Jerusalem attacks are no isolated incident: the third intifada is here

The attempt on the rabbi’s life was the culmination of months of tension in East Jerusalem. The city is home to around 250,000 Palestinians who hold Israeli ID cards and pay taxes to Israel, but there have been repeated efforts by certain Jewish religious groups to buy Palestinian property in order to create a Jewish majority in the city.

The synagogue attack is therefore neither isolated nor random. The murder of Jews in their place of worship by Palestinians is hugely symbolic though. This was not merely an attack on the Jewish state, but an attack on Judaism itself.

In the first intifada of 1987, the Palestinians rose up against the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza for the first time. The 2000 intifada followed a failed peace process. But this intifada is not being fought over territory or negotiating positions. It is a religious conflict that is bubbling up as a result of contrasting claims to sovereignty over the Holy City of Jerusalem.

The language used by both sides to describe the current tensions points to these religious undertones. The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) has asked the international media to refrain from using the Jewish name of Temple Mount when reporting the story. It says the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound is not a disputed territory and so any other name for it is null and void. The Israeli government, on the other hand, has characterized the synagogue murders as the latest in a series of acts of Palestinian terrorism designed to damage Israel’s sovereignty over Jerusalem and to kill Jews just because of their religion.

The Israeli government has responded to the attack by ordering the immediate demolition of the perpetrators’ houses and the bolstering of security in the city. This decision was as swift as it was predictable, and is unlikely to calm the situation.

But Israel’s options are limited — the Palestinians of East Jerusalem are not subjected to the same restrictions of movement and employment as the people living in the West Bank and there seems to be no central authority behind these spontaneous attacks. Israel has accused the Palestinian Authority of inciting this wave of religious violence against Jews in Jerusalem but the organization does not have the civil authority in the city to bring the situation under its control.

Tensions will without doubt escalate in the coming days and weeks. It is clearer than ever that Israelis and Palestinians will not resume the stalled peace process for the foreseeable future. To think so would be naïve at best.

This intractable conflict has long been defined by issues such as the future of the Israeli settlements in the West Bank and the fate of Palestinian refugees. Now the added burden of more religious tensions is certain to condemn the people of the Holy Land to many more years of bloodshed.

Asaf Siniver is Associate Professor (Reader) in International Security at University of Birmingham. This story is published courtesy of The Conversation (under Creative Commons-Attribution/No derivatives).