Ramadan is now upon the Muslim world, and in Israel, the beginning of the holy month of fasting comes just as tensions along two fronts, the West Bank and Gaza, are heating up.
But rather than calming tensions, the start of the month may serve to further ignite them.
First, nearly every Ramadan, the same terrorists in Gaza get inspired by the holy month, wait for the sun to go down and the day’s fast to end, enjoy their iftar dinner, and then get to work trying to fire rockets at Israel.
Small al-Qaeda affiliates who seek Palestinian attention and support have been looking to fan tensions. These groups don’t enjoy Hamas’s cooperation. Just last week Hamas forces stopped a group from striking Israel from the Shatti refugee camp. Under the current circumstances, these groups are a “Committee of Popular Resistance” that seek to drag the entire Gaza Strip into chaos.
Israel’s challenge is to refrain from responding in a manner that will lead to an escalation in violence, against an entity that possesses hundreds of missiles that could strike Tel Aviv and the north — although not responding is also unlikely to yield quiet.
Hamas does not want war, but is hesitant to play too participatory a role in preventing rocket fire on Israel for fear of being perceived as collaborating with the Jewish state while it criticizes the Palestinian Authority for its security cooperation with Israel.
The economic situation in Gaza is terrible. The unemployment rate has reached 44% and could rise since 40,000 Hamas public officials have not received a salary since November 2013. The smuggling tunnels are closed and the cost of all goods has skyrocketed. This could play a significant role in determining the chances of escalation in the coming weeks.
The second issue is, of course, Hebron and three kidnapped Israeli teens.
The Israeli operation in the West Bank to find the teens continues apace, despite the easing of some pressures on the local population.
On Saturday, paratroopers scoured the canyons north of Hebron and again found nothing. Israeli security forces still seek any leads that would bring them closer to the captives or their kidnappers, thus far in vain.
Hebron has been reopened and residents can move freely to other cities in the West Bank, but thousands of workers are unable to work in Israel and the city lacks its usual Ramadan festiveness.
And yet, one need not be over-dramatic. The city’s routine continues. People are still shopping; maybe less than in previous years, but they are shopping.
Next to the gas station of the al-Jabari family, in the gap between Hebron and Halhul, a huge green flag flutters in the hot breeze in front of the Al-Khalil restaurant.
For once, it’s not a Hamas flag. Nor a sign of support for Palestinian security prisoners.
It is, rather, the Brazilian flag. At least there is the World Cup.