As Israel continues its encroachments on Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem, Palestine watchers are beginning to predict a Third Intifada,
Until only a few years ago, anti-Israeli demonstrations rocked student campuses in Arab capitals to protest against Israeli encroachments on the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam, and the ongoing Judaisation of East Jerusalem, the future capital of the Palestinian state.
But fewer than three years into the Arab revolutions that heralded a new political order free of western-backed dictatorships and boosting hopes for the Palestinians, this decades-long issue for the Arabs has been witnessing its most forgotten moment.
As it flounders in Syria and Egypt, the Arab Spring has also been guilty of apparently ignoring the deteriorating situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
In the besieged Gaza Strip, the Egyptian authorities have returned to applying stringent measures at the Rafah border crossing, which serves as the only gateway to the world for Palestinians that is not controlled by Israel.
The crossing is now being closed for days on end, only to open for 72 hours to allow a few Palestinians to enter or exit from Gaza. Reports of deaths and missed scholarships for students stranded at the crossing have barely been making their way into the media.
The Egyptian military’s destruction of the underground tunnels that linked Egypt to Gaza and were used for smuggling purposes to compensate for the pre-Revolution closure of the crossing also means that these no longer provide a life-line to the Strip.
In the West Bank, fears of possible Israeli plans to take control of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which has been run by the Palestinian Islamic waqf (religious endowment) since Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem in 1967, are mounting.
While the waqf manages the Mosque itself and Jordan’s Islamic waqf guards and Israeli police man the entrances of the Al-Haram Al-Sharif compound where the Al-Aqsa Mosque stands, Israel alone controls the single Mughrabi Gate.
In recent years, this Gate has been used to allow non-Muslims free entrance to the compound. Jewish access was largely restricted due to a Jewish religious edict that forbids Jews from entering. But this year the ban has been challenged, and the number of Jewish visitors has swelled, leading Palestinians to fear a radical change in the Mosque’s management, bringing it under the joint control of Israel.
They fear that the Al-Aqsa Mosque could receive the same fate as the 1,000-year-old Al-Ibrahimi Mosque, the fourth holiest site in Islam, in Hebron, which was divided in two after Israeli settler Baruch Goldstein killed 29 Palestinians on a shooting spree during Ramadan in February 1994. To date, Muslim access to the Mosque is still heavily restricted.
In 2000, the Second Intifada erupted, following deadly clashes triggered when the then Israeli Likud Party leader, Ariel Sharon, accompanied by 1,000 security guards, entered the Mosque compound.
The clashes extended across the Occupied Palestinian Territories and resonated in the Arab world when the Israeli occupying forces killed more Palestinians, including 11-year-old Mohammed al-Durra, whose tragic death was filmed and broadcast across the region causing massive Palestine solidarity demonstrations in various Arab capitals, notably Cairo.
This week marked the 13th anniversary of the Intifada on September 30, though this passed largely unnoticed aside from the clashes between Israeli police and Palestinian protestors in Jerusalem following Friday prayers over an increase in Jewish visitors.
On Friday, protests erupted outside the Al-Haram Al-Sharif, on a crossing between Israel and Gaza, and on the West Bank, raising the possibility of an emerging Third Intifada.
This notion has emerged over the past few years in response to the stalemate over various issues, including the fall-out between Hamas and Fatah and their subsequently both being discredited, the ailing Palestinian economy, the failure of the peace process, and the lack of any fair settlement for the Palestinians.
Over the past two weeks, two Israeli soldiers have been killed by Palestinians without any known affiliation to the existing resistance factions, these having practically stopped their operations against the Israeli occupying army. Throughout recent months, clashes between Palestinian protestors and the Israeli army have led observers to believe that a Third Intifada may now materialise.
A new group called the Intifada Youth Coalition has been leading the calls to protest against the Israeli encroachments on the sacred sites. While there was no massive turnout of protestors last Friday, Palestine watchers are keeping an eye on such youth-led initiatives to monitor signs of a Third Intifada.
Few if any are paying attention to the peace talks that resumed in August after a five-year lull.