How Intifada Fears Show Only Israeli Security Matters

02.27.13 6:00 PM ET

It’s happening again. Talk of the possibility of a third Intifada is on the rise as increased Palestinian protests are recurring in the West Bank. Many are on edge waiting for the spark. What will it be?

In late 1987, four Palestinians killed by an Israeli truck driver on a road in Gaza set off the first major uprising. The massacre of 29 Palestinian worshipers in Hebron by an Israeli settler 19 years ago this week catalyzed a wave of bombings in the mid-1990s. In 2000, it was Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Dome of the Rock with a massive armed escort that set off the second Intifada.

As settlements expand, as occupation deepens and with the absence of any acceptable peace plan, any event could be the spark. There was the killing of 17 year-old, Mohamad Salaymeh, in December. Israeli soldiers shot and killed Lubna Hanash, a 22 year-old female, in Hebron last month. Then there are the regular attacks of settler violence against Palestinians like this shooting in Qusra last week. There is also the persistent Israeli firing into Gaza which has led to numerous Palestinian deaths and casualties since the “ceasefire.” Or the racist beating of a Palestinian man in Yaffa by a dozen or more Israeli Jews or the assault on a Palestinian women in Jerusalem. And, of course, the death of Arafat Jaradat, a 30 year-old Palestinian detained for allegedly throwing stones, only to have died days later in an Israeli prison after apparent torture.

Any one of these recent events could have been the spark. But why are we awaiting a spark when it is clear the situation is already on fire? Well, it is for Palestinians, at least.

The fear of an oncoming Intifada, so commonplace in Israeli and Western debates and policy discussion on the issue, underscores exactly how this discourse is problematically filtered through the prism of Israeli security alone. The State Department is now calling for “maximum restraint.” The Israeli prime minister’s office issued Mahmoud Abbas an “unequivocal demand to restore quiet.”

But the occupation itself is an intolerable and constant system of violence. It has been ongoing for decades, with episode after episode that could be a spark. Yet it is because an Intifada—or Palestinian uprising—is understood to mean that Israelis will face greater security risks, it suddenly generates urgency and fear. The message this sends is that only when Israeli security is challenged does the world seem to take note. The perpetual insecurity of Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation is acceptable to Israeli and American power-brokers.

The elevation of Intifada periods alone to the level of crisis suggests non-Intifada periods are not a crisis. But, in reality, the denial of self-determination to millions of people through military occupation is a crisis – a human rights crisis and a catastrophe.

Continuing to ignore the urgency of this reality, as Israel and America have done, is of far more consequence than any individual or isolated event. Unlike their Israeli and American counterparts, Palestinians don’t have the luxury of ignoring the military occupation around them. Sooner or later, they will scream out, because their security and liberty is no less important than anyone else’s.

What we should be asking is not, Are we on the cusp of the next intifada? But rather, Why on earth do we have to be in order to demand change to a fundamentally unjust situation?