Once again, deadly clashes have erupted in the Palestinian territories. Starting in East Jerusalem, the clashes soon extended to cities across the West Bank and the besieged Gaza Strip. So far, 32 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli army and police. Ten of them were assailants but the majority were stone throwers shot dead during demonstrations. And seven Israelis have been killed in Palestinian attacks, including stabbing, shooting and car ramming incidents.
Although Israel/Palestine is back in the news, the present situation is significantly different from those we have witnessed over the past few years. This is no longer about "settling the score" between Israel and "the terrorists" in Gaza. This isn't another round of fighting between Israel and Hamas. Rather, with the present clashes, quite worryingly for Israel and its supporters, Israel finds itself pitted against no particular Palestinian group or leadership, but primarily against Palestine's younger generation in the West Bank, inside Israel and in the Gaza Strip.
The current confrontations are spearheaded by neither Hamas nor Fatah. They are completely spontaneous and disorganized, led by thousands of ordinary and largely unaffiliated young people: stone-throwing demonstrators, individual assailants and the angry and disgruntled unheard youth. They are all entirely fed up with the present situation and disillusioned with their ludicrously incompetent and morally coward leadership.
Violence does not occur in a vacuum, and any discussion of violence has to start with addressing the context in which it occurs.
It is no surprise there has been plenty of coverage and analysis of this present flare-up. What motivates it clearly is not the loss of Palestinian life but that Jewish-Israeli lives are now also on the line. Whenever Palestinians step up their random attacks against Israelis, it is sufficient reason for the conflict to dominate the headlines. Albeit by no means comparable to the greater violence of the Israeli state -- a nuclear power with the strongest army in the Middle East, Palestinian violence still manages to generate worldwide attention and concern.
Phrases such as "renewed cycle of violence" and "upsurge in violence" are essentially references to Palestinian violence. Military occupation cannot be maintained without the everyday and systemic exercise of violence and the employment of excessive force; that is, Israel's violence against the Palestinians has never stopped nor abated. Such phrases therefore make sense only when seen from an Israeli perspective as referring to Palestinian violence.
I, for one, do not endorse acts of violence against civilians. But it does not take a lot of courage to condemn the use of violence altogether by both Palestinians and Israelis. But there is something fundamentally flawed with condemning violence without first making an effort to make sense of and comprehend what actually triggers it. Moreover, it is intellectually lazy and dishonest to claim that all (political) violence is the same -- hence under no circumstances could it be understood, let alone justified.
Palestinians cannot lose in this situation, for what is life if it is deprived of all that gives it meaning?
As widely varied as human experiences are, their motives for resorting to violence are equally various. Violence does not occur in a vacuum, and any discussion of violence has to start with addressing the context in which it occurs. In the context of Israel/Palestine, and without necessarily having to endorse violence, one ought to, in the least, take a step back and address the larger context of the ongoing clashes before hastily pronouncing judgements on Palestinian violence in a way that gives a façade of equality and symmetry to both sides but which only further clouds any understanding of a conflict that has dragged on for all those years.
In the wake of the current confrontations, most of the discussion has focused on the allegedly immediate reasons that led to the upsurge in Palestinian violence. The Netanyahu government's failure to uphold the status quo at the Al-Haram Al-Sharif -- what Jewish Israelis refer to as the Temple Mount -- has been cited as the reason behind current heightened tensions and mounting attacks. Israel's advocates respond by denying this claim and citing Netanyahu's reiterated denial of any intention to change the religious arrangement at Jerusalem's holy site, dismissing it merely as rumours and "wild incitement."
Nonetheless, whichever is the case, this whole discussion does not provide a plausible explanation of why the clashes have erupted, particularly now. Why, for example, is this happening now, while excavations at the Al-Haram Al-Sharif have persisted and peaked over the past few years? Israel's right-wing government under Netanyahu has not shied away from but rather been unsparing in declaring the whole of Jerusalem as its only and undivided capital. If anything, this could only be the spark that has, once again, set off decades of deep-rooted injustice and sustained oppression.
Palestinians should not be expected to tolerate all these years of brutal military occupation, land theft, house demolitions, repeated massacres, blockades and all sorts of systematic discrimination, which govern the smallest detail of their lives.
For Palestinians, the present uptick in violence is not an exceptional state of affairs; violence is the status quo: a direct military occupation in the West Bank, a years-long deadly blockade and frequent large-scale bombing operations in Gaza, systemic discrimination, forced expulsion and house demolitions in East Jerusalem. Israeli violence is an everyday experience that is enforced on the Palestinians and has engulfed their lives since their early years. Palestinians are regularly killed, beaten, maimed and arbitrarily arrested by Israeli soldiers and security forces. Death among Palestinians occurs not only due to Israel's direct attacks but also a result of its less covert, organized and structural forms of violence such as its life-crippling blockade over Gaza.
For this reason, nothing, Palestinians affirm, has changed for them. They cannot lose in this situation, for what is life if it is deprived of all that gives it meaning? In response, many of them have abandoned the last vestiges of normalcy in their lives and are lashing out against the state and society in which they see everything Palestinians lack.
It remains to be said there is something deeply troubling whenever "humanity" is conjured up in the wake of every incident of Palestinian violence against Israelis. The logic goes: "Neither Palestinians nor Israelis are supposed to kill each other." Somehow, it's no longer politics -- just morality. One is led to believe that Palestinians knife Israelis to death for no reason except hate. Palestinians are not madmen, though. We quickly forget and take no notice of the political context of violence which, it has been forewarned, would only make this new violence inevitable. We condemn the individual acts as though they come out of the blue. We, in all seriousness, expect Palestinians to do nothing in the face of the organized state-sponsored violence of the Israeli state and the injustice it inflicts on them.
It is precisely humanity that propels Palestinians to act in this way.
It is precisely humanity that propels Palestinians to act in this way. Because they are human, Palestinians should not be expected to tolerate all these years of brutal military occupation, land theft, house demolitions, repeated massacres, blockades and all sorts of systematic discrimination, which govern the smallest detail of their lives. It is human to become violent in the face of all of this.