Monday, 22 March 2010

Intifada engulfs Jerusalem

Palestinian youths clash with Israeli soldiers throughout the West Bank in defence of Al-Aqsa Mosque and Arab-Muslim identity, writes Khaled Amayreh in occupied Jerusalem

Sporadic but violent clashes between stone-hurling Palestinian youths and fully armed Israeli soldiers continued to rage all over the occupied territories for the fourth consecutive day following the opening of a large synagogue near the Haram Al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary) compound that is home to some of Islam’s holiest shrines.

Palestinian medical sources said that more than 100 people were injured Tuesday and Wednesday in confrontations described as the most violent in several years. As many as 50 people were injured by rubber-coated bullets, including seven sustaining moderate to serious injuries in their eyes. One protester, Rami Othman Abu Gharbiya, reportedly lost an eye. Two people — a foreign journalist and a Palestinian — were shot and injured by live bullets.

By mid-day Tuesday, the clashes had spread to the bulk of East Jerusalem’s neighbourhoods, including Shufat, Wadi Al-Joz, Isawiya, Sur Baher, Abu Dis and Silwan, as Israel deployed more than 4,000 paramilitary policemen to “maintain law and order” in the occupied Arab city.
Several West Bank towns, such as Hebron and Ramallah, also saw local youths hurl stones on Israeli occupation troops who responded with rubber-coated bullets, live munitions, tear gas, and stun grenades. In the Gaza Strip, thousands of people marched in the streets in protest against Israeli measures in East Jerusalem. Ismail Haniyeh, prime minister of the Gaza-based government run by Hamas, saluted the protesters, saying the Palestinians had to show their anger in the face of “these Israeli provocations”.

Two weeks ago, Haniyeh called for a third Intifada — or uprising — in reaction to “the demographic war” he said Israel was waging against the Palestinians in Jerusalem. Some Fatah leaders, too, have been urging “a popular Palestinian response” to Israel’s efforts to “besiege Arab and Islamic presence in Jerusalem”.

Hatem Abdel-Qader, a former Fatah minister and an East Jerusalem citizen, accused the Ramallah authorities of suppressing anti-Israeli protests on Israel’s behalf.

Following his remarks, Abdel-Qader reportedly received a stern warning from the Palestinian Authority (PA) leadership asking him not to criticise PA handling of the latest unrest.
By time of Al-Ahram Weekly going to press, clashes were reported in Hebron, Nablus and Ramallah as tension remained high despite concerted efforts by the PA to restore calm, lest “things get out of our hands”. PA officials have accused Hamas of triggering the latest spate of unrest, arguing that a violent Intifada at this time would not be in the best interests of the Palestinian people.

Yasser Abed Rabbo said Palestinian factions would meet this week to decide what options to pursue in response to “this unbearable Israeli insolence”. “We do support calculated, conscious and non-lethal protests, but we have to avoid bloodshed.”

The PA is finding itself in a sensitive position in having to suppress protests, in implementation of security commitments and understandings with Israel. However, doing so portrays the Ramallah-based regime as being at Israel’s beck and call.

Earlier, the Hamas leadership in Damascus called on Palestinians to observe a “day of anger” to protest against unrelenting Israeli efforts to Judaise East Jerusalem and erase its Arab-Muslim identity. The group’s leader, Khaled Meshaal, accused Israel of using the “false peace process” as a cover for “the policy of creeping Judaisation”. Meshaal and other Islamist leaders castigated the West-backed PA for suppressing Palestinian protests.

The outbreak of protests came after an Israeli government-backed Jewish society opened a vast synagogue in close vicinity to the Dome of the Rock, also known as the Mosque of Omar.

During the lavish ceremony marking the inauguration of the synagogue, which dates back no further than the British Mandate era, calls were made by Jewish extremists demanding that Israel take over Al-Aqsa Mosque in order to enable building the Second Temple they believe will foreshadow the second coming of Christ. Such calls are made routinely in Israel and the Israeli authorities generally refrain from arresting the fanatics for incitement to violence.

In recent weeks and months, government-backed Jewish fanatics advocating the demolition of Al-Aqsa Mosque have been regularly storming the Haram Al-Sharif esplanade, aiming to “gain a foothold” and conduct “prayer rites”. The recurrent provocations have nearly always led to the storming of the compound by Israeli police forces once Palestinian protesters resist the attempts.

Israel has also been provoking Palestinians by announcing plans to demolish thousands of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem, which Israel occupied in 1967, to build in the stead more apartments for Jewish settlers. Last week, the Israeli government announced plans to build 1,600 settler units in East Jerusalem, sparking a mini-crisis with Washington that demanded the cancellation of the plan. Much of the international community, including the European Union and the US, has repeatedly urged Israel to freeze settlement expansion in occupied Arab territories, including East Jerusalem, but to no avail.

This week, visiting Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva expressed dissatisfaction with Israel’s behaviour by refusing to lay a wreath at the grave of Theodor Herzl, largely viewed as the father of Zionism. The symbolic step angered Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Leiberman who boycotted Lula’s speech at the Knesset.
River to Sea
 Uprooted Palestinian

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