Intifadas smolder, a combination of small-scale humiliations that build up throughout the occupied West Bank, often combined with a general sense of hopelessness of any movement in any sort of peace process.
There’s nothing like an Israeli provocation to get one going. I am thinking of Intifada number Two, set off when Ariel Sharon entered the Haram al-Sharif in Arab Jerusalem accompanied by a nearly one thousand strong Israeli security force. It was a successful pre-election maneuver; when things get really violent between Palestinians and Israelis, the panicked Israeli electorate will seek comfort in the arms of a tough guy, a hawk.
So, the conditions are ripe for a Third Intifada. Not just the business of check point delays and humiliating treatment by an Israeli Army (IDF) corrupted as any army will be corrupted by racism when undertaking the protracted occupation of another people. Nor is it just the ever growing number of settlers taking over more and more Palestinian land. It is now the increasing number of attacks by Israelis settlers on neighboring Palestinian villagers, beating them up, occasionally killing them, destroying their olive trees and/or stealing the harvest, setting Palestinian cars on fire or smashing up shop windows, and defacing West Bank mosques. With each passing year the number of such incidents increase; they are happening now on an almost daily basis. So commonplace one rarely reads about them in mainstream global media, they do not catch our attention.
Israeli soldiers admit that the presence of the IDF in most of the West Bank territory, which is not solely administered by the Palestinian Authority , is primarily to protect the settlers. And yet the militant wing of the settlers is so convinced their continuous seizure of Palestinian land is ordained by God, that when on rare moments the IDF does interfere and stops an obvious assault, or even arrests a settler for attacking Palestinians, the settlers “retaliate” by attacking still more Palestinians in reprisal.
Here is what former Shabak (Israeli security) chief head Yuval Diskin, who thinks renewed negotiations are going nowhere due to Netanyahu’s” shirking responsibility” has said in print in Ha-aretz: “In the West Bank, immense tension and frustration is escalating among Palestinians. They feel their land is being stolen, the state they aspire to achieve is growing distant and the can no longer take comfort in the economy.” He considers conditions for a Third Intifada “are ripe.”
For many young Palestinians throwing stones is a matter of pride and honor. But that sort of thinking has paved the way to more than 70 years of defeat.Abdallah Schleifer
A Third Intifada would not resemble Intifada One when the Palestinians had no weapons, just stones, so IDF tear gas , rubber bullets occasional live fire, and of course, breaking bones would suffice. A Third Intifada would be like Intifada Two, which quickly escalated to the exchange of gun fire with the IDF always outgunning the Palestinians. Sharon used every suicide bombing - usually by Hamas - to justify destroying Palestinian Authority’s infrastructure throughout the West Bank.
The other great accomplishment of Intifada Two was that over 100,000 West Bankers simply gave up and abandoned the West Bank, either for Jordan, or for relatives among the Israeli Arabs. A couple more Intifadas like that and the settlers dream of ethnically cleansing most of the West Bank will be a done deal, under the cover of responding to Palestinian violence.
I don't know whether another dramatic provocation is at hand, but Israeli settler excursions into the Haram al-Sharif - settlers who openly call for the destruction of the Haram and rebuilding the Temple - are now protected in their incursions by Israeli soldiers or police (something unheard of a decade ago). Any further provocation in the area, on such a major scale, could set it all off.
The only way?
Sometimes I think - with the same sort of bitter cynicism with which Jonathan Swift suggested that the starving Irish eat their own children - that the only bold stroke is for a massive Palestinian conversion to Judaism and then have everybody, from the West Bank and Gaza, from the camps in Jordan and Lebanon and Syria , fly into Israel under the automatic Right of Jews to Return.
But there is a two-fold alternative. Truly non-violent massive demonstrations and marches, which means mass education in the West Bank in the methods of non-violence. It would mean the strict monitoring by Palestinian organizers to prevent stone-throwing, which accomplishes nothing accept providing the IDF with the excuse to open fire, and just might, in its non-violent appeal to moral conscience stimulate a revival of the Israeli peace movement, and even participation with the Palestinians in demonstrations. Combined with the non-violent global weapon of BDS - a boycott of Israeli products and the divestment of foreign investments in Israel - an increasing number of Israelis will realize, from the economic pain and the embarrassment of growing global pariah status, that they have a personal stake in electing a government truly committed to a meaningful Two-State solution.
For many young Palestinians throwing stones is a matter of pride and honor. But that sort of thinking has really paved the way to more than 70 years of defeat.
Instead, let the West Bank youth learn about the honor and dignity of Martin Luther King and his followers who practiced the discipline of strict non-violence with such moral force that they moved the hearts of Americans until then quite content to ignore segregation in the American South. It is a lot more viable than either suicide bombers or mass conversion.
Abdallah Schleifer is Professor Emeritus of Journalism at the American University in Cairo, where he founded and served as first director of the Kamal Adham Center for Television Journalism. He also founded and served as Senior Editor of the journal Transnational Broadcasting Studies, now known as Arab Media & Society. Before joining the AUC faculty Schleifer served for nine years as NBC News Cairo bureau chief and Middle East producer- reporter; as Middle East corrrespondent for Jeune Afrique based in Beirut and as a special correspndent for the New York Times based in Amman. After retiring from teaching at AUC Schleifer served for little more than a year as Al Arabiya's Washington D.C. bureau chief. He is associated with the Middle East Institute in Washington D.C. as an Adjunct Scholar. He was executive producer of the award winning documentary "Control Room" and the 100 episode Reality- TV documentary “Sleepless in Gaza...and Jerusalem.”
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