Israel's long campaign to break Palestinian spirits

The world is against him, but Netanyahu appears determined to make matters worse

Six people were killed on Friday in an eruption of violence caused by Israel’s decision to install metal detectors and cameras at the Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. Three Palestinian protesters were shot dead by Israeli security forces around the sacred site. But the violence quickly spread beyond Jerusalem and claimed innocent lives in the West Bank, as The National grimly predicted last week that it would.

These deaths were avoidable. Palestinians ungrudgingly complied with Israel’s decision to temporarily close down the Al Aqsa compound after two Israeli police officers were killed on July 14 by assailants who then sought sanctuary in the mosque. There was widespread condemnation of the attackers within the Palestinian community. The Israeli government could have used this moment of collective grief to build bridges. Instead, it chose to humiliate Palestinians. The Al Aqsa Mosque was sealed off for a week. It was the first time in centuries that Muslim worshippers went without praying there for such a prolonged period of time. Israel not only shrugged off the rising anger among Palestinians. It went a step further and announced that it was going to place metal detectors and cameras at the entrances to the mosque. This was the ultimate insult, as gratuitous as it was brazen.

As the unfolding events demonstrate, the decision to subject Palestinians to metal detectors has had the opposite effect to the stated objective of the Israeli government. Jerusalem is besieged by tensions. The relationship between the Palestinian administration and the Israeli government has broken down. The Jordan-based Waqf board, which administers the Al Aqsa Mosque, has condemned Israel’s actions as a breach of the status quo. The US state department has called for immediate steps to halt the escalation of violence triggered by Israel’s actions.

But Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, appears determined to make matters worse. Speaking in Europe last week, he ruled out removing the metal detectors. He even compared the metal detectors at the Al Aqsa Mosque to security measures he had spotted at the entrance to the Eiffel Tower in Paris. These comments reveal a shocking lack of appreciation on the Israeli government’s part of the gravity of the current crisis. Likewise those made by a senior Israeli official to BBC Arabic over the weekend. Maj-Gen Yoav Mordechai said that “we need a security solution, not political or religious”.

What is happening at the Al Aqsa Mosque cannot be isolated from the long history of Israel’s attempt to break the Palestinians. It is a continuation of a squalid trend. Israel provokes Palestinians and pushes them to the very edge, as if to test their limits and invite retaliation; and when violence breaks out, Israel rushes to paint the Palestinians as a fundamentally bloodthirsty people and itself as a blameless victim. There is one word for this: dishonesty.