Skip to main content

Intifada: The writing was on the wall

Anyone claiming to be surprised that a third uprising is imminent has been burying their head in the sand for the last decade

Only rarely does a cliche as well-worn as this one hit the mark so precisely: The writing is on the wall, indeed. My readers will pardon me; no response, explanation or analysis seems more pertinent, at this juncture, when the danger of a third Palestinian Intifada breaking out seems greater than at any time in the last decade. Anyone claiming to be surprised has not been living in the Middle East over the last 10 years. Anyone who claims to be surprised has, along with most Israelis, been burying his head in the sand for a decade. The only surprising thing is that a renewed uprising has taken a decade to occur.

Israeli security figures are still trying to minimise the obvious, insisting that this is only a “wave of terror,” not an Intifada. They said exactly the same thing when the two previous Intifadas erupted. When the first Intifada began, I met members of the entourage of the then Minister of Defence Yitzhak Rabin, visiting the United States at the time, in a large New York department store. There was no reason to hurry home to Israel, they said; everything was under control. Nor was the second Intifada exactly anticipated. Yet both erupted, intensely, the second worse than the first. The dimensions of the third will be greater still.

Not yet clear is whether the events occurring right now will develop into a full-blown Intifada or not, but meantime there will be no period of quiet between the Jordan River and the sea any time soon. It’s true that there have been various factors preventing, thus far, the outbreak of a third Intifada: the heavy price paid by the Palestinians for the second Intifada that failed to achieve anything whatever for them; the absence of a leadership moving the people toward another broad uprising; internal Palestinian divisions, greatly intensified in recent years, between Fatah and Hamas; the international isolation of the Palestinians amid growing international indifference; and the slightly improved economic situation on the West Bank.

But all these factors, most of them still in play, cannot over time prevent a third Intifada from erupting. Even if Israeli security forces somehow manage to stuff this reawakening genie back in its bottle, it won’t stay there for long. And they are unlikely to succeed in any case. At this writing, a day after two Jews were murdered in Jerusalem’s Old City, some 100 Palestinians have already been wounded by the Israeli Army and Israeli police in disturbances throughout the West Bank: an ominous portent.

The writing has been on the wall because Israel’s conduct, in all its insufferable arrogance and imperviousness, cannot fail to lead to another terrible explosion. The West Bank has been quiescent for nearly 10 years, during which time Israel has consistently proven to the Palestinians that quiet will be met only with an intensification of the occupation, settlement expansion, more home demolitions and more mass arrests – including thousands of so-called administrative detainees who are incarcerated without trial, continuing confiscation of land, wholly useless incursions and arrests, and an itchy finger on the trigger resulting in dozens of needless human deaths and countless provocations inflaming Muslim sensibilities regarding al-Aqsa and the Temple Mount.

Are Palestinians to assent to all of this in silence? To show restraint when the Dawabsheh family is burnt alive in Duma and no one is arrested or brought to trial by Israel, while Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon boasts that Israel knows who perpetrated that shocking crime but, to safeguard its intelligence network, will not arrest them?

What people could maintain restraint in the face of such a sequence of events, with the entire might of the occupation in the background, without hope, without prospects, with no end in sight. No negotiations are underway, even in secret, the two-state solution is apparently permanently dead and Israel has no alternative to offer – and the Palestinians are to accept all of that and sit still? Nothing like that has ever happened anywhere, nor will it ever.

While quiet has been sustained on the other side of the Wall for nearly 10 years, Israel has proven that there is no chance it will act as a partner for serious negotiations about the status of the West Bank, and that it has no intention of ending the occupation, with or without terrorism. A government that has the president of the United States wound around its little finger, incurring no punishment in return, has become drunk with power toward the Palestinians too. That’s what happens when the world permits Israel to run rampant in Gaza and the West Bank, inflating Israel’s arrogance and intoxication of power beyond all boundaries.

Now the bill is coming due. Those who imagined that Israel could go on this way forever, and that the Palestinians would continue to acquiesce, to submit, indefinitely – has simply never read a history book. No people anywhere has ever acquiesced in its own conquest without resistance, and certainly not in modern times. Resistance is its right, incidentally, enshrined in international law.

Now the bill is coming due: Intifada, the wave of an uprising that has been temporarily forgotten but will now come again, and soon. The truth is, these distinctions don’t matter anymore. The third Intifada is already here or, in the best case, is just around the corner. Benjamin Netanyahu and Israel’s current government, historically right-wing, nationalist and religious, have no intention of doing anything to prevent the pending eruption, and there will only be more bloodshed, more checkpoints, more arrests, more detentions, more destruction and more killing. This is the only language spoken by the current government of Israel; it has no other. There is no chance that this government will tread a different path.

Given this state of affairs, the current crisis sits squarely at the doorstep of the international community. Absent a responsible entity in Israel, responsibility is devolved there. The international community has long behaved fawningly toward Israel but this method, over half a century, has proven itself a resounding failure.

The time has now arrived to change the rules of the game for the international community as well, first and foremost the United States: whoever now continues enabling Israel to run amok while taking no real steps to end the occupation, will also bear responsibility for the next round of violence in the region. And the bloodshed will not be confined between the Jordan River and the sea; in the history of this conflict, its crises have always reached further than that, exacerbating the bloodshed occurring elsewhere in the world. Let the indifferent world bestir itself now and take notice.

Gideon Levy is a Haaretz columnist and a member of the newspaper's editorial board. Levy joined Haaretz in 1982, and spent four years as the newspaper's deputy editor. He was the recipient of the Euro-Med Journalist Prize for 2008; the Leipzig Freedom Prize in 2001; the Israeli Journalists’ Union Prize in 1997; and The Association of Human Rights in Israel Award for 1996. His new book, The Punishment of Gaza, has just been published by Verso. 

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Photo: Palestinian youth burn tyres during clashes with Israeli soldiers close to the Jewish settlement of Bet El, in the West Bank city of Ramallah after Israel barred Palestinians from Jerusalem's Old City on October 4, 2015 (AFP)

Stay informed with MEE's newsletters

Sign up to get the latest alerts, insights and analysis, starting with Turkey Unpacked

Middle East Eye delivers independent and unrivalled coverage and analysis of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. To learn more about republishing this content and the associated fees, please fill out this form. More about MEE can be found here.