Edition 2: No. 104
Back to the streets in Jerusalem- A new uprising in the making
Jerusalem has been experiencing confrontations on various levels of intensity since July when Abu Khdeir was killed. The confrontations in Jerusalem are, in fact, a popular reaction to the broader policies of collective punishment policy practiced against both the population and their sacred spaces. They stem from the cumulative occupation’s policies of the occupation and the severity of the tyranny and the dearth of movement in the political processes towards dialogue and final status solutions. The growing intensity of the clashes of people with the army results in more and more martyrs. They, in turn, become the points of engagement of the clashes. Generally speaking, confrontations are periodical and depend on situations, often provoked by indiscriminate actions of the Israeli army.
Reminiscent of the First Intifada, the current uprising is led by young people in their teens. To them the means of resistance does not matter. What matters is the resistance despite the risks to their lives. They are fully conscious that they are up against a powerful adversary who is armed to the teeth and eager to hurt and destroy any opposition to their illegal occupation. And yet, it is different from the First Intifada. The circumstances are more subtle but far more ruthless.
Political observers note that there is no identifiable centre sustaining the street protests. This explains why the protests are intermittent and irregular and usually arise from a provocation. But one thing is certain. The youth refuse to be deterred by the hold of the Israeli security forces in Jerusalem. Their resistance is unshakeable. As one leader put it, “the protests against the occupation measures will continue as long as Israel continues its policy in Jerusalem.”
Jamal Amro, a specialist in Jerusalem affairs, offers a significant view: “If there is no Palestinian decision from the highest levels to raise the morale of Jerusalem citizens, and if no clashes take place [elsewhere] to relieve the pressure put on them, then the city would not survive for long,” Amro said. “As long as Jerusalem is in the grip of security and the blockade, [the city] will not survive for long,” even if developments on the ground fuel the uprising.
Young Jerusalemites even fear that “there are indications that the PA is intervening to end the uprising in Jerusalem.” Israel, on the other hand, is fearful, even nervous. Israeli newspaper Maariv quoted ministers saying that Netanyahu has lost Jerusalem. The mayor of Jerusalem issued an order on Oct. 29 to enforce penalties against the youths who are clashing with Israeli police and pressure the Palestinian population to act against these youths. The media has termed the Jerusalem protests the events as a “silent uprising.” Says Jamal Amro: “The Jerusalem uprising frightens and bothers Israel because it proves its failure to tame the population, change their identity and Judaize their culture through normalization and integration in Israeli society,”
He added that the measures by the Israelis in Jerusalem made the Jerusalemites discover that they are “the poorest and that they ought to face the occupation, something that surprised Israel, which thought that Jerusalemites had calmed down and that the normalization project had succeeded.”
Antoine Shalhat, director of the Madar Center for Israeli Studies, calls the conflict over Jerusalem as the “mother of all battles.” Israel knows it may be losing the plot and that its attempts to ‘normalize’ things have fallen flat. The attempt to alter things in Jerusalem by imposing facts on-the-ground “through land expropriation, settlement and expulsion of the Palestinians” is summed up in failed policies.
Netanyahu’s vision for the government envisages acceleration of steps aimed at accelerating the widening of the new facts he seeks to impose. He does it through expanding settlements and, thus, further vitiates an already crisis situation. The ongoing uprising will expand and gain momentum. Power can suppress and even brutalize. It cannot obliterate the resolve of the Palestinian youth to find their freedom. The only question remains: When and how?
To further probe the questions raised in this editorial comment, we offer you this article by Rashid Khalidi, Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies at Columbia University. It provides rare and provocative insights into the question: Why are Jerusalem’s 300,000 Arabs rising up again?
Why are Jerusalem’s 300,000 Arabs rising up again?
By Rashid I. Khalidi*
Palestinian youths throw stones towards Israeli border police
during clashes at a checkpoint between the Shuafat refugee camp
Once again, widespread popular unrest has broken out in Jerusalem. Since July, there have been clashes between young Arabs and Israeli security forces using tear gas, rubber bullets, live ammunition and truncheons.
Why are the Arab residents of Jerusalem taking to the streets?
Many feel provoked by increasing attempts by Jewish religious zealots to take over the third holiest site in Islam, the Haram al-Sharif, known to Jews as the Temple Mount.
