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Six things that must be said about the violence in Jerusalem and West Bank

There can be no justification for murder, the violence in Jerusalem isn’t about metal detectors, and there is a way out of this.

Israeli police near the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount compound in Jerusalem’s Old City as clashes take place over new Israeli measures that change entry arrangements to the site, Ras al-Amud, East Jerusalem, July 21, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Israeli police near the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount compound in Jerusalem’s Old City as clashes take place over new Israeli measures that change entry arrangements to the site, Ras al-Amud, East Jerusalem, July 21, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Tensions in Jerusalem exploded last week in a bloody day that left four Palestinians and three Israelis dead. Israeli security forces killed two Palestinians during demonstrations outside Jerusalem’s Old City on Friday, while a third Palestinian was shot and killed by a settler in the East Jerusalem settlement of Ma’ale Zeitim. On Saturday night, a fourth Palestinian was killed during protests. Meanwhile on Friday, a Palestinian from the West Bank village of Kobar broke into the adjacent Israeli settlement of Halamish and stabbed three Israelis to death, before being shot and wounded by a neighbor. Here are six things we need to keep in mind when talking about the quickly spiraling violence we are currently witnessing.

1. There is no, and can be no justification for the murder of families sitting in their homes. Not in the West Bank settlement of Halamish, not in the settlement of Itamar, and not in the Gaza Strip. It cannot be justified by the occupation or because one happens to live next door to a Hamas police commander targeted by an Israeli missile. There can be no justification.

2. The protests and civil disobedience by Palestinians in East Jerusalem over the past week, which led to a predictable and preventable outbreak of violence over the weekend, are not taking place simply because they don’t like passing through metal detectors, as Noa Levy wrote. The core issue is the gradual changes Israel is making to the status quo at the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount compound, and the establishment of Israeli checkpoints at the entrance to it, where there had previously been no checkpoint. Israeli restrictions on who can enter al-Aqsa Mosque compound are what led to the mass protests over the past week.

3. No, it is not accurate to say that “the Palestinians violated the status quo.” An act of violence perpetrated by three people — an act that was condemned by the Palestinian Authority, the Arab Higher Monitoring Committee, the entire Joint List slate of Arab political parties in Israel — cannot be reasonably blamed on an entire nation. Furthermore, let’s not forget that the three attackers were Israeli citizens living in Israel, who traveled to the site of the attack in Jerusalem from their homes in Israel, all of which is under the full security control of Israeli police and the Shin Bet. To put the blame solely on the Waqf (the Jordanian Islamic trust that runs the site as part of a half-century-old arrangement with Israel) for failing to prevent the attack is simply absurd.

What happened is that Israel altered the status quo, which had been relatively stable for the past 50 years.

Palestinian worshipers hold a mass prayer in the streets of East Jerusalem as an act of civil disobedience after Israel implemented new entry arrangements for Al-Aqsa Mosque, Wadi Joz, East Jerusalem, July 21, 2017. (Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

Palestinian worshipers hold a mass prayer in the streets of East Jerusalem as an act of civil disobedience after Israel implemented new entry arrangements for Al-Aqsa Mosque, Wadi Joz, East Jerusalem, July 21, 2017. (Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

4. It was entirely possible to find and implement an alternative security solution, in coordination with the Waqf, instead of setting Jerusalem and the entire area alight. Alternatives were on the table. The warnings to stop the downward spiral were sounded in a week of nonviolent Palestinian protests in Jerusalem, from the White House, from capitals around the region, and even from Israel’s own Shin Bet and military authorities. Instead, the Israeli government decided upon escalation, undermining security, and the deaths of seven (so far) Palestinians and Israelis — all in the name of “security.” It has been suggested by several analysts that internal politics influenced that decision.

5. I feel like I’ve seen a dramatic rise in the number of Israelis referring to Palestinians as “animals,” sub-humans,” and “monsters” in recent days. Maybe I’m naïve: maybe that’s always been around. I tremble when I read such things. It is dehumanization, pure and simple. It is to turn people into non-humans, and thereby justifying anything you decide to do to them. As if there is no context: no political situation, no military occupation, no century-old conflict. Using that type of language paints a reality in which there are enlightened people on one side and animals on the other. It is terrifying and reminiscent of darker periods in the history of humankind.

How does one raise children with that type of worldview, in which the only future in this land involves the extinction or expulsion of one of the two peoples who live here?

6. There is a solution here, and not only on the issue of Al-Aqsa and the metal detectors, which if reached with the Waqf and Jordanian authorities could calm things down very quickly. But that is only the beginning.

The Israeli Right continues to make the argument that the occupation is something we can live with. (A situation in which two peoples share this land but one of them is superior and enjoys sovereignty and full civil and human rights, and the other is eternally subjugated and without full rights.) That is not a possibility.

We cannot keep nearly two million people in Gaza under siege without water, electricity, or a functioning health system. We cannot keep more than two million people in the West Bank locked behind concrete walls and hi-tech fences while Israel continues to control every aspect of their daily lives — arresting elected officials and activists, deciding who can leave the country, which goods can be imported and exported, who can travel to work or to the hospital within the West Bank, which plots of land can be seized for settlement construction, and more.

We cannot continue to insist on a united Jerusalem, which is actually divided between Jewish “citizens” and Palestinian “residents” (a status that can be revoked at any time), between those for whom authorities build homes and invest in education and infrastructure and social services, and those sentenced to poverty. We cannot allow a future in which discrimination between Jews and Arabs is an unquestioned characteristic of our country.

None of that is sustainable. Or, to be more precise, we can’t expect a pastoral, quiet and peaceful future while those oppressive and discriminatory systems remain in place. We learn that painful lesson again and again, and yet — we refuse to learn it at all. There is another way. We can instead end the occupation and walk down a path of peace and full equality. Without that, our lives will be filled with the endless repetition akin to the terrifying reality of the past few days. Any discussion of the events of the past week that doesn’t address the broader context is disconnected from reality.

A version of this article first appeared in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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    1. i_like_ike52

      I am very gratified to see here a complete and unqualified condemnation of all act of terrorism, unaccompanied by the all-too-frequent “yes, but you have to understand they are occupied”.
      However, a couple of points. First of all, while it is true that the initial attack was carried out by Israeli Arabs, the fact remains that there was no check for weapons carried out by the authorities for Muslims entering the Temple Mount Compound. This means that it was just a matter of time until someone decided to use this weak point for carrying out an attack. Having Muslims carry out attacks in their holy places is not unprecedented…there have been attacks in no less than the Grand Mosque of Mecca, where Muslims targeted other Muslims.
      Secondly, regarding the “dehumanization” matter…yes, it is to be deplored, but it is FAR more prevelant in Palestinian society. I don’t need to remind you what their cartoons are like, praising mass bloodshed, and the Qur’anic quotes about Jews being the decendents of pigs and apes and the such. Any attempt at true reconciliation, accompanied by Israeli concessions MUST deal with this, or any peace agreement will ultimately be useless.

      Reply to Comment
      • Bruce Gould

        @Ike: You live in a country in which 20% of the citizens identify themselves as having Palestinian heritage. What do your Palestinian friends say?

        Reply to Comment
    2. 1qaz

      You forgot to mention another point of relevance:
      There are half a million unregistered weapons circulating around the Israeli-Arab sector, which the government knows about, doesn’t care about, and won’t lift a finger to stop.

      Reply to Comment
    3. grazia mendes

      Arab Israelis have been complaining about the Israel Police Force, that it does not curtail the violence in their midst, and now they are defying the security measures provided. Guns in Al-Aqsa?

      Reply to Comment