Some say that Israel may be in the grip of a “third intifada”. While the first was characterised by civil disobedience, rioting and rock-throwing, and the second by large scale terrorism, most notable suicide bombing, this one has so far featured attacks by drivers ramming their cars into pedestrians, a far more difficult form of attack to prevent. Such an intifada would be disastrous for both Israelis and Palestinians, but at least some of the impetus for it appears to be coming from the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas himself.
In particular, both Abbas’ Fatah movement and the Hamas movement are encouraging Palestinians to use their cars to kill Jews as part of the so-called “Car Intifada”. Palestinian Media Watch has documented cartoons and posts on the Fatah Facebook page inciting this violence. Meanwhile, the Hamas-aligned Shehab News Agency ran this cartoon on its Facebook page (the caption reads “the automobile intifada”) and this cartoon also encouraging attacks on pedestrians using cars as weapons.
The Recent Attacks
The two most recent attacks took place on Wednesday, November 5. In the first, Ibrahim al-Acri drove his car into pedestrians at two light rail stops near Sheikh Jarrah in Jerusalem, killing border policeman Jidan Assad and injuring 14 other people, three of them seriously. Seventeen year-old Shalom Aharon Baadani subsequently died from his injuries. Al-Acri then got out of his car and began attacking those around him with a crow bar, at which point he was shot dead by police. Al-Acri was a Palestinian resident of east Jerusalem, meaning he had unrestricted access to the whole of Israel.
As reported by the Jerusalem Post, Hamas claimed responsibility for the attack, with its official statement calling al-Acri a martyr and his attack a “holy operation” and claiming, “This was a result of the crimes of the Zionists who continue to attack the worshippers and to violate the Palestinians’ holy sites. We call on the people of Jerusalem and the West Bank and all of the Palestinians to carry out more of these activities with full force in order to defend al-Aksa.”
In the second attack on Wednesday, in the Gush Etzion bloc in the West Bank, three soldiers standing by the side of the road were injured when a van ploughed into them. The driver escaped, and the van was later found abandoned. These attacks followed the October 30 attempted assassination by Islamic Jihad member Moataz Hejazi of Rabbi Yehuda Glick, who advocates for the right of Jews to pray on the Temple Mount, and who was left in a serious condition by the shooting, and the October 22 terror attack in which Abd al-Rahman al-Shalhoudi, also a Palestinian resident of east Jerusalem, drove his car into a light rail stop, killing two pedestrians including a baby. Israel also blamed that attack on Hamas.
Following each of the attacks other than the most recent, significant rioting occurred in response to the killing of the perpetrators.
The Temple Mount, incitement and violence
There is a long history of Palestinian leaders inciting their people against Israel by claiming Israel is threatening the al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock and, as seen by the Hamas statement above, this appeal is being made during the current violence. Probably the most infamous example of such incitement was the cynical way the Palestinian leadership in 2000, having refused to negotiate in good faith at Camp David, used then Israeli Opposition Leader Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Temple Mount (authorised by the Palestinian Authority) in September of that year to spark the second intifada, which they even referred to as the al-Aqsa intifada. Another example was the deadly riots in 1996 following Israel’s decision to open the tunnels that expose the underground construction of the Western Wall to tourists.
The Temple Mount, also known to Muslims as al-Haram ash-Sharif, or the Noble Sanctuary, is holy to both Jews and Muslims. News reports often mention it is the third holiest site in Islam, but sometimes underplay its holiness to Jews, for whom it is in fact the holiest site in the world.
It is called the Temple Mount because it is the site of the two Jewish Temples, the second of which, having been massively rebuilt by Herod, was destroyed by the Romans in the year 70CE in response to a Jewish rebellion. It is believed to have been built on Mount Moriah, which, according to the Torah, is the site of Abraham’s intended sacrifice of his son Isaac. The Western Wall is part of the actual western wall of Herod’s Temple compound.
