Analysis: Jerusalem’s ‘silent intifada’ is anything but silent

The city’s politicians agree: Third intifada is a foregone conclusion.

Palestinian youths hurl stones during clashes with Israeli police in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Wadi Joz, September 7. (photo credit: AMMAR AWAD / REUTERS)
Palestinian youths hurl stones during clashes with Israeli police in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Wadi Joz, September 7.
(photo credit: AMMAR AWAD / REUTERS)
Amid the specter of historically high rioting and unrest in the capital, many in the Israeli media have come to refer to the violence that has engulfed much of east Jerusalem since last summer as a “silent intifada.”
However, it would appear that the only issue that two of the city’s most outspoken and diametrically opposed politicians can agree on is that the violence is indeed another intifada, and it is anything but silent.
According to councilmen Dr. Meir Margalit (Meretz), who holds the east Jerusalem portfolio, and right-wing hardliner Arieh King (United Jerusalem), the “third intifada” is already upon us, and has been for some time.
“For several weeks I have said that we are inside the third intifada,” said Margalit on Monday. “I don’t know why they call it a “silent intifada,” because it’s very loud, so the word silent is incorrect. It’s an intifada, and we have to call it by its proper name.”
The nature of the third intifada though, Margalit said, is far more akin to the first one than the second.
“It’s different than the second intifada, because there are no suicide bombers,” he said. “It’s more similar to the first intifada, which was defined by rock throwing and firebombs.
“I think the main reason is that Hamas is not a part of this process,” he explained. “The suicide bombers came from Hamas, and it seems that they are not part of the issue.”
Another reason, Margalit continued, “is that I think the Palestinians realize that the strategy of suicide bombers was counterproductive; that the international community condemned them, damaging the Palestinian struggle.”
Moreover, he said that Palestinian Authority President Muhammad Abbas has no control over the east Jerusalem violence.
“The fact that it hasn’t started in the West Bank is because Abbas and the Palestinian Authority are not interested in an intifada, but in Jerusalem they have no control over what happens on the ground,” he said.
Margalit added that he is deeply concerned that the Jerusalem Municipality and national government are not addressing the crisis effectively by relying on the police to solve the problem.
“I’m worried because the political leadership in the city does not realize what’s going on, or what to do about this,” he said. “To leave it to the police is a big mistake, because the police is not part of the solution – they are part of the problem, because they just produce a vicious circle of violence; because when they respond with violence the Palestinians do the same.”
While Margalit conceded that extra police units could temporarily succeed in quelling the rioting, he noted that “sooner or later it will explode if the municipality doesn’t find a political solution.”
The only solution to ending the violence, he said, is twofold.
“The first step is to give Palestinians self-rule in east Jerusalem; you can call it autonomy,” he said. “The idea is to let them rule themselves and create their own institutions and to let the leadership manage their everyday lives in the city – including issues of building, planning, education, and internal security.”
“What the Palestinians are saying in this uprising is, ‘We don’t want to be managed by the Israelis – they don’t understand us or our needs and don’t care about us,’” he continued. “Even if [Jerusalem Mayor] Nir Barkat invests another million shekels in east Jerusalem, the gap is so wide it is impossible to bridge.”
Asked when he believes the intifada began, Margalit cited the apparent revenge slaying of teenage Arab east Jerusalem resident Mohammad Abu Khdeir. Still, he conceded that the storm was brewing for some time.
“For a long time before that there were a lot of everyday incidents in east Jerusalem, but this is the incident that set it off,” he said. “I really worry because it’s more proof that the city should be divided sooner or later, and it should be sooner to make matters less complicated.”
To be sure, according to Margalit, “the formula for a united city has been bankrupted, and it’s time to recognize that.”
Councilman King concurred with Margalit regarding the existence of a third intifada.
“It’s been a reality for at least two years -- people just have a short memory,” he said. “Stones today are something people aren’t counting – only firebombs and firecrackers.
But for at least two years there have been daily attacks against Jews in the Yemenite village [Silwan] and at the Mount of Olives Cemetery, where stones are thrown at Jews visiting and leaving every single day.”
King said the third intifada actually began two years ago when the National Security Council “made sure that everything that happens in east Jerusalem goes through the Prime Minister’s Office, including building permits and city planning.” He added that “the PMO didn’t have any clue what they were dealing with.”
Still, King asserted that the solution to ending the third intifada is not at all complicated.
“It’s very, very, very simple,” he said. “We don’t need 1,000 extra policemen or special units – we need the policemen to behave like policemen. That means enforcing the law in east Jerusalem as they do throughout the city.”
King emphasized that the message to Arabs in east Jerusalem’s “lawless society” must be that “the sheriff is back in town.”
“There is no sheriff today,” he said. “They talk about [east Jerusalem] like the Wild West, or East, and the message is that anybody can do anything they want there. If you’re an Arab, you can do whatever you want: You can go there in the middle of the day to buy drugs, drive without a license or insurance, and do what you want when you want.
Describing the situation as “anarchy,” King did differ considerably with Margalit regarding policing as a viable solution.
“The best, fastest, and most powerful way to solve the problem is enforcing all the laws in all areas of Jerusalem,” he opined. “We just need the police to enforce the law there like any other part of the city.”