Religious activists represented by umbrella groups like Temple Mount Organizations have openly stated that they intend to establish Jewish worship on this Muslim holy site, and to destroy its magnificent 7th century structures – the al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock –and replace them with a new Jewish Temple.
Israel’s chief rabbi has lashed out at Jews attempting to pray at the site, suggesting that doing so should be “punishable by death,” as it could desecrate the ‘holy of holies’ — the place where Jews believe the arc of the covenant was once kept. Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon has also said that trips to the site by Israeli ministers and lawmakers were “provocative,” and could have a “destabilizing effect.”
Still, extremist religious Zionist parties like Habayit Hayehudi who support Jewish worship at the site are not outliers in Israeli society — they have ample representation in the Israeli government, parliament, security services and army.
Many Arabs also point to an ominous precedent. Since the 1967 war, Israel has controlled the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron, which houses the Tombs of Patriarchs, a revered Jewish site. It has been a mosque continuously for nearly 14 centuries, barring an interruption during the Crusades, but Muslim worship there has been gradually restricted and parts of the mosque have been seized for exclusive Jewish worship. This step-by-step takeover only accelerated after the massacre of dozens of Muslim worshippers inside the mosque by an Israeli-American settler during Ramadan in 1994.
To understand the recent wave of violence, one has to look beyond just Haram al-Sharif, however.
Attempts to change the status quo of this unique religious site come after decades of Israel’s occupation of East Jerusalem, which began in 1967. As non-Jews, Arab residents of Jerusalem are subject to overtly discriminatory laws, rules, regulations, and municipal and national spending patterns as regards building permits, education, public parks, garbage collection and every other urban amenity.
This is part of a consistent Israel policy to restrict the growth of the city’s Arab population, and to privilege and expand its Jewish component.
Jerusalem’s indigenous Arab residents have for over four and a half decades been subject to an inexorable barrage of attempts to segregate them in tightly restricted areas of the city, some of them walled and fenced off. Meanwhile, the expansion of the Jewish population into settlements all over occupied Arab East Jerusalem — which are a violation of international law — have been lavishly subsidized and supported by the Israeli state, backed by its oppressive security services.
Palestinians in Jerusalem consider themselves to be living under occupation, as does the United Nations. Even the United States voted for the 1969 UN Security Council resolution condemning Israel’s actions there.
The occupation is evidenced by the ubiquitous presence of heavily armed paramilitary border guards in Arab neighborhoods, the selective demolition of Arab-owned structures accused of violating building codes, the use of politically-motivated archaeological digs to take over strategic sites, and myriad other daily harassments and inconveniences.
The Palestinians of Jerusalem, who constitute 38 percent of the city’s total population, believe that Jerusalem is not governed for them or by them. They consider that it is run by the Israeli state for the exclusive benefit of its Jewish population, and with the aim of establishing complete Jewish hegemony in the city.
Before 1967, Jerusalem was divided between the Israeli-controlled West and the Jordanian controlled East. After the 1967 war, Israel annexed the entire city and remained an occupying force in East Jerusalem. Ever since then, these discriminatory Israeli policies have systematically aimed to carve the geographic and spiritual heart of Arab Palestine.
These provocations have created the conditions for a major eruption of unrest in Jerusalem, and perhaps beyond: in the rest of occupied Palestine and in the larger Arab and Islamic worlds.
The governments of the United States and European countries bear a major responsibility for leaving Jerusalemites to their fate at the hands of extremists inside and outside the Israeli government— vast sums of tax-deductible charitable donations from the United States support the settlements in East Jerusalem.
The nationalist-religious extremists at the highest levels of the Israeli government like Minister of the Economy Naftali Bennet, head of the Habayit Hayehudi Party, and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, head of the Yisrael Beiteinu Party, have gone out of their way to evince hostility toward Palestinians, whether citizens of Israel or residents of Jerusalem.
Bennet went on record saying that there should be “zero tolerance” for non-Jewish national identity and that Israel should prevent Jerusalem from ever becoming the capital of a future Palestinian state.
For all of these reasons, the ominous developments in and around the Haram al-Sharif are seen by Palestinians and many the world over as yet another attempt by religious zealots to rid this ancient city of its rich Arab and Muslim cultural history — which is also part of world heritage. If no one steps in to intervene, then the protesters in East Jerusalem will have no alternative to defending their dignity, and their holy places, by themselves.
* Rashid Khalidi is the Edward Said Professor of Arab Studies at Columbia University.