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With each flare-up, hope of peace diminishes

  • PaulaSlier
It has been days and nights of violent clashes in Jerusalem and across the West Bank. And it follows a clear pattern.
by PAULA SLIER | Jul 27, 2017

Come 19:30, my camerawoman and I take up our positions. We can choose to stand among the film crews, slightly off to the right of the Israeli police who remain poker-faced with rifles hanging from their shoulders.

The police are hugely outnumbered as they survey the crowd from behind metal barriers in front of one of the roads leading to Al Aqsa Mosque. Or we can stand opposite them; separated by a road on which thousands of Muslim worshippers kneel to pray. If we choose the latter, when the tear gas starts we will be in direct line of fire and more exposed, but the pictures will be better… 

The pattern continues. The fourth prayer of the day finishes and water bottles, zaatar pita bread, chocolate croissants and fruit juices are handed out for free amid a relaxed air of mingling. Occasionally someone shouts from a loudspeaker, quoting the Koran and encouraging the crowd to respond.

I chat with some of the other journalists; the question is always the same - will there be violence tonight and from which direction will it come?

Normally a busy intersection leading to the Old City, one can now only access Lion’s Gate on foot. All traffic has been re-routed and the three roads leading here each end in an Israeli police barricade. As the night wears on, the crowd continues to surge as more people arrive for the fifth and last prayer.

By the time it’s 21:30, one cannot move. Small carpets have been laid out on the streets and thousands of worshippers recite in unison after loudspeakers. A woman praying next to me is crying.

At the time of writing, the Israeli Security Cabinet just voted to remove metal detectors and cameras from the Temple Mount. The arithmetic is simple enough. Jerusalem introduced them after two Israeli security officers were killed guarding one of the entrances to the mosque.

 On paper, it makes sense as a way to prevent similar attacks from happening in future. Such security measures are already in place at the Western Wall and in Mecca, Saudi Arabia.

But they sparked outrage in the Arab world amid fears Israel was trying to undermine Jordanian administration of the site and impose its own sovereignty. Violent protests ensued - a reminder that what might seem logical from a security point of view, might not always be when viewed from a wider strategic perspective.

This is a case in point. Countries in the region that don’t see Israel as their enemy still see instability in Jerusalem as closely tied to their own citizens who care deeply about what happens at the Temple Mount.

And for this reason, no doubt, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who does not want to be seen as backing down to Palestinian demands to remove the additional security measures, seemingly decided to do so. 

But it’s not just Israeli-Arab tensions that flared up this past week. Hamas, encouraged by Iran, has a vested interest in what goes on in Jerusalem and has been urging Palestinians to take to the streets against the Zionists. The Al Aqsa protests feed the power struggle between Hamas and rival Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah faction.

But Abbas is not going anywhere soon and despite an initial phone call with Netanyahu that I wrote about last week and which seemed promising at the time, Abbas subsequently cut off all ties with Jerusalem.

Hamas criticised the move as meaningless but it is obviously Abbas’ way of gaining more leverage on the Palestinian and Arab street. 

Sadly, there is the human cost. The violent protests might soon fade away, but they have left (at date of writing) three Israelis murdered at their Shabbat dinner table by a 19-year-old Palestinian who felt “there is no life after what is seen in Al-Aqsa” and three Palestinian protesters killed by Israeli police. 

I met the father of 18-year-old Mohammad Lafi who died after being shot in the chest by live Israeli rounds. Mahmoud said his second-eldest child seldom went to demonstrations but, “You know kids. Israel crossed a red line and they listen to their preachers, unite around each other and go and protest.” His son, Mohammad, was planning to start his university studies next year. 

In the Halamish settlement where Yosef Salomon and his two adult children were killed at their Shabbat dinner last Friday, the murder scene is closed off by red police tape. Memorial candles burn on a small plastic table in the driveway.

Miri Ovadia, a neighbour, admits the community is traumatised. Her brother was home for the weekend from the army and on hearing the family’s screams, grabbed his gun and managed to shoot the Palestinian intruder.

She is still reeling from shock. And that is the sad reality - with each new flare-up of violence, the cost to both sides increases, and more often than not, so diminishes any real hope of peace. 

Paula Slier is the Middle East Bureau Chief of RT, the founder and CEO of NewshoundMedia and the inaugural winner of the Europcar Woman in Leadership Award of the Absa Jewish Achiever Awards. 

 

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