaim, who answered the call to his God in a heroic operation in Dir Yassin." Dir Yassin was the name of an Arab village that existed near the site of the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva until 1948, the year of the war that led to Israel's establishment.

Just as the use of the name Dir Yassin conjures a sense of decades-old revenge so close to Israel's 60th anniversary this May, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said that Abu Dhaim's choice of target was itself symbolic.

"The terrorist ... did not choose it by coincidence in his pursuit of victims," Mr. Olmert said at Sunday's cabinet meeting. "Mercaz Harav is a very special place in Jerusalem and for the Zionist movement. It is the flagship of religious Zionism. It is the place from which have come forth the best soldiers for many generations," he said, adding that it "has educated and nurtured tradition and legacy, as part of Israel's resilience."