The shocking kidnap-murder of Israeli teens Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaar and Naftali Frenkel in the West Bank on June 12, followed by the brutal revenge killing of Palestinian teen Muhammed Abu Khdeir in Jerusalem on July 1, have bred a level of anger and mistrust between Jews and Palestinians that many in Israel say they haven’t felt since the end of the bloody Second Intifada in 2005.
Over the past week, street attacks by extremists on both sides — combined with sweeping Israel Defense Forces (IDF) raids in the West Bank, and an exchange of rockets and bombs between Gaza and southern Israel — have, by all accounts, made the region a frightening, at times nauseating, place to be.
“Jewish-Arab co-existence has failed,” Israeli-Arab author Sayed Kashua, creator of the popular Israeli sitcom “Arab Labor,” wrote on July 4, in a column titled, “Why Sayed Kashua is leaving Jerusalem and never coming back.”
These days in Jerusalem, a holy capital for both Israelis and Palestinians, everyone on the street seems to be looking over their shoulders, profiling passersby, side-stepping. “Jerusalem is afraid,” photojournalist Alessandro Di Maio Tweeted on July 6. “The park is empty, friends prefer to stay home at night, pubs of friends closed. Both, Israelis and Palestinians.”
They have reason to stay inside. Mobs of right-wing Jewish youth, fired up over both the triple murder in the West Bank and what they see as Israel’s weak military response, have been marching through the streets — not only in Jerusalem, but also in Tel Aviv, Be’er Sheba and some smaller towns — chanting “Death to Arabs” and chasing after, sometimes attacking, Palestinians.
“Lately we are living in fear,” said Turkan Abu Rahema, a Palestinian mother living in the old Arab port town of Jaffa, now annexed into Tel Aviv. “I usually pray in the mosque for Ramadan, but because of the stressed situation, I’m staying home.” She spoke to the Journal outside her home at 2 a.m. in a night robe, just after, she said, her kids were chased by a mob of about 30 Jewish residents. When Abu Rahema’s children tried to run back into their home, she said she physically blocked members of the mob from running in after them. “They told me, ‘Bring us your kids, we want to take your kids,” she said.
Israeli media outlets have likewise reported incidents of Palestinians attacking Jewish drivers and stoning passing vehicles.
“I feel unsafe in my own city,” said Shimrit Ventura, a 29-year-old Jerusalem resident. “And I need to get to work in [the Beit El settlement] tomorrow. I almost said I’m not going, but everyone said, ‘You cannot just stop your life now.’”
On a much larger scale, thousands of Palestinian citizens of Israel have been rioting in response to the murder of Abu Khdeir — along with what they see as their second-class status in the country and Israel’s military presence in the Palestinian territories.
"They killed our brother," Muhammed Abu Daoud, a 23-year-old protester who battled police after Abu Khdeir’s funeral in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Shuafat. "We're sad, but this makes us proud. We want to end this fighting. We don't need Israel. We need to be victorious for ourselves."
Violent protests in Arab towns across Israel have gone on for hours, through the day and night, as Palestinians engage in a brutal exchange with police: They hurl stones and set things on fire, while riot cops respond with tear gas canisters, stun guns and plastic bullets.
Hundreds have been hospitalized with gashes and bruises — most notably, U.S. citizen Tariq Abu Khdeir, a 15-year-old cousin of Mohammed, the Palestinian boy infamously burnt alive in the Jerusalem Forest by Jewish extremists. After a neighbor caught uniformed Israeli policemen on camera punching and kicking Tariq unconscious, his story drew international media attention and added to local fury. (“This happens to the Palestinians every single day,” Tariq’s mother said in a video interview. “He's just one of the Americans who happened to be here, so he got the opportunity for all the media and the whole world to hear him, for once.”)
All across Israel, friends are asking friends: “Could this be this the Third Intifada?”
While, as of press time on Tuesday, violence between civilians has not escalated to the mass killings and suicide bombings that characterized the First and Second Intifadas, multiple Palestinian protesters interviewed by the Journal said that, yes, the current protests may be the seeds of the next big uprising.
“We're defending our families," said one young man throwing stones at police after Abu Khdeir’s funeral, who wished to stay anonymous. “We’re making a Third Intifada.”
Others have been hesitant to use the “I” word. Shuafat, the East Jerusalem neighborhood where Abu Khdeir was kidnapped and where the riots began, is still the site of fierce clashes each night, but they don’t seem to be growing. And IDF soldiers have clamped down hard on demonstrations in West Bank cities like Bethlehem, Ramallah and Hebron, scattering protesters with copious amounts of tear gas and other projectiles.
Shifra Sagy, chair of the Martin-Springer Center for Conflict Studies and Negotiation at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, said she has heard more warnings of restraint from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, as well as Arab leaders within Israel, than she did in the days leading up to the last two intifadas.
However, she said — speaking over the phone between air-raid sirens, just outside Be’er Sheba — “There are islands of anger and rage,” and with the smallest spark, “it could suddenly go out of control.”
As National Public Radio (NPR) correspondent Ari Shapiro gauged in a July 7 radio report: “It’s a tit-for-tat that seems to be getting worse by the day.
In the midst of taping the NPR segment, Shapiro witnessed firsthand an attack against his Arabic translator, Nuha Musleh, after she asked a female Palestinian shopkeeper in Jerusalem’s Old City about escalating tensions.
“The neighboring Palestinian boys throw rocks at the Israeli solders and the settlers,” the shopkeeper answered. “The soldiers respond by spraying sewer water or shooting rubber bullets.”