Subsequently, Muslims came to regard it as the site from which Muhammad ascended to heaven, and in 691CE, they built the spectacular Dome of the Rock as a shrine over the rock itself, as well as the al-Aqsa Mosque, first completed in 705CE, nearby on the compound. The Mosque was rebuilt in its current form in 1033.
While at various times since the destruction of the Temple, Jews have been barred from the site, it has always remained their holiest place. Here is a good, detailed essay from the Middle East Quarterly setting out the continued significance to Jews of the site, from the construction and destruction of the temples till the present.
Despite this, there have been attempts by many in the Arab world to deny any Jewish connection to the area, perhaps most famously by Yasser Arafat at the 2000 Camp David talks. In a subsequent interview on Fox News, US negotiator Dennis Ross, speaking of Yasser Arafat, said, “The only new idea he raised at Camp David was that the temple didn’t exist in Jerusalem, it existed in Nablus.”
This phenomenon of “Temple denial” is explored by AIJAC’s Sharyn Mittleman in this blog from September 2011.
Between 1948 and 1967, when Jordan controlled Jerusalem’s Old City, Jews were again denied access to the area, including the Western Wall. IN addition, all the city’s synagogues were defiled and destroyed. Since the 1967 Six Day War, Israel has left the administration of the compound in the hands of the Islamic Waqf, and allowed people of all faiths to visit the site during limited hours on most days. No faith other than Muslims have been permitted to pray in the area and while Muslims may enter through any of ten gates, there is only one gate, the Mugrabi Gate, through which non-Muslims may enter the area.
Unfortunately, the prayers at the al-Aqsa Mosque, especially the Friday prayers, have often become the trigger for violence, including riots on and around the Temple Mount, and the throwing of rocks at Jewish worshippers at the Western Wall below. As a result, Israeli authorities have currently banned Muslim males below the age of 45 from attending Friday prayers on the Temple Mount. Following the shooting of Rabbi Glick, Israeli authorities took the very rare step of closing the Temple Mount due to intelligence assessments and security concerns. The closure, which Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas described as an “act of war”, lasted one day.
On November 5, 30 to 40 masked Palestinians threw rocks and firecrackers at police near the Mugrabi Gate. Israeli police reported there were stockpiles of the weapons in the al-Aqsa Mosque. They used non-lethal means to quell the violence. Palestinian officials claimed that the Israelis had entered the Mosque as far as the pulpit, and damaged the Mosque, claims Israel denied. The wife of Ibrahim al-Acri cited this as motivation for his attack. Jordan, which under the terms of its 1994 peace agreement with Israel, is the custodian of the Temple Mount and other Islamic holy sites in Jerusalem, subsequently recalled its Ambassador in response to Israel’s alleged “violations”
Palestinians claim that this violence was triggered by attempts by Israeli groups to change the status quo on the Temple Mount, with the ultimate aim of preventing Muslims having access there. It is true that there are Israelis who are campaigning to allow Jewish prayer at the site, with some support from right-wing politicians. Of course, such a change in itself would not in any way endanger the Muslim rights in the area as claimed. However, in any case, Israel’s government has made it clear that there will be no change in the status quo. In fact, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu called Jordan’s King Abdullah II on November 6 to assure him that Israel has no intention of changing any conditions on the compound, including the prohibition against Jews praying there.
This post from Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs sets out a useful summary of the violence, and the incitement that precipitated it, and includes video of the rioting. It also clarifies the truth behind some of the claims made against Israeli forces. For example, it explains that on November 5, the Israelis only entered the al-Aqsa Mosque as far as was necessary to remove barricades so they could close the doors. It also contains verification that Israel has no intention of changing conditions on the Temple Mount.
