Jerusalem youths ready for new intifada

Jerusalem youths ready for new intifada
As tensions run high and amid continued Israeli settlement expansion and military restrictions, Palestinian youths say more violence is inevitable
4 min read
31 October, 2014
Friday has been designated a 'day of rage' [Getty]

Fourteen-year-old Hisham, who was born around the start of the second Palestinian intifada, dreams of a new uprising so he can play his part in "defending" Jerusalem's al-Aqsa mosque.


Al-Aqsa, situated in the heart of Jerusalem's Old City, is the buzzword for Hisham and his contemporaries – none of whom gave their real names for this article – since it once again became the focal point of the intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict.


The mosque compound, the third holiest site in Islam, represents for Palestinian youngsters the Israeli occupation and the oppression it brings.


For Hisham, the increasing number of Jewish visits to the site – the mosque area is also holy to Jews as the site of Judaism’s long-destroyed main temple – is the same thing as the more and more frequent arrest raids by Israeli security forces around his home in Shuafat refugee camp of occupied east Jerusalem.


      All the young people go in and out of prison on a regular basis.

"At 3:00 am, the soldiers come into the camp, impose a curfew, search the area, and then break and enter" into the houses of their targets, Hisham said.


"We're used to it. All the young people go in and out of prison on a regular basis."


Hisham recently spent his first stint in prison – a week for taking part in clashes with security forces – and will be tried within a month.


Mohammed, 20, who has just spent four months in prison, said his incarceration would not deter him.


"There's no peace in Jerusalem. It's an intifada," he said.


"I'm ready to go back and confront the Israeli soldiers. I can't bear seeing settlers on the mosque compound, when Muslims aren't allowed in."


Israel often blocks access to the site to Palestinian men under the age of 50, in security measures designed to avoid constant tension boiling over into clashes, which are frequent.


On Thursday, Israel shut al-Aqsa completely as anger over the police killing of a Palestinian accused of the attempted assassination of a hardline Jewish extremist let to clashes.


Root causes


Social worker Wael Mahmud said the reasons for the anger are deep-seated, rooted in the growth of Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem and the growing number of Jewish extremists inserting themselves in Palestinian areas.


Israeli settlement building in occupied territory is illegal according to international law. And of some 200,000 Israelis in east Jerusalem, mostly in Jewish-only settlement blocs, around 2,000 settlers live in the middle of Palestinian neighbourhoods.


A recent takeover of several properties in the flashpoint Silwan neighbourhood saw settlers move into 25 Palestinian-owned apartments.


Around 300,000 Palestinians live in east Jerusalem.


"Pressure has been mounting for years. Unemployment among young people is high and even those working find it difficult to cope with high living costs," Mahmud said.


Mahmud has been trying to negotiate with Israeli forces to maintain access to his east Jerusalem neighbourhood of Issawiya – 25,000 inhabitants – saying a lockdown could cause an explosion of violence.


Salah, a 23-year-old Issawiya resident, said he does "not believe in dialogue or peaceful solutions" as espoused by Mahmud.


"Israel wants to kick Palestinians out of Jerusalem. It's a religious, demographic conflict and they attack houses and now al-Aqsa.


Munzer Taleb, a leader of the Shuafat refugee camp scouts, said the Israelis "want to control us, force us to have biometric identity cards, and they're setting up more checkpoints."


'Only God on our side'


And the ritual, daily humiliation of passing through checkpoints, being searched and sometimes abused, quickly begins to take its toll.


Abu Mussa, a scout, was recently roughed up at a checkpoint.


"You have to be totally submissive, like a sheep, not to have problems with them (Israeli soldiers)," he said.


No one stands up for the Palestinians, said Abu Mussa – "neither the Israeli courts, nor any Palestinian institutions. We only have God on our side."


The latest violence in east Jerusalem has been building for months.


Early in the summer, Jewish extremists burned alive Palestinian teenager Mohammed Abu Khder in revenge for the killing of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank.


Then a 50-day war in Gaza between Israel and Hamas killed nearly 2,200 Palestinians, almost a quarter of them children, as east Jerusalem erupted in protest.


"Children grow up scared of being the next Abu Khder," said Mahmud.