And then: “I’ve never been so scared, so frightened, for my safety…”
But the young woman was cut off by a blood-curdling scream, caught on air — Musleh’s, as she was hit by a “fat, sharp chunk of concrete.” A kid who chased after the attackers described the attackers to NPR as “religious Jews wearing black.”
Intifada or no, the recent killings of Israeli and Palestinian teens have been gut-wrenching for all. And Abu Khdeir’s horrific lynching, along with the racist mobs now calling for more Arab blood, have caused an existential crisis for Israel’s more moderate Jews. “I feel very sad for my country. I don’t understand Jewishness in this way,” Sagy said.
For decades, Sagy has been studying the psychology of the two sides, and their capacity for empathy — including an initiative earlier this year to take Palestinian students to Auschwitz, and Israeli students to Palestinian refugee camps. Yet over time, she said, she has only seen increased radicalization within Israel’s youth.
She blames this on an increasingly nationalistic curriculum in Israeli schools, an isolation from the Palestinian population and a rise in right-wing politicians who make extremist statements to the public.
“In the last years, racist opinions are now heard aloud,” Sagy said. “What I see is that leadership is going after the voice of the street. Everyone wants to look more radical and more strong, and more nationalist.”
After the three Israeli teens were found crudely buried under rocks in a field outside Hebron, Knesset member Ayelet Shaked wrote a lengthy Facebook post (which she has since removed) declaring war not only on Palestinian terrorists, but on civilians. “In wars the enemy is usually an entire people, including its elderly and its women, its cities and its villages, its property and its infrastructure,” she wrote. Her post got thousands of likes.
Israelis watch as smoke rises after air strikes across the border in northern Gaza on July 8. Photo by Amir Cohen/Reuters
And in a statement whose meaning has been much-debated, Netanyahu himself Tweeted: “Vengeance for the blood of a small child, Satan has not yet created.”
Eli Shmueli, a 37-year-old neurobiologist participating in a peace rally in Jerusalem, said that because of the public statements, “Even people I work with — people with PhDs, people with families — got in this national mood that we need to avenge their death.”
However, Netanyahu responded quickly and harshly when Abu Khdeir’s burned body was found in the forest, condemning the murder as “abhorrent” and warning vigilantes against “taking the law into their own hands.” (He later added: “That’s the difference between us and our neighbors. They consider murderers to be heroes. They name public squares after them. We don’t. We condemn them and we put them on trial and we’ll put them in prison.”)
The Israeli peace camp has done its best to stem the rampant racism on its own. An anti-fascist march in Tel Aviv the day after Abu Khdeir was found dead drew thousands. “Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies,” they chanted, and: “There’s no difference between one blood and another.”
Rachel Frenkel, the mother of one slain Israeli teen, also soothed the nation when she released the following statement from her shiva mourning tent: “If a young Arab really was murdered for nationalist reasons, this is a horrifying and shocking act. There is no difference between blood and blood. Murder is murder. There is no justification, no pardon and no atonement for murder.”
The interaction between the Jewish and Muslim mourning tents on both sides — the shiva and the azza — has become perhaps the week’s most high-profile symbol of peace. The head rabbi of Gush Etzion, where the three teens were kidnapped, reportedly arranged for two Palestinians from Hebron to visit the Frenkels’ shiva. And on Tuesday afternoon, an Israeli non-profit arranged for hundreds of Jews to visit the Abu Khdeir azza.
Smoke and flames following what police said was an Israeli air strike in Rafah on July 8. Photo by Ibraheem Abu Mustafa/Reuters
The latter encounter was tense. “I don't want your hug, I want you to go to your government,” a member of Abu Khdeir’s family told one Israeli visitor, according to Mondoweiss reporter Allison Deger.
In general, the family has been wary of visits from Israeli politicians and delegations, reportedly turning away former Israeli President Shimon Peres.
Abu Khdeir’s father told Haaretz that he wants actions, not words:
“This might be the start of the Third Intifada,” he said. “I think it’s all in the Israeli government’s hands to make peace or a new intifada. The Palestinian leadership is weak and has no real power. Israel is at a point now where it must choose.”
Large groups of Jewish youth have also been crying out against the Israeli government at Zion Square in Jerusalem each night, clashing with smaller peace rallies and calling on the IDF to wipe out the Palestinians. At a July 7 rally, they also called for the blood of all Arab members of Knesset, and said of liberal female politicians: “Haneen Zoabi is a whore! Tipzi Livni is gay!”
Livni, Israel’s justice minister and an integral player in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, attended a peace conference held by Haaretz the next day — the first day of the IDF’s new “Operation Protective Edge” in Gaza. “If we’re not already in the Third Intifada, we’re on the verge,” she said to the crowd.
The peace conference went down in flames. First, there was a dramatic stage exit from Arab-Israeli author Kashua, who — after telling the audience, “I live in fear” — couldn’t sit through commentary from Israel Harel, chairman of the Institute for Zionist Strategies, on why Jews are less likely to commit savage killings than Arabs.
In the end, the peace conference had to be evacuated as an air-raid siren signaled rockets from Gaza had reached Tel Aviv.
An Iron Dome launcher fires an interceptor rocket in the southern Israeli city of Ashdod July 8, 2014. At least 16 people were killed in strikes across the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, Palestinian officials said, as Israel threatened a lengthy offensive against Islamist militants whose rocket fire reached as far as Tel Aviv. REUTERS/Baz Ratner