Is­rael ar­son wave raises fears of ‘Fire In­tifada’

Pales­tini­ans weigh fall­out of weapon

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics - BY ASMA’ JAWABREH AND JA­COB WIRTSCHAFTER

HE­BRON, WEST BANK | Abu Rayyan, a 36-year-old nurse at He­bron’s main pub­lic hospi­tal, treated se­vere lac­er­a­tions to the chest of an el­derly woman bit­ten last week­end by a mil­i­tary pa­trol dog while an Is­rael De­fense Forces pla­toon searched a home for weapons.

“We couldn’t just treat her wounds and let her go,” he said. “The bites are so bad she has had to re­main here un­der ob­ser­va­tion.”

Mr. Rayyan said he is fed up with the se­cu­rity co­or­di­na­tion be­tween the Is­raeli mil­i­tary and the Pales­tinian Author­ity, which al­lows such searches.

Joint anti-ter­ror op­er­a­tions be­tween IDF and the se­cu­rity forces of Pales­tinian Author­ity Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ab­bas have es­ca­lated in the wake of the Third In­tifada — an Ara­bic term for “shak­ing off” that has been ap­plied for three decades by Pales­tinian na­tion­al­ists to de­scribe their pe­ri­odic vi­o­lent up­ris­ings against Is­raeli rule.

The lat­est wave of at­tacks started last year with stab­bings of Is­raelis and has mor­phed over the past month into an out­break of fires near towns in Is­rael and Jewish set­tle­ments in the West Bank.

At their peak, the thou­sands of brush fires forced more than 100,000 Is­raelis to evac­u­ate, and more than 500 fam­i­lies’ homes were de­stroyed or dam­aged. Au­thor­i­ties char­ac­ter­ized 250 of the ar­son at­tacks as ma­jor in­ci­dents as the con­fla­gra­tion spread from the north­ern city of Haifa, which has a large Arab pop­u­la­tion, to a belt along the se­cu­rity bar­rier be­tween Is­rael and the Pales­tinian ter­ri­to­ries in the West Bank.

Is­raeli po­lice said two Arab cit­i­zens of Is­rael con­fessed to com­mit­ting ar­son, and se­cu­rity forces have de­tained at least a dozen Pales­tini­ans sus­pected of set­ting fires for “na­tion­al­is­tic rea­sons.”

Still, an­a­lysts are split over whether the ar­son cases truly rep­re­sent the ad­vent of an in­tifada.

“In­tifadas vary. They have chang­ing com­po­nents and tra­jec­to­ries,” said Meir El­ran, a for­mer IDF deputy di­rec­tor of mil­i­tary in­tel­li­gence and a se­nior re­search fel­low at the In­sti­tute for Na­tional Se­cu­rity Stud­ies in Tel Aviv.

Mr. El­ran doubts the blazes can be con­sid­ered a sign of a resur­gent Pales­tinian up­ris­ing. “It is hard to de­fine a com­mon de­nom­i­na­tor ex­cept as re­sis­tance of Pales­tinian pop­u­la­tion against con­tin­u­a­tion of the oc­cu­pa­tion,” he said.

Mr. Rayyan, the nurse, had few doubts, though.

“We live for the Third In­tifada,” he said. “The fires show how Is­rael is a weak coun­try and is not pre­pared for [the fires].”

Many Pales­tini­ans cel­e­brated the con­fla­gra­tions with the Twit­ter hash­tag “#Is­raelis­burn­ing.”

The Le­banese chap­ter of Mr. Ab­bas’ Fatah move­ment claimed Al­lah was pun­ish­ing the Is­raelis for the pro­posed “muezzin” draft leg­is­la­tion in the Knes­set, Is­rael’s par­lia­ment, aimed at re­strict­ing the deci­bel lev­els of five Mus­lim daily calls to prayer.

The ‘Fire In­tifada’

Al-Aqsa TV, a chan­nel run by the Is­lamist Ha­mas move­ment, in­flated its es­ti­mates of the size of acreage en­gulfed in flames, rep­re­sented ar­son as a Pales­tinian weapon and de­scribed the dis­as­ter as the “Fire In­tifada.”

Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu was quick to link the blazes to Pales­tinian ter­ror­ism.

