When Jerusalem sneezes, Gaza catches the cold: Should Israel expect a Palestinian Intifada?

Bassem Aly , Wednesday 12 May 2021

Tensions at the West Bank and Jerusalem have continuously resulted in a similar crackdown by Israeli troops on the people of Gaza or even aerial, military operations

Smoke billows from an Israeli air strike on the Hanadi compound in Gaza City, controlled by the Palestinian Hamas movement, on May 11, 2021. AFP

Since Ramadan — the Islamic holy month of fasting —began, Israel took several steps to make the lives of Palestinians harder than they already are. None of them are unprecedented, but the religious factor has clearly increased both the Palestinians' pain and the intensity of the conflict.

This includes planning to evict the Palestinians from their homes in eastern Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood, launching an aggressive crackdown on ordinary Palestinian citizens and protesters as well as stopping Muslims from entering the Al-Aqsa mosque compound.

The crisis spread to the Gaza Strip. Gaza is ruled by the armed Islamist Hamas movement that fought against Israel several times during the past decade. Gazan factions fired rockets towards Israel and the latter’s army responded by launching airstrikes on the coastal enclave.

Tensions at the West Bank and Jerusalem have continuously resulted in a similar crackdown by Israeli troops on the people of Gaza or even aerial, military operations.

But the Palestinians, hundreds of whom were injured due to Israeli violence, can hardly act beyond protesting in the meantime.

Israeli security forces deploy in Jerusalem's al-Aqsa mosque compound on May 10, 2021 during clashes with Palestinians. AFP

As Joel Beinin — a Stanford Emeritus Professor of Middle Eastern history — puts it, “there is no leadership to sustain a popular movement of that sort,” doubting the eruption of a new Palestinian uprising (Intifada) as those that took place in 1987 and 2000 respectively. Beinin added that “whatever may happen would be sporadic or motivated by individuals or small groups.”

Beinin said that “it’s not clear if he [Netanyahu] can get away with that," addressing that "Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has an interest in escalating tensions in Gaza to distract attention from his political/legal problems.”

Ramadan began on 13 April, and Palestinians have complained about Israel’s decision to put barriers outside Damascus Gate to prevent them from breaking their fast on its steps and entering Jerusalem’s Old City since then. This is related to a cultural tradition: thousands of Palestinians gather at this area following night-time prayers too.

Israel eventually decided to remove the barriers after Palestinians protested against its decision on 25 April. The cost, however was too high. About 100 Palestinians were injured and 50 others were arrested, as according to the Palestinian Red Crescent. Furthermore, several Israeli attacks on Palestinians were recorded, including an assault by Israeli youth on a driver who stopped to express anger because of their anti-Arab slogans.

But the Palestinian protests did not stop after the end of the Damascus Gate crisis. Their focus turned to the eviction of many Palestinian families from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah.

An Israeli court informed around 75 Palestinian families that they should leave their homes in Sheikh Jarrah before 2 May, which Israel delayed as it is busy dealing with Palestinian protests.

Palestinians run for cover from tear gas fired by Israeli security forces in Jerusalem's Old City on May 10, 2021. AFP

The Israeli authorities are counting on the 1950 and 1970 laws that legitimise the process of taking Palestinian properties in East Jerusalem built before 1948 and transferring its ownership to Israelis.

But Palestinians, international rights and humanitarian institutions and even left-wing Israeli groups believe these types of laws serve as Israel's tool of discriminating against Palestinians.

On 22nd April, Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi visited the West Bank and gave documents to the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah that prove that the ministry of development, that built these houses, had in 1956 finalised lease agreements for homes in Sheikh Jarrah. Jordan also says the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) has certified all contracts.

UNRWA itself has decided to publicly speak about the issue. “According to publicly available information released by UN OCHA, nearly a thousand Palestinians - almost half of whom are children - are at risk of forced eviction across East Jerusalem. In many cases in East Jerusalem, including in Sheikh Jarrah, the forced eviction of Palestinians is occurring within the context of Israeli settlement construction and expansion, [which is] illegal under international humanitarian law,” the organisation said on Monday.

On the same day, Hamas warned Israel to withdraw its soldiers from Al-Aqsa and Sheikh Jarrah until 1500 GMT. Afterwards, the Gazan factions launched rockets towards Israel.

But the Israeli response was brutal. Israel started a number of aerial offensives on the coastal enclave. Palestinian media reports say that more than 30 people, including nine children, lost their lives. While more than 100 people were found wounded.

The numbers will likely grow in the coming hours, for the airstrikes remain ongoing.

Palestinians run for cover from tear gas fired by Israeli security forces in Jerusalem's Old City on May 10, 2021, ahead of a planned march to commemorate Israel's takeover of Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War. AFP

Nadia Naser-Najjab, a scholar of Palestinian studies at Exeter University, explained that Israel “deliberately wants to inhibit the lives of all Palestinians.”

“For example, they [Israeli forces] might block the road for two hours through establishing checkpoints, and then allow people to go with no clear reason. This happened to me when I was studying at Birzeit University,” she noted.

Naser-Najjab stated that Israel’s settlement activities have intensified after the 1967 war, increasing with a rate of 120 percent after Oslo accords. This has been part of the “judaisation process” for Jerusalem.

“Israel doesn’t want a partnership with the Palestinians. It uses COVID-19 as a justification for stopping the Palestinians from entering Al-Aqsa, while allowing the Israelis to dig under the mosque. The settlers are armed and they count on the support of the army to evict Palestinians from their homes. They [settlers] know the Palestinian families by name and [they know] who is the owner of each piece of land. Israel also closed all Palestinian organisations in Jerusalem,” she added.

Yet, she believed that the operations of Palestinian groups, such as Hamas, against Israel “gives a justification for Israel to do more violence and oppressive acts.” Although Israel resorts to violence "all the time", Naser-Najjab pointed out, popular and non-violent resistance is more sustainable because it attracts wider international support and solidarity. 

“When people decide to make an uprising, it is very hard to know when it will end,” she concluded, although stating that the Palestinian leadership is no longer involved in arranging protests and politically benefiting from them as it used to do so during the intifadas. 


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