Abbas and his Fatah and Palestinian Authority encourage violence
In his editorial in the November 2014 edition of the Australia/Israel Review, AIJAC Executive Director Dr Colin Rubenstein warned, in the wake of the al-Shaloudi attack, of the dangers of incitement by the Palestinian leadership. He noted that “days before the Jerusalem attack, Abbas called upon Palestinians to prevent Jews from visiting Jerusalem’s Temple Mount – holy to both Jews and Muslims and open to non-Muslim visits since 1967 – ‘by any means.’ Abbas said, ‘This is our Noble Sanctuary… they have no right to enter and desecrate it.’ For a hundred years, claiming that Jews are endangering the mosques of the Mount has been one of most inflammatory forms of incitement employed by Palestinian leaders.” The events described above bear out Dr Rubenstein’s warning.
This is not a new tactic from Mr Abbas, as seen by this “Scribblings” column from the August 2013 Review by editor Tzvi Fleischer.
In fact, Israeli leaders from across the political spectrum are now holding Mr Abbas directly responsible for the wave of violence. At the very least, Abbas appears to be playing a double game. As Avi Issacharoff of the Times of Israel reports, PA forces have arrested around 250 Hamas and Islamic Jihad operatives across the West Bank, specifically to try to contain violence against Israel, but at the same time, Abbas’ comments referring to Rabbi Glick’s attacker as a “martyr”, as well as other acts of incitement, have infuriated Israeli leaders.
Palestinian journalist Khaled Abu Toameh also wrote about the Palestinian incitement and resultant violence.
“Earlier this week, [US Secretary of State John] Kerry met in Washington with a Palestinian delegation, headed by chief PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat, to discuss ways of resuming the peace talks.
But Kerry and the Obama Administration seem to be living on a different planet. While they are trying to find ways to bring the Palestinians back to the negotiating table, Palestinian leaders and organizations are busy inciting their people against Israel.
Even worse, Palestinian activists are busy organizing online campaigns urging and encouraging Palestinians to launch terror attacks on Israelis. It is hard to see how Abbas can return to the negotiating table while many Palestinians, at his behest, are busy thinking about how to kill more Israelis.
The Obama Administration would do well to understand that it is a waste of time to talk about any peace process when Palestinian leaders and activists are openly glorifying those who use their vehicles to kill Israelis.
The Obama Administration is talking about reviving the peace process while Abbas is telling his people that Jews are ‘desecrating’ the holy sites in Jerusalem and praising an assassin as a ‘hero’ and ‘martyr.’
It is not enough for Kerry to listen to what Abbas or Erekat are telling him in English. Instead, Kerry and Obama must also start listening to what Palestinian leaders and activists are telling their people in Arabic.
Moreover, it would also be a good idea for Obama and Kerry to go online and view the most recent Palestinian campaigns that encourage and applaud terror attacks on Israelis. Perhaps then they will understand that as long as the incitement continues, there is no chance – zero – for the success of any peace process between Israel and the Palestinians.”
Palestinian Media Watch has documented several recent examples of virulent anti-Israel incitement from the Palestinian Authority. These include a cartoon depicting an Israeli soldier about to rape the Dome of the Rock, which is portrayed as a woman in jail, glorification of terrorists by Mahmoud Abbas and his advisers,
cartoons encouraging Palestinian people, including children, to throw stones at Israelis, a call to observe a “day of rage” and to protect the al-Aqsa Mosque,
celebrations of the attempted murder of Rabbi Glick, and Abbas calling for Palestinians to use violence against Jews and to prevent Jews from going to the Temple Mount, a speech that was played 19 times in three days on the Palestinian Authority TV station.
In an interesting blog for Commentary magazine, Seth Mandel argues that Mahmoud Abbas has never been a partner for peace and raises the question of the extent to which Abbas is responsible for initiating the violence. Mandel argues that an increasingly irrelevant Abbas is simply seeking to join an intifada that started without him, (reminiscent of the comment “I have to follow them. I am their leader,” by French revolutionary leader Alexandre-Auguste Ledru-Rollin). Mandel suggests that this may be the most dangerous scenario of all.