West Bank erupts; are we on the brink of a third intifada?

A planned protest in Ramallah against the ongoing Israeli action in Gaza, which was supposed to march into Jerusalem via the Qalandia checkpoint, has turned into what Buzzfeed is calling “the largest West Bank protests in years.” Reuters is calling it the largest protest in the West Bank since the 2000-2005 Second Intifada. Details are still sketchy, but the protesters seem to number at least 10,000, and Al-Jazeera is reporting that one man has been killed, while Haaretz is reporting that two have been killed, and there are unconfirmed reports via Twitter that as many as four are dead.

Israel’s Operation Protective Edge in Gaza has now killed over 762 Palestinians, including 15 who were killed today when the IDF fired on a school run by the UN Relief and Works Agency. While Palestinians in the West Bank and those in Gaza haven’t had especially tight relations since Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza in 2005 and Hamas took power there (the Palestinian Authority still runs the West Bank, or at least runs it to the extent that Israel allows it), a protest of the size and magnitude of what’s now happening in Ramallah/Qalandia would seem to indicate that OPE has given the people of both territories a common cause to rally against.

There are a lot of images purporting to be from the protests that are cropping up on Twitter:

Tonight is Laylat al-Qadr, the holiest night of Ramadan, when tradition says that Muhammad received the first of several revelations of the text of the Qurʾan, so there is some symbolism to the protest happening today. It is obviously far too early to say whether this marks a new phase in the current round of the Israel-Palestine conflict, but the idea that this could mark the beginning of a “third intifada” is certainly front and center in people’s minds.

Without going all explainer-y on you, which would be out of place right now and which I probably wouldn’t be able to pull off at the moment even if it were appropriate, “intifada” is an Arabic word that means “shaking off,” but the modern meaning includes the idea of “rebellion” or “uprising.” There have been two previous intifadas:

  • The first, which lasted from 1987 to either 1991 or 1993 depending on who you ask, started when protests against Israel’s policies in the Occupied Territories, its treatment of Palestinians, and the growing settler movement developed into territory-wide demonstrations, strikes, and violent outbursts. Around 160 Israelis and 2160 Palestinians were killed in clashes over the next several years (it’s estimated that 800-1000 of those Palestinians were killed in fighting between Palestinian factions), and the conflict finally ended either with the international Madrid Conference in 1991 or with the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, again depending on who you ask. Madrid didn’t really achieve anything concrete but it did improve the tone of relations between Israel and the rest of the Arab world, and put everybody on the road to Oslo.
  • The second lasted fro 2000-2005 and had heaping helpings of Ariel Sharon on both ends. It started when Sharon, then opposition leader because Likud was in the minority, marched up to the Temple Mount with an armed escort, which predictably caused a riot to break out in East Jerusalem. For any Israeli politician to go to the Temple Mount (AKA, the home of Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock) with a contingent of riot police was problematic; for Sharon, with his record, to do so was a deliberate provocation. Admittedly, relations between the Israelis and the Palestinians had been deteriorating for some time, particularly after the collapse of the Camp David talks in 2000, but the immediate cause of the uprising was Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount, which either provoked a spontaneous uprising or gave Arafat the casus belli he needed to launch an uprising that he’d been planning for some time (like so many things about Israel-Palestine, it depends on who you ask). Sharon was able to use the uprising that he helped cause to get Likud elected to the majority in the 2001 parliamentary election, which made him prime minister (he really was a Man of Peace, you know?), and he immediately cut off the discussions that his predecessor, Ehud Barak, had been having with Yassar Arafat. When all was said and done, around 1000 Israelis were killed (~750 civilians) against 3300 or so Palestinians (as many as 400 killed in fighting between Palestinian factions).

OK, that was more explainer-y than I had planned on getting, sorry. Anyway, the situation in the West Bank is very fluid and this could be a critical point in the crisis. Netanyahu could try to head things off by working in good faith toward a ceasefire in Gaza, which seems like it will have to include a lifting of the state of siege that Gaza has been under since 2007. But given his track record, that seems unlikely. Mahmoud Abbas could try to rein in his people before things get completely out of hand (indeed he’s promised before that there will be no third intifada as long as he’s in power), but that assumes that Abbas has any real authority outside his own front door, which is pretty questionable at this point.

UPDATE: Protests apparently have spread from Ramallah to Bethlehem:

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