Reporter's notebook

Armed with rocks and knives, the ‘children of Oslo’ come of age

In the no-man’s land between Israel and the PA, a Palestinian generation has grown up that is addicted to the Internet and has nothing but contempt for the PA and the agreement that created it

Avi Issacharoff

Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel's Middle East analyst, fills the same role for Walla, the leading portal in Israel. He is also a guest commentator on many different radio shows and current affairs programs on television. Until 2012, he was a reporter and commentator on Arab affairs for the Haaretz newspaper. He also lectures on modern Palestinian history at Tel Aviv University, and is currently writing a script for an action-drama series for the Israeli satellite Television "YES." Born in Jerusalem, he graduated cum laude from Ben Gurion University with a B.A. in Middle Eastern studies and then earned his M.A. from Tel Aviv University on the same subject, also cum laude. A fluent Arabic speaker, Avi was the Middle East Affairs correspondent for Israeli Public Radio covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq and the Arab countries between the years 2003-2006. Avi directed and edited short documentary films on Israeli television programs dealing with the Middle East. In 2002 he won the "best reporter" award for the "Israel Radio” for his coverage of the second intifada. In 2004, together with Amos Harel, he wrote "The Seventh War - How we won and why we lost the war with the Palestinians." A year later the book won an award from the Institute for Strategic Studies for containing the best research on security affairs in Israel. In 2008, Issacharoff and Harel published their second book, entitled "34 Days - The Story of the Second Lebanon War," which won the same prize.

Palestinian stone throwers stand next to burning wood during clashes with Israeli security forces in Shuafat in East Jerusalem on October 5, 2015. (AFP/Ahmad Gharabli)
Palestinian stone throwers stand next to burning wood during clashes with Israeli security forces in Shuafat in East Jerusalem on October 5, 2015. (AFP/Ahmad Gharabli)

According to the official announcement, the protest march in defense of al-Aqsa would leave from the entrance to al-Quds University in Abu Dis at 11 a.m. sharp on Sunday. But like an Israeli wedding, almost no one showed up on time. By 11:30, attendance was still scant at the famous campus’s gates, out of which came two of the first attackers in the newest terror wave — or as it is called among Palestinians, the hibat al-Quds, the “Jerusalem awakening.”

The attackers: Dia Talahma, who tried to carry out a terror attack near Hebron a few days before Eitam and Naama Henkin were shot to death on the road near Itamar, but whose bomb accidentally exploded in his hands and killed him; and Mohannad Halabi, the murderer of rabbis Nehemia Lavi and Aharon Bennett in Jerusalem’s Old City.

A few minutes after 11:30, the first ranks of the human caravan could be seen from the south approaching the security barrier, just a few dozen meters from the entrance to campus. A motley mob of covered faces was visible in the larger crowd, many of them wearing shirts bearing Dia Talahma’s visage. There were scarves with Hamas and Fatah symbols, and red keffiyehs of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine — in short, every sort of Palestinian activist was represented.

Across the way, from the north, came dozens of female students singing nationalist and religious songs. “Khaiber, Khaiber, O, Jew. Mohammad’s army will return,” they shouted. Most wore hijabs on their heads, but some looked completely secular.

The women kept themselves separate from the men. As the latter began energetically striking the wall with heavy hammers, the former stayed back and sang. It wasn’t the most feminist of scenes, though in comparison to past demonstrations in which the women simply stayed home, this protest had the look of a feminist declaration about it.

The Israeli army was still nowhere to be found, and those present began throwing stones at the other side of the wall without any clear target. And they called out: “Shabab, shabab, tuck your shirts into your pants.” The call passed like a slogan among the hundreds present, out of fear that mista’arvim, undercover Israeli police, might infiltrate their ranks, as happened at the protest near Beit El last week. The photos and videos from that demonstration have generated a kind of panic over the mista’arvim. The crowd, including its masked members, obeyed the call, tucking shirts into pants as an identifying mark. One young man climbed the separation wall and stood proudly at its top.

These were the dead minutes, before the arrival of the army. Some of the demonstrators decided to take a break and visit the pizzeria that sits across from the campus gates. Just then, IDF jeeps arrived and the crowd belted out a roar at the arrival of the “enemy.” The young men caught eating pizza jumped up from their chairs, some of them with slices still in their hands, and rushed to join their brethren at the barrier.

Abu Dis seen next to the security barrier. (Kobi Gideon/Flash90)
Abu Dis seen next to the security barrier. (Kobi Gideon/Flash90)

The rate of rock throwing increased until, at its peak, it felt like a medieval battle. Another collective shout was heard, bringing with it a massive simultaneous volley of hundreds of stones toward the other side of the fence.

A few seconds passed, then tear-gas canisters were fired from the Israeli side. The young men tried to throw them back at first, but the tear gas quickly filled the space, and all those hundreds of protesters fled the site, most of them into the campus.

Only a few especially daring youths remained behind to face the Israeli soldiers, trying in vain to urge their friends back onto the battlefield. But by now, the shabab, the gang, was busy doing the same thing their Israeli counterparts were doing elsewhere: posting the photos they took of themselves with their smartphones to Facebook and Instagram.

This generation of Palestinian youth has been named the “children of Oslo” by Palestinian society. They were born after the Oslo agreements of 1993, and after the establishment of the Palestinian Authority. They have heard about the old model of the Israeli occupation, but don’t really know what it means. The Palestinian Authority, from their perspective, has been the government since before they were born, yet they view it with open contempt and suspicion.

