Much has been written of late about Arafat Jaradat, the 30-year-old Palestinian
prisoner who died while in custody at Israel’s Megiddo Prison late in
However, one incident that took place during the funeral
procession for Jaradat in his home village of Kfar Sa’ir, near Bethlehem, went
unnoticed by the media.At one point, after Jaradat’s body was taken from
Hebron to Sa’ir, and as activists yelled anti-Israel epithets at the entrance of
the village, five masked gunmen climbed up on top of the roof of the Jaradat
family’s home. These were not Palestinian policemen, many of whom were busy
escorting the body during the funeral procession. The five were apparently
linked to the practically defunct al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, a terror group
associated with Fatah, and wore paramilitary uniforms: One was outfitted in
camouflage, another in a black shirt, military vest and a helmet. Some had their
faces hidden behind black masks, others with keffiyehs.
It’s been years
since armed men like these have been seen on the streets of the West Bank. The
Palestinian Authority (PA) can be credited with the fact that since the end of
2007, and up until a few weeks ago, the streets have been free of gun-toting men
who are not members of the Palestinian security forces. The frequent appearance
of armed men shooting into the air during the second intifada had all but
And then during the funeral procession for Jaradat, as
Palestinian policemen kept order in the street, the five masked men on the roof
began shooting into the air as if they had limitless ammunition. Following the
show, the five got down off the roof and began distributing flyers boosting
al-Aqsa Martyrs, a name that had all but disappeared.
According to the
flyers, revenge for Jaradat’s death will soon be coming.
For now, groups
associated with Fatah do not appear to be engaged in any real militant acts.
However, the very presence of armed men operating in broad daylight right under
the noses of the Palestinian Police indicates that there is motivation to renew
After meeting with residents in Kfar Sa’ir, as well as in
other refugee camps, such as Balata, near Nablus, I get the feeling that the
Palestinians are frustrated with both Israel and the PA (the deteriorating
economic situation and failure to pay salaries). Illegal weapons can still be
found here – in the small alleyways of the villages and cities, even though the
majority of Palestinians disapprove of their use – and some residents have
decided that the time has come to take the guns and ammunition out of storage
and start shooting.
A third intifada has not broken out, and things have
quietened down a little since the funeral; but the discontent has
Public resentment is growing and something is brewing out
there. It is a complex process that is difficult to call either an intifada or
an uprising. Some people are comparing the recent incidents to those of 1987,
when the first intifada broke out, or to September 2000, when the second one
began. The comparisons are valid, but we may, on the other hand, be experiencing
a new phenomenon unlike any we have encountered in the past.
began shortly after the end of last winter’s IDF’s Operation Pillar of Defense
against the rocket attacks from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, which gave rise
in the West Bank to the sense that Hamas had been victorious, and that Israel
only understands force. Since then, unrest has been growing, and the number of
violent incidents is rising daily.
Most of these incidents, however, are
not even reported in the Israeli media. For example, clashes between IDF
soldiers and Palestinians south of Nablus, near the Hawara checkpoint, are an
almost daily occurrence. The skirmishes there do not reach the road on which
Israeli cars travel, and the soldiers manage to keep the protesters inside PA
territory. The media, therefore, are unable to cover what’s happening
Knesset Member Ahmed Tibi, chairman of the United Arab List Ta’al
party, was the one who coined the term, al-Aqsa Intifada for the second
intifada, in an interview he gave then on Palestinian radio on the second day of
the rioting. Recently he described the current situation: “We are in a state of
pre-conflict. Underground movements are surfacing once again, and the prisoner
issue is the most sensitive nerve, but it’s not the only one; continued
construction of settlements, attacks by ‘price tag’ thugs against Arabs, the
economic situation and the lack of political vision are also among the causes.
Any of these issues could spark a conflagration.
“Anyone who can’t see
the writing on the wall is blind,” Tibi added. “If an uprising breaks out now,
we will call it the prisoner intifada.”
Maybe we are in the midst of a
new kind of intifada, one that belongs to a different generation, a new app that
the Palestinians – mostly the young ones – have finetuned.
small-scale uprising, including clashes every few days in different locations in
the West Bank. On other days, following irregular occurrences (Palestinians
being beaten up by settlers, prisoners on hunger strikes, memorial ceremonies)
violent demonstrations take place that require IDF intervention.
