This weekend the fires were burning all over the country. In Nazareth over a dozen were arrested, and there was rioting in Taiba, Kalansuwa, near Rachel’s tomb in Bethlehem, all around Jerusalem from Shuafat to Ras al-Amud to Abu Tor, as well as near Ma’ale Adumim. Fields were set alight between Har Homa and Bethlehem.
Between the Ofer prison and Ramallah rioters threw stones at police. Even in Umm el-Fahm there were disturbances. Some people began speaking about the “third intifada.” This has been on people’s lips for years now; a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy.
This round of violence was set off by the murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir last Tuesday. The violence and rioting that began after his death was almost immediate and centered around his family’s house in Shuafat. Rioters burnt the light rail stop there and the rest of the day was spent skirmishing with police. It was a very localized event initially, with politicians coming and going from one end of the family compound and press camped out on the tracks, while rioters behind a makeshift barricade had it out with police.
But it grew worse and worse as Wednesday dragged into Thursday and the weekend.
The funeral on July 4, which coincided with Friday prayers, was a mass outpouring of anger. But because of Ramadan, a pattern set in of youth taking to the streets during the night, after Iftar meals, and stoning police or symbols of the state. The second light rail stop in Shuafat was burned, its ticket machines ransacked by opportunists seeking coins. Friday night the battles spread to Arab towns in Israel, where rioters stopped cars and asked if the occupants were Jews. This was against a backdrop of two racist marches in Jerusalem, one large one on Tuesday and another on Saturday night, where people shouted “death to the Arabs.”
Things seem to have quieted down now.
But what have we learned? First, it was made clear how many people simply choose to believe a certain narrative, without regard to facts. Today’s social media drives everything, not news organizations or politicians. Rumor and hearsay spreads virally over the Internet. One article floating around the Internet said, “for those who were so quick to blame their fellow Jews, this 17-year-old Arab boy was murdered by his own family for being gay. The police have verified it.”
No they hadn’t.
Another article spread around claimed: “Israelis kidnap Palestinian boy and burn him alive. Enough.” It is interesting that here they said “Israelis” when they meant “Jews” – and again, this was spread around on July 4, before anyone had any idea who had actually killed him (now the police have arrested suspects). Abu Khdeir was declared a “martyr” and the mourners’ march of his funeral became classic political event. However, when the coffin hosted aloft, the most prominent flags displayed were those of Hizb ut-Tahrir.
Hizb ut-Tahrir? No media reported this.
These emblematic black flags, reminiscent of Islamic Jihad in Lebanon, or ISIS in Iraq, are integral to a global Islamic movement that seeks to return to the early days of Islam, to purge the faith and set up a worldwide Islamic government. According to sources Hizb ut-Tahrir has grown in strength in east Jerusalem in the past decade, with many youths flocking to its banner. They avoid Hamas and Fatah, seeing the traditional organizations as moribound. They are also considered non-violent, but are extremist and religious conservatives.
The presence of the non-Palestinian groups was further emphasized by the lack of Palestinian leadership in this (at present) short popular uprising. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was reported to have blamed the murder on “Israeli settlers” – but so did MK Ahmed Tibi. Neither said much else. Al-Quds Daily thought the funeral procession demonstrated “national unity” and Al-Hayat al-Jadida went further, claiming it was a tip of a “new Holocaust.”
But in general the rioting by youth did not seem guided by leaders and no one emerged from it as a unifying voice.
Similarly on the Israeli side, despite the massive destruction done to the Jerusalem light rail, which now cuts off neighborhoods like Pisgat Ze’ev from the city, the mayor and politicians seemed nonchalant.
This is one of the results of not having Arab members of the city council. If there were Arab members, they could articulate the neighborhoods’ feelings. Instead the feelings are dictated by a few hundred rioters, some loosely affiliated with shadowy Hizb ut-Tahrir or affiliated with the large abu Khdeir family.
The Jewish peace rallies in Jerusalem, with signs saying “halas” in Hebrew (“enough” in Arabic) didn’t have any impact in east Jerusalem where the riots took place. As usual the message was focused on an internal Jewish discussion; Palestinians had no part. Similarly, no Palestinian peace march took place in Shuafat, despite the presence of numerous racist slogans scrawled on walls, such as “death to the Jews.”
It is worth reflecting on these disturbances, if and when they dissipate.
Was exacerbated by the hot weather and Ramadan? Was it the tension over the murder of three Israeli teens? There are many voices in the Palestinian community who greeted this with an outpouring of support and hoped it would lead to a national uprising.
It is important that the government be cognizant of that and it is essential the Jerusalem municipality take it seriously; at the very least the mayor should tour the scenes of destruction. Arab residents may not vote, but they live in the capital city. Otherwise we will become a victim of Yeats’ prediction: “the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”