Mar 14 2010

Quiet Riot

Published by at 11:25 pm under Rediscovering Israel

My colleagues back home might have noticed a tiny item in the news ticker at the bottom of their TV screen saying "Israel locks down West Bank". I only found out about the restriction as a colleague was checking her email on a Blackberry. We were traveling north towards a kibbutz in northern Israel along a road firmly located in the West Bank.

Why was the lock-down happening? Israeli police had been tipped off about a "planned riot" which was to be led in Jerusalem by certain malcontents from the West Bank.

The phrase struck me as odd. A planned demonstration, maybe. A scheduled protest, perhaps. But a "planned" spontaneous outburst of violent mob action?

But in this region of the world, "planned riots" are par for the course. Think back to the beginning of the Second Intifada. The popular myth is that it was sparked when Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon visited the Temple Mount. Sharon said at the time:

"I came here as one who believes in coexistence between Jews and Arabs… I believe that we can build and develop together. This was a peaceful visit. Is it an instigation for Israeli Jews to come to the Jewish people's holiest site?

According to reports in Western media in those days, it was.

We know now, from insiders such as the son of the founder of Hamas that the Second Intifada was completely premeditated by Yasser Arafat, who had rejected the peace plan of Oslo.

Mr. Yousef tells me that he was horrified by the pointless violence unleashed by politicians willing to climb "on the shoulders of poor, religious people." He says Palestinians who heeded the call "were going like a cow to the slaughterhouse, and they thought they were going to heaven."

Premeditated or not, the threat of the riots was enough to prompt a security clampdown. "When it comes to the international media coverage, a police crackdown is going to look a lot better than a riot," said one of my traveling companions from Canada, with a shrug.

What did the clampdown look like? Our van barely slowed down as we passed through the first checkpoint along the way. We were simply waved through. At the second checkpoint, we were actually stopped for about twenty seconds as a sentry asked our driver and guide a few questions. With a nod of his head as he stepped back from our vehicle, we were on our way.

Of course, Palestinians on their way out of Ramallah or other nearby towns might have been stalled in lineups elsewhere. The Israelis don't rely on "magical thinking" when it comes to security — in a country where 100 per cent of terror attacks on Jewish Israelis come from Palestinian men (and very rarely, women), the political correctness of profiling is made irrelevant, even if such practices makes outsiders squirm. But just as likely, the vast majority of Palestinians heard about the lockdown and barring an emergency, simply stayed in place.

Inconvenient for the Palestinians? Yes. Infuriating? Of course. But this is a different neighborhood than where I come from. You can't avoid the fact that Israelis are very much the targets for all kinds of violence that is both planned, random and types in-between.

Conflict management (as opposed to conflict resolution, which seems to be out of reach for now) dictates a level of security that people in other countries would find awfully intrusive and offensive — at least until they've experienced it themselves.

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