“Ev­ery fire that was caused by ar­son, or in­cite­ment to ar­son, is ter­ror­ism by all ac­counts,” Mr. Ne­tanyahu de­clared at the on­set of one con­fla­gra­tion that in­cluded 2,600 brush fires and 1,800 ur­ban fires, ac­cord­ing to Is­raeli fire and res­cue au­thor­i­ties.

No West Bank Pales­tini­ans have been pub­licly charged with ar­son, and Is­rael has ac­cepted an of­fer by the Pales­tinian Author­ity to send four ground teams to com­bat the fires.

The flames have sub­sided for now, and some Is­raelis say the whole no­tion of a “Fire In­tifada” has been overblown, with par­ti­sans on both sides hav­ing an in­ter­est in ex­ag­ger­at­ing the scope of the dam­age.

“In most ar­eas, you won’t find many things that say whether it was ar­son,” Ran Shelef, the Is­raeli Fire and Res­cue Author­ity’s chief in­ves­ti­ga­tor, told The Jerusalem Post this week.

Even so, Pales­tini­ans are fiercely de­bat­ing the best course to shake off their dom­i­na­tion by Is­rael and the util­ity of Fatah’s “peace­ful re­sis­tance” ver­sus a new in­tifada that in­cludes in­di­vid­ual acts such as ar­son and stab­bings.

The de­bate played out pub­licly at the re­cent Fatah con­fer­ence in Ramallah. Mr. Ab­bas, 81, told del­e­gates that the move­ment needed to fo­cus the strug­gle against Is­rael in the in­ter­na­tional diplo­matic arena. This week, he dis­patched a del­e­ga­tion to lobby Pres­i­dent Obama not to use the U.S. veto to scut­tle a U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil res­o­lu­tion crit­i­cal of Is­raeli set­tle­ment ac­tiv­ity in the West Bank and in east Jerusalem.

But oth­ers ad­vo­cate for a more vi­o­lent course, es­pe­cially with the in­com­ing Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion seen as far more sym­pa­thetic to Mr. Ne­tanyahu and his gov­ern­ment than Mr. Obama.

“The PA must adopt the armed re­sis­tance as a way to lib­er­ate Pales­tine,” Ha­mas co-founder Mah­moud al-Za­har told sup­port­ers at a Gaza rally last week, adding that diplo­macy has got­ten Pales­tini­ans nowhere.

Mr. El­ran, the for­mer Is­raeli in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cer, said vi­o­lence is in­evitable as long as the diplo­matic process fails to achieve re­sults for the Pales­tini­ans.

“Who­ever sug­gests that Pales­tinian peo­ple will be kept un­der oc­cu­pa­tion for­ever is wrong,” he said. “They will look to get out of it how­ever they can, and we have to un­der­stand that a mil­i­tary means is a nec­es­sar­ily part of the tool­kit — es­pe­cially if diplo­matic at­tempts go nowhere, and sadly, this will prob­a­bly the case.”

Abd Al-Rah­man Nimer, a 22-year-old Pales­tinian who served jail time af­ter clash­ing with Is­raeli troops in the West Bank, agrees.

“We need an in­tifada that shows the Is­raelis that we are able to re­sist them even with the poor means the Pales­tini­ans have,” he said.

But his neigh­bor, Abu Ahmed, a 48-yearold He­bron gro­cery store owner, said Pales­tini­ans have more to lose than gain by in­ten­si­fy­ing the armed strug­gle. He is cer­tain that vi­o­lence will re­sult only in harsh ret­ri­bu­tion and more Is­raeli set­tle­ment con­struc­tion on the hills of the West Bank — es­pe­cially af­ter the next U.S. pres­i­dent takes of­fice next month.

Don­ald Trump “will af­fect the Pales­tini­ans so badly,” said Mr. Ahmed. He noted that the pres­i­dent-elect al­ready has made clear his in­ten­tion to rec­og­nize Is­raeli sovereignty over Jerusalem by mov­ing the U.S. Em­bassy to the con­tested city. “His ad­vis­ers say they have no prob­lem with set­tle­ments. If we take vi­o­lent ac­tion against Is­rael, we will lose the lit­tle land we still have left.”

Ja­cob Wirtschafter re­ported from Cairo.


Thou­sands of brush fires have forced more than 100,000 Is­raelis to evac­u­ate and have de­stroyed or dam­aged more than 500 homes as Pales­tini­ans change tac­tics in the wake of the Third In­tifada.

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