realclearworld Newsletters: Mideast Memo
A recent spate of deadly stabbings and shootings in the Israeli city of Jerusalem evokes painful and violent memories of Palestinian insurgencies past for many Israelis, and leaves many wondering if this latest round of attacks represents the embers of yet another protracted flare up.
Ostensibly at the root of these attacks is the Old City holy site known to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif -- home to the al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock shrine, and as the Temple Mount to those of the Jewish faith. Rumors began circulating weeks ago about an imminent takeover of al-Aqsa by the Israeli government -- Jordan and Israel share custodial responsibilities of the site -- a fear spurred by the recent attempts of right-wing Israelis to visit the compound, most notably during the Jewish fast day of Tisha B'Av, which commemorates the destruction of two ancient and revered temples believed to have been located there.
"This flare up stems from the energetic dissemination of the false claim that Israel is about to permit Jews to pray on the Temple Mount, and/or otherwise change the policies that Israel has maintained at arguably the world's most incendiary holy site," writes the Times of Israel's David Horovitz. This rumor, as Horovitz explains, has been capitalized on by the otherwise aloof leadership of the Palestinian movement, but the paranoia isn't entirely without merit.
"When an Israeli minister breaches the prohibition on Jewish prayer during a filmed visit to the Mount -- step forward Jewish Home's Uri Ariel -- the entire Muslim world is watching."
Compounding problems is an ongoing dispute over the religious exegesis behind the site: While each side takes issue with the other's spiritual claim to the location, neither would dare permit the kind of archaeological investigation necessary to test those assertions.
"The logical thing would be to dig," said Jodi Magness, professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina, in an interview with the New York Times. However, "[i]f you did that, you'd probably cause World War III to break out. It's not even in the realm of possibility."
But if al-Aqsa provided the spark, it's the systemic, and undeniable, neglect of Jerusalem's Palestinian inhabitants that has provided the tinder. Transit, education, jobs -- infrastructure and opportunity long promised to Jerusalem's Arabs -- were never delivered, argues Akiva Eldar, and Israel is now reaping the consequences of such indifference.
"A Jew who dares visit Akeb, the northernmost of Jerusalem's neighborhoods, bordering Ramallah, or the Shuafat refugee camp, would not find it hard to understand why youths from these neighborhoods stab Jews and throw stones at them," writes Eldar.
With Israeli security forces set to seal off East Jerusalem in an effort to stem the violence, that restiveness felt by Palestinians on both sides of the West Bank barrier is only likely to increase. And for young Palestinians -- most of whom weren't alive during the first intifada, and are too young to remember the second -- a different kind of uprising appears to be underway.
"For people who live online, and young Palestinians do live online, it looks like the intifada has already started," Orit Perlov, social media analyst at the Institute for National Security Studies, told Al-Monitor.
Making this round of unrest even more unpredictable is a dated and distant Palestinian leadership, which, says Perlov, has also failed to deliver for its young people. With Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' approval ratings on the decline, it would appear as though the Palestinian Authority lacks the actual authority to control or curtail the unease percolating among its people.
The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, too, has a responsibility to help calm Palestinian anxieties and quell the violence. As custodian of Muslim affairs at Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, the kingdom should engage all Palestinians through social media and other outlets to put to rest any rumors of an Israeli takeover at al-Aqsa.
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Around the Region
Saving the Jews of Yemen. As Israeli Jews wonder and worry about when and where the next attack may occur, the Jews of war-torn Yemen are now fighting for their lives. The Washington Post's Adam Taylor has the story:
"Yemen's Jewish community have a history in southern Arabia that stretches back to the time of King Solomon. After the rise of Islam, they appeared to have a tenuous though mostly peaceful relationship with their Muslim neighbors, though there were periods of violence and pogroms.
"Now, an Israeli member of parliament is saying that the remaining members of Yemen's Jewish community have reached out to him to say that the Houthi-led government has told them to ‘convert or leave the state.'
"We need to act fast to get them out and we will do that, God willing," Ayoub Kara, a Druze lawmaker with the right-wing Likud party, told the Jerusalem Post."
Sending a message to Rouhani. Mideast scholar Haleh Esfandiari argues that the conviction in Iran this week of Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian was intended to send a clear message to moderate President Hassan Rouhani -- no, Iran is not open for business:
"The conviction is a way of saying that [Iranian hardliners] are not subject to Mr. Rouhani's control. They care little if, at the moment Iran's president and his economic team are seeking to attract foreign investment, they are sending the message that Mr. Rouhani has limited power to guarantee the safety of the foreign investors and the Iranians who do business with them. Fearful of a "soft war" and a "soft revolution," Ayatollah Khamenei is leaving Iran's government and security agencies working at cross purposes."
The Islamic State's deep bench. Following Iraqi reports from earlier this week of a successful airstrike on ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Michael Georgy and Mariam Karouny of Reuters report on the veteran jihadists and ex-Iraqi officers who back up the ISIS emir, should anything befall him:
"Baghdadi, who rarely appears in public and delivers few audio speeches, makes the vast majority of decisions, including which of the group's enemies should be killed.
"Baghdadi does, however, lean on a small circle of senior Islamic State aides such as Abu Mohammad al-Adnani, the group's official spokesman, as he pursues a mission which his fighters describe as ‘part of God's path to create a strong Islamic State that will rule the world.'
"Born in 1977 in Idlib, Syria, Adnani has delivered Islamic State's main messages, including its declaration of a caliphate, which was distributed in five languages."