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Is a third intifada brewing?

Many Palestinians say they do not want to return to the regimen of daily violence.

By Ilene R. PrusherStaff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / March 10, 2008

Protest: Young Palestinian stone-throwers, whose images were synonymous with past intifadas, resurfaced near Ramallah, the West Bank, Friday to protest the Israeli operation in the Gaza Strip.

Abbas Monani/AFP/Getty Images

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Bethlehem, West Bank

Fadi al-Amour and his friends – high school seniors – spent more time last week on the street than in class. Every day, they marched on Rachel's Tomb, guarded by Israeli soldiers, and, along with hundreds of other young Palestinians, pelted the nearest symbol of Israeli power with rocks and Molotov cocktails.

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"We were implementing what our leaders in the prisons tell us we should be doing. Even Marwan Barghouthi has warned that this is where we're going: the third intifada," says Mr. Amour, mentioning the Fatah figure jailed by Israel in 2002 for his role in the last intifada, which lasted from 2000 to 2004.

From Gaza rocket strikes and West Bank riots to a deadly shooting inside Jerusalem late last week, many Palestinians are saying – or perhaps hoping – that these incidents of violence will spark a new, much broader conflict with Israel.

Those who are encouraging a further escalation say it's overdue. Others, including many who remember the misery of past intifadas, worry that this will just drag the Palestinian cause down a dead-end street.

"There might be an escalation in the coming weeks and months, and an escalation has already been going on in Gaza in recent weeks and months," says Ali Jarbawi, a political scientist at Birzeit University, near Ramallah.

But, he says, there might be a danger in rushing to label the events of the last few weeks as the start of another intifada. "People are feeling a sense of despair. They're frustrated by the [new Israeli-Palestinian negotiations] leading nowhere, and [by] the internal situation between Hamas and Fatah," he says. "But I don't see that translating into a concrete, continuous event, which I think is something that defines an intifada. Let's wait and see."

But among many average Palestinians, the feelings that were present during the first intifada (1987-93) and the second one are resurfacing again, and quickly.

On Sunday, at the mourning tent at the family home of Alaa Abu Dhaim, who killed eight Israelis late last week at the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva in Jerusalem before being shot and killed by a security guard, there were many mixed feelings expressed about where Palestinians are headed, as the Islamic militants of Hamas continue to battle Israel on one front and secular Fatah leaders are sitting down at the negotiating table with their Israeli counterparts on another.

Mr. Abu Dhaim, a man in his mid-20s who was due to be married soon, was from the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Jebel Mukaber, meaning he had an Israeli-issued residency card and was free to travel and work in Israel.

For many across the tight-knit community of Jebel Mukaber, there was an acknowledgment that Abu Dhaim's act might be a sign of returning to the days of intifada. There was also much reluctance to see that happen.

"We hope this isn't the start of something bigger," says Mahmoud Abu Dhaim, an uncle of the young man being celebrated as a shahid, or martyr. "For years they've been talking about peace but there's no progress. So now we're going back instead of going forward."