Tens of thousands of families in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are currently living in fear that their children will be killed, injured or arrested in confrontations with the Israeli army or while attempting to carry out lone-wolf attacks.
When their children leave in the morning, they don’t know whether they are really going to school or to friends or to demonstrate at an army checkpoint or to attack an Israeli with a knife. No less than the Israeli and Palestinian intelligence forces, the parents are amazed at the mass, unorganized wave sweeping over the young generation of Palestinians and putting them at risk.
In the face of this uncertainty, each family knows that it, too, may become a statistic, subject to collective punishment — subject to having its home demolished or sealed, having a family member expelled from Jerusalem, having siblings or parents arrested and beaten by security forces or being targetted for months on end by the Shin Bet security service. For the time being, it appears that the green light that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave for collective punishment and shooting at demonstrators is not deterring the lone wolves and the thousands of young people gathering at checkpoints, defying fate and the soldiers.
One of the assumptions of Israeli and Palestinian intelligence is that those carrying out the lone-wolf attacks are influenced by social media. That’s true, but they are also influenced by video clips, some of which appear on Israeli sites first, depicting the routine violence that Israel directs at Palestinians. Those speaking of incitement are underestimating the influence of Israeli soldiers killing Palestinians civilians.
For instance, there are the cases of Ahmed Khatatbeh of Beit Furik and Hadil Hashlamun of Hebron, whom the Israel Defense Forces claimed were shot to death after attacking soldiers. A press investigation revealed that no such attack occurred. And then, early last Sunday, there was the case of Fadi Alon of Isawiyah in Jerusalem. The police said he had stabbed a Jew and was therefore shot to death. A YouTube video on Israeli websites showed clearly that, even if he did carry out a stabbing, he didn’t pose a danger to anyone when he was shot. It also showed that young Jews had told a policeman to shoot him without knowing what Alon had allegedly done. The videos are fodder, ready to ignite the situation, but they are not the reason for it.
Every family fearing for a son or daughter lives this fodder in the form of the Israeli occupation, so they are not only fearful but also proud in advance. They cry a collective “we’ve had enough,” these young people, the lost generation of the Oslo Accords of the 1990s. They don’t have the independent state they were promised, don’t have active political organizations or a leadership they can look up to. They also don’t have prospects for a good job and feel increasingly hemmed in by Jewish settlements.
There is a major difference between the lone-wolf attackers and the thousands of young people marching to West Bank army checkpoints. The lone-wolf is indeed very alone and has reached the depths of despair. The confrontations at the checkpoints, as with any collective action, is a kind of public gathering, which despite the risks involved, has a social dimension, providing a sense of being able to influence the situation.
Palestinian spokespeople are careful not to call the clashes an intifada, but rather a mass outburst, which is appropriate under the circumstances. An intifada, as the Palestinians understand it, is an organized uprising with a clear and unified goal directed by a recognized and accepted leadership. That’s far from the current situation.
The disintegrating Fatah movement can’t lead the outburst and turn it into an uprising, but it has warned against the use of live ammunition at demonstrations, which it says would serve Israel’s needs. Hamas, which is a semi-underground movement in the West Bank, also can’t and perhaps wouldn’t dare, although the Islamic bloc at the universities, which is identified with Hamas, has called for its followers to join in the current unrest.
And Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas? Several days ago, when newspapers began reporting the clashes and the casualties, he found time to dedicate the new, luxurious headquarters of a construction and investment firm, Consolidated Contractors Company, at a location in the West Bank town of El Bireh that is two kilometers at most from the restive Beit El checkpoint.
Abbas is trying to project a sense of business as usual. Perhaps he knows something the young demonstrators don’t. But the time he found for the dedication of the company offices shows how cut off he is from the public. Reality shows that he has no authority or power to prevent this lost Oslo generation from going to the checkpoints and expressing their collective cry of “we’re fed up,” which ultimately is also directed at Abbas himself.