Palestinian youth uprising faces uncertainty as clashes with Israel increase

Many Palestinians face a new kind of struggle - increasing clashes with Israeli security forces but without central leadership - leading to a great deal of discussion about whether this uprising means a third intifada is underway.

Confrontations between Palestinians and Israeli security forces more frequent in past 4 months

Palestinian youths throw stones during clashes with Israeli border police after Moatez Higazi, a man suspected of trying to kill a hard-line Jewish activist in Jerusalem, was shot in east Jerusalem on Oct. 30, 2014. (Mahmoud Illean/Associated Press)

Kamal Shawish is too old to throw stones, but he understands why a generation of young Palestinians has again turned to stone-throwing as a form of protest against Israel.

"We are conquered here. What [can] we do? Demonstrations? This is not enough," said Shawish, 78. "We do what we can do."

Kamal Shawish is a Palestinian with Israeli residency who lives in the increasingly violent East Jerusalem suburb of Shuafat. (Derek Stoffel/CBC)
​Shawish is a Palestinian with Israeli residency who lives in the East Jerusalem suburb of Shuafat. I met him in the middle of the day as he shopped on the main street of the affluent neighbourhood.

It was a quiet day. Over the din of traffic, you could hear a bell ringing to warn of the approaching light rail transit train.

At night, Shuafat has turned into a place where violent confrontations between young Palestinians and the Israeli security forces have broken out frequently in the past four months.

Uprising without organization

Two of the most violent attacks against Israelis recently have taken place a few stops down the light rail line.

Earlier this month, two people, including an Israeli border police officer, were killed when a Palestinian man rammed his van into a crowd of security forces, then into those waiting at the tram stop. A similar attack at a nearby LRT station two weeks prior left two dead, including a three-month-old baby girl.

Last week, an Israeli soldier and a young woman were killed in two separate stabbing attacks on the same day. One attack was in Tel Aviv, the other near a settlement in the West Bank.

Palestinian rioters have also smashed ticket machines at LRT stops. They’re now covered by sheets of metal. Many of the traffic lights no longer work, as the power cables have been cut.

For many Palestinians, this is a new kind of struggle, an uprising without leadership, where individuals are moved to act against the Israeli occupation and policies.

These attacks, along with the frequent outbreak of clashes between Palestinians and Israeli security forces, have led to a great deal of discussion here about whether a third intifada is underway.

Mustafa Barghouti, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said there is little doubt that another uprising has begun.

"What is happening today in the occupied Palestinian territories in response to occupation and oppression is a popular, mainly non-violent resistance in the form of demonstrations," Barghouti said.

He says because of the anger, he understands why some Palestinians have chosen violence.

Israeli medics treat a wounded soldier at the scene of a stabbing attack in Tel Aviv on Nov. 10. (Reuters)
"Of course there are actions of violence and in my opinion the Israeli behaviour and the oppression, including trying to change the status in one of the most holiest places for Muslims, which is Aqsa mosque — all of these things are provocative actions by the Israeli army, which [sometimes] provokes violence."

Palestinian leaders rarely condemn the kind of violence exemplified by the light rail and knife attacks, and indeed, this leaderless kind of revolt has also made it more difficult for the Israeli authorities to deal with.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu continues to point the finger at Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority.

"[Abbas] must halt the incitement that leads to acts of violence. This is one of the roots of the inflamed moods that are fuelled by Islamist extremist propaganda and propaganda by the Palestinian Authority," Netanyahu said on Sunday.

Abbas recently told Israeli television, "We are not interested in an intifada." But it is clear that many Palestinians are very angry, for a variety of reasons.

Israeli and Palestinian analysts agree that one of the largest causes of the tension — and resulting violence — is the dispute over one of Jerusalem’s holiest sites.

The Noble Sanctuary is the plateau in the Old City, home to the Al Aqsa Mosque and the golden Dome of the Rock, and is considered the third-holiest site in Islam. Known also as the Temple Mount, the place where the ancient Jewish temples once stood, it is the most sacred place in Judaism.

Non-Muslims are allowed to visit the site, but are prohibited from praying there. Right-wing Jews have been advocating to change that, which has led many Muslims to believe Israel wants to alter the status quo, which has sparked violent protests.

Intifada debate

Palestinians also accuse Israel’s security forces of being trigger happy, pointing to the recent shooting of a Palestinian-Israeli man named Khair Hamdan.

Earlier this month, Hamdan was seen in security camera footage attacking a police van with a knife in a northern Israeli village. The video appears to show Hamdan retreating as an officer exits the van, before Hamdan falls to the ground after apparently being shot.

"What we see today is that the whole Palestinian population is protesting against the oppression and the racial discrimination that they are subjected to," said Barghouti, who was a leader of the first Palestinian intifada.

Beginning in late 1987, the first intifada started when demonstrations broke out following the deaths of four Palestinians, killed when an Israeli army vehicle hit their car while returning to the Gaza Strip. A movement of civil disobedience and general strikes lasted until 1991.

The second intifada, according to many experts, was sparked when Israel’s then-opposition leader, Ariel Sharon, visited the Temple Mount in 2000, leading to violent protests. Lasting until 2005, about 3,000 Palestinians and 1,000 Israelis were killed in the uprising.

Ehud Yaari, co-author of a book on the first intifada and a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, believes the current round of violence and protests should not be characterized as a new intifada.

"The great majority of the Palestinian population, and of course the Jewish population, have no appetite for another round of intifada-type confrontation," he said from his home in Jerusalem.

"What is missing, in order to turn whatever level of violence you have into a wide-scale, large-scale intifada, is organization," said Yaari.

About the Author

Derek Stoffel

World News Editor

Derek Stoffel is a former Middle East correspondent, who covered the Arab Spring uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya and reported from Syria during the ongoing civil war. Based in Jerusalem for many years, he covered the Israeli and Palestinian conflict. He has also worked throughout Europe and the U.S., and reported on Canada's military mission in Afghanistan.