Is Israel Facing a Third Intifada?

Questions mount in wake of Jerusalem synagogue massacre

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Posted on: 
1 Dec 2014
Is Israel Facing a Third Intifada?

The recent tensions and troubles in and around Jerusalem escalated this week with the brutal massacre of four Jewish rabbis during their morning prayers in a synagogue in the Har Nof neighborhood of the capital city.

Armed with a pistol, an axe and a meat cleaver, two Arab terrorists from eastern Jerusalem assaulted a minyan of Jewish men at prayer early on Tuesday (18/11) in the Kehilat Bnei Torah synagogue, located in a quiet ultra-Orthodox neighbourhood on the western edge of the city. The killing spree claimed the lives of four Torah scholars from local yeshivas, while another 18 people were wounded in the bloody frenzy of violence. An Israeli Druze policeman was also shot dead as he rushed to the scene of the attack.

The Druze officer was part of a beefed-up Israeli security presence in the city in response to a recent series of riots, stonings, stabbings, vehicular assaults and other terror attacks in Jerusalem, including the near-fatal shooting of Temple Mount activist Yehuda Glick three weeks ago.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has blamed the on-going wave of violence and terror on incitement issuing forth from not only Hamas but also Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority. Under heavy American pressure, Abbas condemned the synagogue attack but in the same breath continued to falsely accuse Israel of "aggression" against the al-Aqsa mosque on the Temple Mount, as well as of burning mosques and churches.

The levels of Palestinian violence and incitement are no doubt on the rise. During the past month, eleven Israelis have been killed in terrorist attacks, more than all those killed during the past two years.

As a result, many Israeli analysts are now questioning whether these are just ‘lone wolf’ terrorists carrying out copycat attacks or is it part of a broader popular uprising against Israel – that is, a dreaded third Palestinian intifada.

Now for the families victimized by the recent wave of terror, the ‘third intifada’ debate is a meaningless academic exercise. They are in real grieving over lost loved ones and clinging to hope for injured and maimed relatives to recover.

But for the nation’s leaders, this is a serious inquiry into whether the Palestinian factions are deliberately seeking to stir up another prolonged, bloody uprising against the Jewish state, and especially in its very heart of Jerusalem.

The first point to note is that there always seems to a bizarre competition between the various Palestinian factions to see who can stir up the most hostility towards Israel. No one wants to be outdone, and especially when it comes to ‘defending al-Aqsa.’ So when one faction starts agitating over the Temple Mount, everyone has to join the game.

The al-Aqsa blood libel is decades old and is the easiest way to heat up the conflict with Israel. This Palestinian fabrication claims that Israel is planning to undermine or topple the al-Aqsa mosque and rebuild the Third Temple. It has been invoked repeatedly to foment violence and bloodshed, including its notorious use in 1929 by Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Mufti of Jerusalem, which led to dozens of Jewish deaths in Hebron and the forced expulsion of its ancient Jewish community.

Whether he instigated it this time or just joined the fray, Abbas has indeed been peddling the al-Aqsa canard of late. When Israel closed the Temple Mount to all visitors for one day last month, following weeks of well-organized stone-throwing incidents on Jewish worshippers at the Western Wall below, Abbas denounced the Israeli security measure as a “declaration of war” against Islam.

The Palestinian Authority’s official media organs also glorified the recent perpetrators of terror attacks as heroes and martyrs.

When the Obama administration finally urged Abbas to cool the rhetoric, he still called for “days of rage” to protest Israel’s efforts to restore calm, which was then followed by the carnage in the Har Nof synagogue.

Yet Abbas is not really interested in a full-blown intifada at present. Given the upheavals of the Arab Spring, he fears that unleashing too much chaos on the Palestinian street could lead to his own downfall – which is a very legitimate concern.

So the Palestinian leader has sought a controlled uprising, focused on enflaming tensions in Jerusalem while maintaining quiet in Ramallah.

It appears the Palestinian public is not so interested in another intifada as well. While they are cheering on those carrying out the recent attacks, there does not seem to be broad popular support for a mass uprising at this time, knowing the price they would have to pay in travel restrictions, economic losses and the like.

Still, the Palestinians are playing with fire. In a region already riven with conflict and upheaval, to stoke the flames of a religious fight over the al-Aqsa mosque is a truly dangerous game.

Meanwhile, Jerusalem is slowly being divided by the security measures which Israel is having to implement to restore calm and a sense of security to its residents. Roadblocks are being set up in Arab neighborhoods and some Arabs are being released from their places of work in west Jerusalem. So the current wave of incitement and violence will ultimately harm the daily lives of Jerusalem’s Arabs the most.

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This article first appeared in the ICEJ's Word from Jerusalem magazine.

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