The synagogue attack is directly related to the chain of events set in motion with the murder of the Palestinian teenager, Mohammad Abu Khdair, in July. After the end of Israel’s fifty-day Operation Protective Edge war on Gaza, East Jerusalem has been rocked by further unrest. Two important events during this period are the Israeli purchase of Palestinian apartments in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Silwan, and the repeated incursions of Israeli police into the al-Aqsa mosque.
Palestinians interpret these events as part of a long and established effort by Israel to aggressively expand Jewish settlements into Palestinian territory and take effective control of their cultural and religious life. This interpretation is strengthened by a video recorded by the Israeli economy minister, Naftali Bennett, himself a settler, which celebrated the increase of Jews in East Jerusalem. That these events occur in East Jerusalem, which is identified as the capital of a future Palestinian state, makes them more explosive than the ‘normal’ business of Palestinian dispossession by the Israeli state. That is why the spike in violence in the region, instances of stabbings, people run over by cars, police brutality, a lynching, attempts at torching homes and burning of mosques, all of which preceded the synagogue killings, are laden with a great deal of geopolitical significance, more than the more deadly and bloody war in Gaza, some argue.
This significance is enhanced by the scenario articulated by Bennett in his New York Times op-ed, ‘For Israel, Two-State Is No Solution’. Citing Israel’s security needs, Bennett argued for the annexation of Area C in the West Bank through extending Israeli law and citizenship to Palestinians in these areas. His plan would leave the non-contiguous Areas A and B in Palestinian hands, but without the control of borders and without an army. In other words, the rising right-wing star of Israeli politics is actively arguing for the death of the two-state solution to western elites.
Israel’s creation of facts on the ground that negate the possibility of a two-state solution are manifest. But when the harsh Palestinian experience of these facts; the daily grind of life in Palestine; the memory of the 2 200 dead from the three-month old Gaza war; the open Judaisation of Jerusalem – with East Jerusalem and the Old City see new yeshivas, restored synagogues and expanded settlements that will make it impossible to divide Jerusalem; and the brazen Israeli denial of a two state solution; while the Israeli government seems to capitulate to the demands of religious nationalists for access to the al-Aqsa compound, it is expected that Palestinian resistance will respond in some way.
That the synagogue killings are better read as political acts of resistance and responses to a specific context of oppression, rather than irrational manifestations of an ancient confessional hatred is evident in how the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) praised the actions of the perpetrators of the synagogue operation, both of them its members. PFLP Central Committee member, Khalil Maqdesi, said the ‘PFLP will continue to target every institution of the occupation. No place in Jerusalem should be safe as long as the Palestinian people are not safe. “Security” cannot be built on the backs of the Palestinian people. The only result of the occupation’s attacks on Jerusalem will be continued resistance among the Palestinian masses.’
Palestinian resistance will take an increasingly violent turn, especially in Jerusalem and other Palestinian enclaves within Israel, if the Bennett- and Netanyahu-backed ‘Jewish nation-state bill’ passes through the Knesset. The bill aims to prevent the possibility of a bi-national Israeli state, and to permanently relegate Palestinians to second-class status in Israel. If legislated as a Basic Law (giving it constitutional status), whether coupled with Bennett’s proposal to annex Area C or not, such a measure will make Palestinians more recalcitrant and increase the appeal of armed resistance, thus drastically undermining the possibilities for a non-violent struggle for equal civil rights.
The synagogue attack was not a mindless act of rage. There are specific socio-political conditions which provide justification for such violence, even if only in the minds of its perpetrators. If it is serious about peace, Israel must remove these conditions rather than entrenching them.