By Jyotika Teckchandani
14 November 2015
It seems as Islam has re-centred itself in the political discourse of the region, the Arab Governments are afraid of mobilising people on Islamic symbols as it may endanger their status quo. Moreover, they fear it has potential to be hijacked by the radical groups that may endanger the security and stability of their Governments
It is about two months since Israeli-Palestinian conflict erupted over the right to visit and worship in the Holy Compound in East Jerusalem, which encompasses Temple Mount (Har HaBayit in Hebrew), the holiest site of Jews, and the Noble Sanctuary (al-Haram al-Sharif in Arabic) along with the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa mosques, the third holiest site after Mecca and Medina for Muslims. It has taken the lives of 70 Palestinians and 7 Israelis so far, and the count goes on.
This is not for the first time the conflict around the issue of Noble Sanctuary in Jerusalem has erupted between the two communities and in which Palestinians have to suffer more at the hands of Israeli State. However, it differs from earlier pattern of conflicts in two ways: (a) the nature of group involved in Palestinian protest over the issue, and (b) the international and regional responses to the events.
Earlier Palestinians used to protest against provocations by Israeli State and members of right-wing Israeli against their visit to religious places in violation of status quo imposed by the UN in 1967. The protest was then sparked by the religious segment of the Palestinian population often backed by the political establishment. However, this time the protests have been organised by university students, mostly with secular orientations. The protests soon engulfed many parts of Israel-occupied Palestinian cities such as Hebron, Bethlehem, Ramallah, etc, and took the HAMAS in Gaza and Palestinian Authority (PA) in West Bank off guard.
This is the beginning of Third Intifada, which is adding more woes to the already destabilised region.
This Intifada has started primarily due to mutual acrimony and the resultant loss of faith in the peace process. Moreover, greater securatisation of Palestinian lives, particular youths, who are considered potential threat for the security of Israeli State, and failure of Palestinian Authority (PA) to resist the ever-increasing policing by Israel have added to the soaring hostility. It may be noted while the first Intifada in West Bank and Gaza in mid-1980s took birth against the exploitative and humiliating policies of occupying Israeli State, the second Intifada in 2000 aroused in the context of failure of Oslo Treaty that gave the hope and freedom to the Palestinian, but in reality faced the policing and corruption of PA and growing Jews settlers in parts of West Bank. By a conservative estimate, since the Oslo Accord, Israel has settled 330,000 Jews in West Bank, razed some 30,000 Palestinian homes, which comprises 11-15 per cent of the West Bank.
Further as discourse on terrorism has become hegemonic discourse of international politics, the regime and State across the world including the Israeli State has used the discourse to criminalise any kind of dissent, protest, opposition in the name of security.
Two weeks ago, the right-wing messianic Minister of Education and Diaspora Affairs Nafatli Bennett announced that Israel would settle 100,000 more Jewish settlers in the Golan Height.
The Third Intifada is partly fuelled on account of fear of Israeli’s plan of annexation of East Jerusalem through the politics of settlements and in the name of security. About 3,20,000 Palestinians live in East Jerusalem. In 1967, when Israel captured Jerusalem it was 2.3 square miles. It is now 27 square miles, including scores of Palestinian villages under Israeli occupation.
The Palestinians of East Jerusalem received no help from the PA in Ramallah. This increases the difficulties of Palestinians living in East Jerusalem. In fact, hardliners from both sides are pursuing unilateral strategies and inciting civilians for violence against each other. Seen in the perspective is the rising number of futile stabbing attempts by Palestinians, who get shot in retaliation.
Moreover, the augmenting Israel’s hostility towards Palestinians is the widespread support for Hamas which call for the destruction of Israel. On the other hand, the expansion of Jews settlements in the West Bank has caused Palestinians to believe that Israel is not committed to reaching an agreement, but wants hegemonic control over their territory.
Therefore it is considered by many that Israel now seeks to integrate more fully the 320,000 East Jerusalem Palestinians into Israel proper so that it can control the educational and judicial systems in all aspects of Palestinians’ life. As one Israeli official stated, “We want to make the East Jerusalem Palestinians as compliant as Israeli Arabs.” Use of the term “Arabs” instead of “Palestinians” punctuates Israel’s intentions to distance Palestinians further from any kind of sovereignty over their lives.
A second feature of this conflict is the deafening silence of the Arab on the issue. Unlike in the past, when the Arab streets used to be filled by protesters after Friday prayers to protest Israeli actions related to Al-Aqsa mosque, this time the street is empty and silent. Though there has been routine condemnation by the Arab States, such condemnations do not carry much weight in the arena of international politics unless backed by people’s mobilisation on the street, which is often organised and coordinated by the State machinery. What has been transformed in the Arab world which has made the Arab world a bystander; and stopped it from making any symbolic protest both for the cause of Islam and solidarity with their fellow Palestinian Arabs?
Analysts have pointed out towards deep chaos and crisis of political un-stability that has currently engulfed the major parts of West Asia and North Africa following the short lived Arab Spring. Certainly the major parts of West Asia is suffering from deep ethnic and religious conflicts, civil war and national conflicts, but this does not explain why Saudi and Iranian regimes, which primarily derives their legitimacy from Islam and are in competition to lead the Muslim world, would not organise such protest at their home, which they have been regularly doing on such occasion? It seems that as Islam has re-centred itself in the political discourse of the region, the Governments are wary of mobilising people on such Islamic symbols, particularly in the context where Islamic political mobilisation carries an anti-status quo tone. This partly explains the fear of the Arab Governments against organising protest rally on such issues that carry universal Islamic symbols and has potential to be hijacked by the radical groups that may endanger the security and stability of their Governments.
Along with regional responses, the international reaction and responses have also been mute and non-affective. The US took the traditional line that Israeli has right to defend and Ban Ki-Moon, the UN Secretary General, could only appeal to both parties to calm down. As the international attention is more focussed on ISIS and stabilisation of West Asia and North Africa, the hopes and aspirations of Palestinians are increasingly lost.
It is also sad to see the muted response of the Government of India on this matter. With decline of Nehruvian policy in international politics and growing national aspirations to become a global power, the Indian Government is busy in fine-tuning its foreign policy postures in accordance with the rule of realist power-politics to safeguard its interests.
Jyotika Teckchandani is a visiting faculty, Amity University, Noida, and Doctoral student at Centre for West Asian Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia