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Israel’s Next Threat — A ‘Car Intifada’?

A #Drive4alAqsa meme, part of the “car intifada” campaign / Twitter

The past few weeks have seen widespread incitement to violence among both Palestinians and Jewish Israelis. There have been stabbings, harassments, shootings, stone-throwings, hit-and-runs. And now, there’s the “car intifada.”

This campaign, which is drawing significant media attention, calls on Palestinians to run over Israelis with their cars. As the latest hit-and-run attacks by Palestinians make the rounds on social media, the buzz surrounding this phenomenon is adding a new aspect to the perennial speculation about the next wave of violence to hit the region: Will the third intifada be motorized?

In three incidents over the past few weeks, Palestinians rammed their cars into pedestrians. Four of them were killed and over 20 were injured. On Monday, in two separate incidents, Palestinians stabbed four Jewish Israelis. Two of them were killed.

Facebook pages and tweets popped up, using the term “car intifada” and the Arabic verb “daes,” which means to run over. Hashtags, cartoons and memes were created, some of them anti-Semitic in nature. Many directly and indirectly call on Palestinians to use their cars as weapons.

A music video by two Palestinian residents of Ramallah, called “Run Over, Run Over (the Settlers),” has also been making the rounds on social media. It urges Palestinians to run over settlers and soldiers.

Although there have been some efforts to describe this campaign as cohesive and organized, it’s decentralized, sporadic and pretty quantitatively insignificant. As such, it’s still far removed from something we can refer to as an “intifada” — at least if we’re going by the same criteria we used for the first and second intifadas.

In this context, it’s also worth noting that all of this is happening against the backdrop of a wave of incitement coming out of Israel’s core state institutions.

Flouting orders, parliament members have been visiting the Temple Mount and threatening to change the status quo that limits Jewish worship on the mount.

Minister of Internal Security Yitzhak Aharonovitz recently praised the police forces that shot to death Ibrahim Al-Akari, the man who rammed a van into a group of pedestrians in Jerusalem. Aharonovitz said that “a terrorist who hurt civilians must be killed.”

Two days later, Palestinian Khair al-din Hamdan was shot to death in an incident with policemen in Kfar Kana. Footage taken from a security camera clearly shows that the 22-year-old didn’t pose an actual threat. Despite the evidence and major protests, Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu and ministers Avigdor Lieberman and Naftali Bennett praised the police’s actions and backed Aharonovitz’s directive. For good measure, Netanyahu announced he’d consider revoking the citizenship of those who call for the destruction of the state of Israel.

Israeli ministers have also been declaring time and again over the past few days that Mahmoud Abbas is a terrorist. Housing minster Uri Ariel even went so far as to imply that Abbas should be executed.

A cartoon encouraging Palestinians to run over Israelis, part of the “car intifada” campaign / Twitter

Meanwhile, Anas Jaradat and Abu Kayed, the creators of the song that called on Palestinians to run over settlers, have made a new video explaining their actions and why they think the song is legitimate. According to them, the new video was created to respond to a Haaretz article portraying them as terrorists.

As always, perspective is everything. For some Palestinians, the “car intifada” (to the extent that it exists) can be traced back to October 19, a few days before the driving attack at the Jerusalem light rail station. A settler from Yizhar ran over two 5-year-old Palestinian girls on their way home from school near the West Bank town of Sinjil. He fled the scene and left them wounded — one mortally.

Some locals speculated that the driver ran the girls over deliberately, but Israeli police ruled it an accident. Later, the Palestinian ambassador to the U.N. filed a complaint arguing that hit-and-runs by settlers (and not just Palestinians) should be seen as a pattern. The idea is that similar modes of violence are being perceived differently depending on who’s using them.

Regardless of what initially sparked the “car intifada,” this new meme is just a blip in the larger context of Israeli-Palestinian violence and incitement — and that’s what we should be worried about.

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