The View from the Couch: The Third Intifada? 

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Jerusalem, I've long held, is the most exciting city in the world, though it pays a high price for its excitement. The recent botched boarding of the blockade busting boat, the Mavi Marmara, heading for Gaza last week, is not the first example of violence that has cost Israel in the public relations arena. It actually goes back to the days of the First Intifada, which began in 1987. It was during that Palestinian uprising (in Gaza and the West Bank and elsewhere) the world witnessed primitive violence on the part of the Israeli defense forces, breaking bones and the like, doling out punishment. The Second Intifada is dated beginning in 2000. But the first one, besides a change in public opinion, brought about because of the Israeli use of violence in the service of punishment, as well as self-defense, also gave birth to internecine Palestinian violence, the killing of Palestinians who had in myriad ways cooperated with the Israelis. Hamas more or less became a formed organization at the beginning of the First Intifada.

But it was the pictures, or videotape, during the First Intifada of young Israeli soldiers breaking the legs of Palestinians that signaled the turnaround for some of the public sympathy for Israel's troubles. The torture precedents were too unsavory to contemplate. This time around, it is obvious from the video shown that some activists aboard the commandeered ship were ready to attack the soldiers repelling down to the deck. There is something ludicrous about the Israelis being armed with paint guns, as some have said, because it would take a while for anyone being shot at to put that fact into context. But, it's not difficult to imagine those who were killed, or at least a few of them, as suicides, martyrs for their cause, and, in that way, similar to suicide bombers.

If you look at the time line of recent Israeli history, it only took Hamas twenty years (from 1987 till 2007) to take over Gaza and become the face and fist of Palestinian resistance. And to have at this point in history the notorious Bibi Netanyahu as Prime Minister of Israel is a gift to Hamas. Israel itself now still has its rural settlements, which are tantamount to army bases, protected as they are, and is filled with land-dividing walls, only beloved in this country by the anti-immigration forces along the Mexican border.

But back to Jerusalem. That divided city does seem to be the core of the problem, but one part of its divisions is hardly in the news. (Except for the evangelicals who are waiting for the Rapture, or something equally apocalyptical.) The world's three great religions are compressed there, in the old city, as tight as the implosion elements in a nuclear weapon. Jews, Muslims, and Christians. There are quarters in the old city, more or less controlled, or owned, by Christians. And outside the old city the larger city has its version of divisions, too. One of Jesus's contested tombs is owned and run as a tourist attractions by the Brits and it is cheek by jowl with the Palestinian section, near east Jerusalem.   It is in east Jerusalem contested residential building is being done by the current Israeli government, stoking Palestinian discontent, though re-enforcing Israel's claim on the city.

In the Christian quarter (abutting the Armenian quarter) of the old city you find the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, an ancient structure filled with various Christian denominations. The spiffiest place of worship within is under the control of the Vatican. But there are competing religious areas and altars, with one of them sitting atop one of the candidates for Golgotha, the place of the skull. For many decades a Muslim had to be trusted with the keys to the entire building, given the conflicts amongst the Christian denominations. The question is, what are the Christians doing now to solve the present conflict between the Jews and Muslims? Or is the rest of the world (and our own multi-religion America) supposed to be the surrogate for the Christians, who at least have a presence in Jerusalem, if not a home?

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William O'Rourke

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