The sign hanging outside the Silwan home of Abdelrahman al-Shaludi, the terrorist who carried out Wednesday’s attack in Jerusalem, placed there after his first release from an Israeli prison in 2013, says a lot about the reality in the eastern part of the city.
“The Islamic Movement Bayt al-Maqdis lauds the heroic prisoner Abd al-Rahman al-Shaludi, on his release from the Occupation prison,” it states. And if there was any doubt about what the Islamic Movement Bayt al-Maqdis really is, then the pictures of the “martyrs” displayed on the right side of the sign should solve the mystery: Ahmed Yassin, founder of Hamas, and Mohi a-Din a-Sharif, the successor of “The Engineer” Yahya Ayash, who was killed in a mysterious explosion in 1998.
Hamas is alive and well. Not only in Gaza, not only in the West Bank, but right here, in the villages and neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, right under the noses of the Jerusalem police.
Security forces in Jerusalem have done much in recent years to counter Hamas in the city: Members are arrested again and again and numerous Hamas-affiliated charitable organizations have been shut down.
But Hamas has found ways to bypass Israeli authorities and exploit their dearth of intelligence within the city. The Islamist terror group, according to Palestinian sources, continues its recruitment, propaganda and charity efforts (Dawa) in roundabout ways. Various organizations affiliated with Hamas continue to give scholarships to young students for university studies, both in the territories and abroad, and support vulnerable populations financially. And above all, Hamas and the northern branch of Israel’s own Islamic Movement continue to incite violence on the Temple Mount, hoping that an escalation there will lead to a larger conflagration in the territories.
But the presence and activities of Hamas, unfortunately, are not the only reason for the dangerous deterioration in East Jerusalem. “These are not Islamist or nationalistic organizations,” “A,” a resident of one of the Arab neighborhoods in the city, told The Times of Israel. “These aren’t Salafists or other groups. The current escalation is the result of the despair that has gripped the youth in the eastern part of the city. Since the murder of Muhammad Abu Khdeir [in early July] and the attacks by Jews against Palestinians, a real movement has started here that abhors Israel and is detaching itself from it.
“Until a few months ago, every time you walked on Salah-a-Din Street [East Jerusalem’s main street], you would hear songs in Hebrew coming out of cars that youths were driving. Today, the songs being played more are those praising Izz a-Din al-Qassam [Hamas’s military wing] and fighting against Israel. These youth have stopped going to Malha Mall or Talpiot out of fear of the attacks taking place in the western part of the city that the police ignore. Many of them have been ejected from the education system, are unemployed, and we are talking about tens of thousands.”
“Their feeling,” he added, “is that the police don’t do anything about the violent expressions of racism against Palestinians. Every two days there is a violent incident in the city, Jews who attack Arabs, and no one arrests them. The police and city hall don’t care as long as it’s Arabs being beaten up. These youths even boycott Israel products. For example, many people here have stopped buying Tnuva milk. Instead, they buy from Palestinian dairies like Jneidi and Hamuda. In short, since June, there is a much more clear split between east and west Jerusalem.”
“A” says that there are police activities in Palestinian neighborhoods. “It’s not that they’re not there. You can see every evening and night the flickering blue lights in the distance. But they are not operating to protect Palestinians, and they are making mistakes. Since June, close to 700 Palestinians have been arrested in the city, including many minors. This stirs up discontent. If you check you’ll see that most of the youths arrested are not members of extremist groups, but regular kids with no organizational affiliation.”
“M,” a Palestinian Jerusalemite in his 50s, says that the sad reality in East Jerusalem has created a “youth army.”
“Today there are more than 10,000 Palestinian students without an adequate educational framework. They don’t have schools, or work. Unemployment levels are going up, there is a rise in drug use, domestic violence and of course poverty. The steps Israel has taken — closing the Palestinian Authority institutions on the one hand, and Hamas charities on the other — have deepened the economic straits of East Jerusalemites. Into all of this, throw in the restrictions on the entry of worshipers to al-Aqsa [the Temple Mount], and the entry of settlers on the Mount. Then came the murder of Muhammad Abu Khdeir, which led to extraordinary outrage among the city’s Arab residents. The residents have their backs up against the wall, and in the end the wall breaks.”
“M” also speaks of two separate cities within Jerusalem, entirely different. “There are two worlds. East and West. There is no connection between them.”
Jordan and Abbas
Exactly 20 years have now passed since the peace agreement was signed between Israel and Jordan. Relations between the two countries have naturally gone through ups and downs, including terror attacks and even freezing of diplomatic ties, but in the end, the agreement has held. Even the tensions in East Jerusalem have not managed to derail the cooperation between Israel and Jordan in a variety of fields, especially security.
At the same time, the visit from right-wing politicians to the Temple Mount, alongside initiatives in the Knesset to have separate prayer times on the site for Jews and Muslims, have led Amman to take an especially harsh stance against Israel in recent weeks. King Abdullah himself drew a certain parallel between the Islamic State and Israel when he warned against the escalation by Islamists on the one hand and Zionist escalation on the other.
Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh filed a formal complaint against Israel at the UN regarding events at al-Aqsa, and in the coming days we will probably hear more anti-Israel statements coming out of Jordan. Amman’s aggressive line is not just a product of Israeli actions, but is also the result of criticism being voiced against Jordan and King Abdullah from Islamist circles and media affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood. Al-Jazeera, for example, which operates out of Qatar, has not hesitated to excoriate Jordan for its helplessness over Israel and al-Aqsa.
Jordan, which still sees itself as responsible for the mosques on the Temple Mount, feels it must respond, leading to the attacks in the media.
But the cooperation between the two countries remains, even on issues around the Temple Mount. Israel has done much in recent years to maintain Jordan’s position on the Mount, keeping PA officials from taking over the site’s management.
Meanwhile, from the Muqata in Ramallah, the PA President Mahmoud Abbas has not remained silent in the face of the escalation in Jerusalem, and launched a bitter attack this week on Israel, including the claim that Israel is “defiling” al-Aqsa.
“When Abu Mazen (Abbas) warns about the ‘defilement’ of the al-Aqsa Mosque,” explains retired Deputy Police Commissioner Dr. Reuven Barco, former Arab affairs adviser to the Jerusalem police, “it makes us out to be ‘unclean.’ Abu Mazen is keeping up with Hamas. And it must be understood that Hamas, along with the northern branch of the Islamic Movement, will do everything it can in order to inflame things on the Temple Mount.”
Added Barco: “The goal of Hamas and its head, Khaled Mashaal, is to create an intifada in Jerusalem. Since it needs quiet in Gaza in order to rehabilitate it, Hamas is trying to ignite violent incidents in East Jerusalem. For Mashaal, Jerusalem and al-Aqsa are the trigger with which he can blow up the situation. And this week he called for taking up arms to defend al-Aqsa.”
And when there are no conventional weapons for attacks, automobiles can also become tools of terror.
As The Times of Israel’s political correspondent, I spend my days in the Knesset trenches, speaking with politicians and advisers to understand their plans, goals and motivations.
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