A Third Intifada? Many East Jerusalem Officials Expect the Turmoil to Die Down

West Bank cities have not joined the violent protest, and despite all the violence, no protester has been killed or badly wounded.

Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson
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Palestinians hurl stones during clashes with Israeli police in Shoafat, an Arab suburb of Jerusalem July 2, 2014.
Palestinians hurl stones during clashes with Israeli police in Shoafat, an Arab suburb of Jerusalem July 2, 2014.Credit: Reuters
Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson

Mahmoud Abu Khdeir is the imam of the main mosque in Shoafat, a key Arab neighborhood in East Jerusalem. He’s also a head of the Abu Khdeir clan, one of whose members, 16-year-old Mohammed Abu Khdeir was abducted and murdered last week.

But over the weekend, the imam’s sermon was the most moderate in Jerusalem's mosques. He harshly criticized Israel but did not call for violence.

Mahmoud Abu Khdeir is also the only family member who saw the teen’s body after it had been burned. “It’s a good thing I saw it after the sermon or I would have spoken differently,” he says. “I’ve seen many bodies but never imagined I’d see something like that.”

The parents asked to see the body but other family members did not let them. “I want his mother to remember him looking well,” says the boy’s uncle, Said Abu Khdeir. “But I’d like to photograph it so that all Israelis can see it. I don’t need the world to see, only the Israelis, to see what they did to him.”

The gruesome descriptions of the charred body, released by the Palestinian Authority based on a Palestinian pathologist who attended the autopsy, have stoked Arab Israelis’ rage over the murder.

Still, Shoafat is seen as East Jerusalem’s bourgeois neighborhood. The people are well off, the roads are relatively clean and Israel’s only light-rail system passes through it.

“Learn from history,” Said says, pointing at the junction from which Mohammed Abu Khdeir was abducted on Wednesday. At this precise spot, say people in Shoafat, the first intifada started in 1987. That year neighborhood residents got the authorities to change a bus route because of all the stone throwing. All this took place before the riots in the Jabalya refugee camp, often seen as the true beginning of the intifada.

In 2014, too, the demonstrators vented their wrath at a symbol of public transportation, the light-rail system. Even if the train’s route remains the same, it will be weeks or months before normal operations resume in Shoafat.

The image that will be remembered from Friday – the most violent day in East Jerusalem in a decade – is of a man trying to saw through one of the light-rail system's electric poles. There are other signs of déjà vu from the first intifada – a Fatah poster, the formation of popular committees in every neighborhood, roadblocks being erected at night near the entrance to Shoafat, and vehicles being checked.

The pretext is rumors about Jewish cells searching for more Arab victims. In the last few days there has been a rash of reports about Palestinians being harassed in the city – a taxi driver who was hit by pepper spray, a young woman who was kicked off the train, a girl who was cursed at and a woman whose hijab was pulled off.

“A lot of people have been hurt and there’s a feeling that we need to defend ourselves,” says an East Jerusalem official.

Of course, it remains to be seen whether the turmoil of recent days will morph into a third intifada. But despite the déjà vu, as of Saturday night at least, most officials in East Jerusalem I spoke with said they expected the unrest to die down in the coming days.

Two things point in favor of calm. The cities of the West Bank did not join in the violent protest, unlike a few Arab cities inside Israel. And despite all the violence, no protester has been killed or badly wounded.

The riots in Jerusalem following Abu Khdeir’s funeral were very unusual. They spread from Shoafat to all of East Jerusalem’s Arab neighborhoods, including those considered very quiet. The police had blocked all the roads leading from the west to the east of the city. Every police station and Israeli institution became a target for rocks and firebombs.

Despite the harsh pictures of policemen beating a youth in Shoafat and other complaints of police brutality, the Jerusalem police deserve credit for getting through the day without a Palestinian being killed or seriously injured. If the unrest indeed subsides soon, it will be partly thanks to this.

Still, all the East Jerusalem Palestinians I spoke with said that as the investigation into Abu Khdeir’s murder drags on, the flames of the uprising are only rising.

At this point, no one in East Jerusalem doubts that Israeli Jews murdered Abu Khdeir. The family shows the footage of the abduction, points out the kidnappers and the color of their skin.

The police’s silence has led to a wave of rumors and conspiracy theories about why the truth is being concealed. Ahmed Sub Laban, a field researcher for the group Ir Amim, ran around all night from one scene of violence to another.

“We’re seeing a kind of civil war between the Palestinian residents and the settlers who are coming into the neighborhoods,” he says.

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