In Operation Defensive Shield in 2002, most of them were small children, and some were not even born.

They’re addicted to the Internet and, of course, to Facebook. The official media outlets of the Authority, such as Palestinian television and radio stations, are so 1990s. They pass around videos and messages in WhatsApp and other apps — like the video of the terrorist from Nazareth who was shot in Afula by cops after they surrounded her on all sides — and in that way create a communication and news network all their own. Even al-Jazeera seems to them “news for old people.”

The twilight zone

The open university of al-Quds in Abu Dis is located in Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem, but beyond the security fence, in the seam between the Palestinian Authority and Israel, a veritable no-man’s land. Israel suggested that the PA set up a civilian police station at the site, but the PA rejected the offer, likely out of fear that such coordination would amount to accepting the boundaries Israel has drawn in the city, which could be interpreted as a de facto surrender of Palestinian claims to the holy basin, where the Temple Mount and much of the most ancient and venerated parts of Jerusalem are located.

Border Police walk through the market near Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem's Old City, October 11, 2015. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Border Police walk through the market near Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City, October 11, 2015. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

As with other Jerusalem villages that have a similar status, these areas have become a “twilight zone” with no clear governing body or law enforcement system. That’s the current state of al-Azariya, al-Ram, Qalandiya, Kfar Akeb, and of course, the Shuafat refugee camp. The ongoing decades-long neglect has created intense feelings of inequality, hatred and discrimination — and not only toward Israel, but also toward residents of the West Bank and the Palestinian Authority.

At the entrance to Shuafat, we met with masked children and youth. They were throwing stones at Border Police troops at the checkpoint. It’s hard to believe that only a few hundred meters from the homes of French Hill and the light rail’s route sits one of the most disadvantaged and problematic places of the entire Palestinian-claimed territories.

An overturned car blocked the main road into the camp, an attempt to slow down the entry of Israeli security forces. On all sides, smoke rose from piles of uncollected garbage. Just two days earlier, the Palestinian youth Ahmed Salah was killed here in clashes with Israeli forces, and the day before, Shuafat’s own Mohammed Ali carried out the stabbing attack at Damascus Gate in which he succeeded in wounding two cops before being shot dead by their comrades.

A Palestinian protester prepares to throw a firebomb during clashes with Israeli security forces in the Shuafat refugee camp in East Jerusalem, on October 9, 2015. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)
A Palestinian protester prepares to throw a firebomb during clashes with Israeli security forces in the Shuafat refugee camp in East Jerusalem, on October 9, 2015. (AFP/Ahmad Gharabli)

At the entrance to the Ali family’s home were dozens of residents seated on chairs, waiting. The body of Mohammed Ali had not yet been handed over to the family, and it wasn’t likely to happen that day. One of those seated was Ahmed Salah’s father.

“They assassinated my son in cold blood,” he said. “He worked with me as an electrician. In many places. We just did a project at Masmia Junction [near Ashdod], and before that in Ramat Gan. I’m telling you I don’t have a problem. I do work also in settlements, and anywhere I’m needed. I had to bring home a livelihood, and that’s what interested me. I have children to feed, and we’re refugees, we don’t have money. Our disaster began when they established the Palestinian Authority, that was the beginning of the problem. And I’m telling you, [Mahmoud] Abbas has to go home. To fall. And the people have to settle accounts with him. The Authority destroyed everything,” he said, and someone tried to explain that he was a grieving father speaking out of anger.

A camp resident complained at the presence of Israeli reporters, but someone in the group yelled angrily at him and silenced him. A motorcycle passed by with a picture of Mohammed Ali and a Fatah flag.

Everyone spoke of the harm Israel is said to be planning to do to the holy al-Aqsa Mosque, on the Temple Mount. Israel has repeatedly denied any intention of changing the status quo, under which Jews may visit but may not pray there, but the Palestinian street as well as PA officials doesn’t seem to accept that assurance.

Samih, who isn’t originally from Shuafat but came here from Hebron, said that “everything is because of al-Aqsa. Why do you have to go up there? You tell me, did we ever ask to pray at the Western Wall? Why don’t you prevent settlers from entering al-Aqsa?”

“Are we in an intifada now?” I asked him.

“We’re in a third intifada, and a fourth, and a fifth, and it won’t end. If you think it will completely end, you’re wrong,” he replied.

“But how do you explain that West Bank residents aren’t exactly running to join this intifada? Only a few hundred are joining the protests.”

Kaher Mohammed Ali, the terrorist’s cousin, interrupted the conversation.

“I’ll tell you what happened,” he began. “They cushioned the West Bankers with cars, apartments, mortgages, like you have in Israel. So they don’t care anymore. We got screwed here. We’re neither under the Authority, nor under Israel.”

Baha, one of the more famous residents of the camp, tried to explain what must happen now: “Some things have to change. The current situation is impossible, and that’s especially true of the Jerusalem area. They have to decide once and for all what happens with us, with Shuafat and other places. Are we under the Authority or under Israel? But the current situation, where we’re under the government of nobody, has brought us to this point. Just decide. You decided to annex us to Israel [when Israel annexed East Jerusalem after the 1967 war], so bring us police and the municipality and everything else. And if not, let the Palestinian Authority rule here.”

Another cousin, Gustum Mohammed Ali, interrupted. “The Palestinian Authority? That’s nothing more than a ministry of the Israeli government. You think we trust them?”

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