Palestinian public, the people on the street, want revenge,” explains A.R. a
former al-Aqsa Martyrs activist who now serves as a Palestinian policeman at the
welfare department in the Balata refugee camp adjacent to Nablus. “No one
remembers that in May 2000, just four months before the second intifada broke
out, there also had been a prisoners’ hunger strike. Ariel Sharon’s visit to the
Temple Mount was the match that lit the fire, but there were a number of
incidents that added to the public’s frustration, especially the failure of the
A.R. is 32 years old, and married with children.
“Let’s take a look at what’s happening now,” he says. “There’s no political
process, the economic situation has worsened, and prisoners are on hunger
strikes. I’m telling you, I am a policeman who disperses demonstrations. If one
of these prisoners dies in prison, neither the PA nor the Israeli government
will be able to stop the escalation of violence.”
A.R. spent six years in
an Israeli prison; today, he guards Joseph’s Tomb. “Do you see how the world has
turned upside down?” he remarks. “Look what I’m doing today. I’m making sure
that no one, including Israelis, gets hurt at Joseph’s Tomb.”
And what if
the world flips over again? What then? Will you need to fight against Israel? “I
will never again join an underground armed force,” he says. “I now understand
that we lost because we used guns. All that came of it were accidents and
hatred. Our thinking has changed. We now want to live with the Jews. The problem
is that there is a new generation that thinks exactly as I did when I was 16.
They are focusing on revenge, on blood. They have no strategy. As a policeman, I
can tell you,” he adds, “those who want revenge will also act violently against
their own people.”
A.R. is greeted warmly by passersby as we walk around
the Balata refugee camp. About 28,000 people live here in poverty, in terribly
overcrowded conditions. Every family has either lost at least one son in the
wars against Israel, or has one sitting in an Israeli prison.
at the end of the day, all we want to do is to support our families and live in
peace with you,” A.R. says.
Balata residents constantly express their
pride in being from the refugee camp. The first al-Aqsa Martyrs cells were
formed under the command of Nasser Awis, a Balata resident. Just recently,
Israel’s Channel 2 TV broadcast a story about these masked gunmen, who have
recently returned to the camp. Most have been arrested by the PA, and some have
already been released.
And still, most Balata residents oppose armed
conflict. In Abu Marwan’s café, four men between the ages of 21 and 32 are
sitting and watching people walk by on the street.
parliament,” they are called.
Muhammad, the youngest, explains that there
is no work available. “We want the PA to find work for us, or Israel to grant us
work visas. Nothing else,” he says.
“We don’t want an intifada. I’m not
going to throw stones. Why not? Because it doesn’t help. My brother was in jail
for two years.
How did that help him?” And his friends, Mahmoud, Ali and
Jedi, have similar opinions. A feeling of desperation has spread throughout the
camp. The three of them have all spent time in Israeli prisons and stress that
they have no intention of returning to an armed struggle. But they also agree
that the problem today is with the younger generation, which has already
forgotten what the adults have just finished learning.
the confrontation ritual repeats itself. About two kilometers south of Balata,
near Kfar Kalil, 100-150 youth gather to throw rocks at IDF soldiers stationed
north of the Hawara checkpoint, inside Palestinian territory. Most of the stone
throwers are between the ages of 16 and 20, some of them much younger. A few who
are wearing scarves to cover their faces lead the group and yell threats at the
In the meantime, in the nearby furniture store, workers
continue assembling a new couch. And the man selling tamar hindi
between the flying stones trying to make a living. Every once in a while, tear
gas is thrown into the area and everyone disperses. The youth are surprised by
the presence of Israeli journalists. “Don’t take a picture of our faces,” they
plead. “The army will come and arrest everybody afterwards.”
One of the
boys with a scarf across his face is Ali, a 20-year-old business student at
A-Najah, born the year the Oslo Accords were signed. He doesn’t know any
Israelis and has never been inside Israel. “I came to show support for the
prisoners. I am not afraid of death, and I prefer to die a martyr than live like
I am now,” he explains, claiming that the third intifada has already
His friend, Jaffer, is only 17, but has already experienced
Israeli prison life firsthand. “I came to show support for my brothers in
prison,” he says. “There is going to be a third intifada, I can tell you that
But where are the masses? There are only about 100 of you here,
right? “From this day on, there will be an intifada here. I am Jaffer, only one
person, but there are hundreds here with me. God willing, more will join us
every day, until there will be thousands and even hundreds of thousands.”Avi
Issacharoff is the Arab affairs commentator for the Walla! news website.
Join Jerusalem Post Premium Plus now for just $5 and upgrade your experience with an ads-free website and exclusive content. Click here>>