No matter what happens next, we must ensure that things do not go back to the way they were. The way things were before this ‘wave,’ or ’round’ of violence was an occupation that is about to turn 50.
Israelis have experienced suicide bombings, shootings, tractor attacks, vehicular attacks, and stabbings over the past decade. Palestinians have experienced massive military operations in the West Bank, the violent suppression of legitimate protest everywhere, discriminatory police brutality and societal racism inside Israel, and four wars in Gaza.
What’s taking place right now in Israel and Palestine is not new. It has been going on for years, albeit with lower frequency. Levels of hate and xenophobia are rising. The demonization of the Other is as high as it’s been in recent memory. And nobody, absolutely nobody, has any reason to be optimistic. The most hopeful things anybody can muster is that: a) it could be worse; b) maybe it will wind down; c) it could be worse.
And they are right. It has been worse and it could get even worse than it was in the past. Or things could wind down. Neither Israelis nor Palestinians have a leader or civil society figure who is offering anything other than escalation or a return to the situation of three weeks ago. And neither of those options is any good.
Israeli authorities understand there is little they can do to counter the spontaneous type of attacks being carried out against Israeli security forces and civilians alike. The country’s security chiefs have offered nothing but praise for the Palestinian leadership in recent days, saying that Abbas and the PA security forces are doing everything in their power to lower the flames — but also that their influence is limited among those individuals participating in protests and carrying out attacks. Hamas, too, is taking steps to ensure the violence doesn’t creep any more than it has into Gaza.
Israel’s political leadership, on the other hand, is dropping blame like cluster bombs anywhere it even smells a Muslim leader with a little bit of influence. Abbas is inciting. Hamas is inciting. Haneen Zoabi is inciting. Jordan is inciting. Even Erdogan is inciting.
Back in Jerusalem, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is schedule to attend a memorial for Rehavam “Gandhi” Ze’evi on Tuesday (nicknamed for his Gandhi-like appearance, not non-violence). Ze’evi, best known for his advocacy of ethnically cleansing Palestine, was a radical right-wing politician assassinated by the PFLP in 2001. Nothing to see here, move along.
Many Israeli commentators, and plenty of regular citizens, are still asking whether this is the Third Intifada. Others are smart enough to note that it doesn’t really matter. What is taking place this week is the same thing that has been taking place since the 1970s. It is the same thing that will happen again and again, with varying frequency, until the occupation ends.
But what if this is something different? What if it’s the beginnings a civil war, as Noam Sheizaf suggested we’re seeing hints of? Would that mean we are entering a new phase of the conflict? One that, out of which a new paradigm for living together might rise from the smoke or, god forbid, the ashes of whatever comes next?
Let’s hope that’s not even the question. And yet we must also do everything to ensure that things do not go back to the way they were. The way things were before this “wave,” or “round” of violence was an occupation that is about to turn 50. It was a discriminatory regime for 1.6 million Palestinians living in Israel, an apartheid regime for 2.6 million Palestinians in the West Bank, and life under siege for 1.8 million Palestinians in Gaza.
The future of three weeks ago was one in which Israeli parents could be certain their children will live through an intifada of their own, in which on their 18th birthday they will be sent to join an army whose primary mission is to keep another nation under its boot. It was a future full of fear of equality, fear that the other nation might one day slip out from under the boot, fear that the two peoples’ roles might one day be reversed.
No politically minded leader is going to start talking about building a future together this week — but a real leader would do just that. Maybe the two-state solution isn’t dead. Maybe a one-state reality is more undeniable than ever. There’s no better time to find out. The good news is we know exactly what to do first: start ending the occupation tonight.