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The al-Aqsa Intifada begins
Gila Svirsky, Israel
October 5, 2000
A week has passed since the violence began in the region, and I would like to share some thoughts with you:
About the violence:
Yes, Arik Sharon’s arrogant and provocative visit to the Temple Mount/Haram a-Sharif did trigger the violence, but Palestinian anger was long-simmering and looking for an excuse to explode.
Arafat did not "organize" the riots, nor does he have sufficient control to stop them cold. At best, he can gradually slow them down. The riots were mostly spontaneous and "contagious" during the first days, although by now they have been coopted by various politicians and street leaders for their own purposes.
The reaction of the Israeli forces was aggressive well beyond acceptable needs of self-defense. Some examples: the use of missiles (from both ground and helicopters), the assassination of street leaders by snipers, and the use of weapons, including automatic guns, to quell demonstrations and riots.
The demonstrations inside Israel by Palestinians who are Israeli citizens were fueled by two sources: (a) bitter anger caused by years of discrimination and refusing them "partnership" in the state; and (b) solidarity with the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories.
The vast majority of Israeli civilians were exposed to the violence only on TV, although a few did get caught in crossfire.
Yes, I do support an international committee of inquiry into the violence.
About the politics:
Barak has much to learn. He is still trying to behave like a war-hero, rather than a statesman. Soon we may have a so-called "emergency government" in Israel, with Sharon in the coalition. It boggles the mind and heart.
Arafat may have strengthened his hand among Palestinians by coopting the riots (for internal consumption). If he unilaterally declares a state in the coming days, he stands to gain even more street support, although it will bring a wave of problems, including Israeli over-reaction in response.
About the Israeli peace camp:
The peace camp in Israel is feeling revulsion toward Sharon, Barak, and the iron fist behavior of the Israeli armed forces. This feeling is not very different from the early Intifada days, although today we have many peace groups to organize our actions. There are daily demonstrations by small groups of Israeli leftists, although we have yet to see Peace Now, the largest peace group, call its constituents onto the streets. The theory is that they don’t want to "undermine Barak" because the alternative—Sharon or Netanyahu—would be worse.
The slogans of the peace camp at our demonstrations still capture the essence of the problem and the solution. They are as follows (quoted from Adam Keller and Beate Zilversmidt’s excellent report): "Stop shooting!"—"Down with the Occupation"—"Stop the murder of demonstrators!"—"We have no children for unnecessary wars!"—"Get out of the Territories—Now!"—"Killing Palestinians is not the way to peace"—"Hands off the Temple Mount"—"Sharon sets the fire, Barak kills"—"Enough blood has been shed"—"Yes to the 1967 borders"—"29 dead Palestinians on Rosh Hashana—Happy New Year!"
I can only end with hopes that we can soon bring this violence to an end and transform it, finally, into a peace with justice.
Gila Svirsky is an Israeli peace and human rights activist.