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Jerusalem chaos is a warning of things to come

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Reprinted from The National

From Hamas Praises Israel Shootings & Stabbings
Hamas Praises Israel Shootings & Stabbings
(image by David Pakman Show, Channel: MidweekPolitics)
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Among Palestinians and Israelis, the recent upsurge in violence has been variously described as the children's, lone-wolf, Jerusalem and smartphone intifadas. Each describes a distinguishing feature of this round of clashes.

The steady erosion of Fatah and Hamas's authority during the post-Oslo years, as the Palestinian factions proved incapable of protecting their people from the structural violence of the occupation, has driven Palestine's orphaned children to the streets, armed with stones.

The growing hopelessness and sense of abandonment have led a few so-called "lone wolves" to vent their fury on Israelis with improvised weapons such as knives, screwdrivers and cars. These attacks have attracted the most publicity, becoming the equivalent of the second intifada's suicide bomber. But they serve chiefly as a barometer of Palestinian despair.

Jerusalem is the centre of events, with the Palestinians' only unifying symbol, Al Aqsa mosque, at its heart. For Palestinians, the incremental takeover of the compound -- and the West's indifference -- is like watching the mass dispossession of 1948 play out again in slow motion.

In addition, Jerusalem is the main fault line. Israel's illegal annexation of the city has left Palestinians there in an extreme form of isolation -- indefinitely stateless and supremely vulnerable.

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And finally, the smartphone camera has allowed Palestinians to document their suffering and witness unmediated their compatriots' personal acts of resistance and self-sacrifice.

Futile knife attacks may appal outsiders, but for many Palestinians they are the moment when an individual briefly reclaims his or her agency and fights back on behalf of a collectively subjugated and humiliated people.

The need for so many different labels for these events reveals another important facet of the current Palestinian struggle: its disorganized nature.

Israel has almost completed the division and enclosure of Palestinians into disconnected enclaves. As they hear the sound of the prison doors closing, Palestinian youths are lashing out at the guards closest to hand.

Because the divisions between Palestinian populations have become so entrenched geographically, and their leaders politically, it is hard for Palestinians to find any unifying vision or organising principle. Do they fight first against their occupiers or their spent leadership?

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But the lack of planning and discipline has exposed Israel's own limitations too.

Israel has little but stopgap measures to defend against the protests. Its intelligence agencies cannot predict the lone wolf, its guns cannot deter the knife, its military might cannot subdue the craving for justice and dignity.

Strangely, in the face of all this, there are signs of a parallel breakdown of order and leadership on the Israeli side.

Lynch mobs of Jews patrol Jerusalem and Israeli cities, calling out "Death to the Arabs!" A jittery soldier causes pandemonium by firing his rifle in a train carriage after a bogus terror alert. An Israeli Jew stabs another because he looks "Arab."

Meanwhile, politicians and police commanders stoke the fear. They call for citizens to take the law into their own hands. Palestinian workers are banned from Jewish towns. Israeli supermarkets remove knives from shelves, while 8,000 Israelis queue up for guns in the first 24 hours after permit rules are eased.

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Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. He is the 2011 winner of the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are "Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East" (Pluto Press) and "Disappearing Palestine: (more...)

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