Category Archives: Jerusalem

Power at Any Cost: How Opportunistic Mansour Abbas Joined Hands with Avowed “Arab Killers” 

We are led to believe that history is being made in Israel following the formation of an ideologically diverse government coalition which, for the first time, includes an Arab party, Ra’am, or the United Arab List.

If we are to accept this logic, the leader of Ra’am, Mansour Abbas, is a mover and shaker of history, the same way that Naftali Bennett of the far-right Yamina Party, and Yair Lapid, the supposed ‘centrist’ of Yesh Atid, are also history makers. How bizarre!

Sensational media headlines and hyperboles aside, Israel’s new government was a desperate attempt by Israeli politicians to dislodge Benjamin Netanyahu, the country’s longest-serving Prime Minister, from power. While Lapid is fairly new to Israel’s contentious politics, Bennett and Abbas are opportunists, par excellence.

Lapid is a former TV anchorman. Despite his claims to centrist ideologies, his political views are as ‘right’ as they get. The problem is that such characters as Bennett, Ayelet Shaked, also of Yamina, and Netanyahu, of course, among others, have relocated the center of Israel’s political spectrum further to the right, to the point that the right became the center and the ultra-right became the right. This is how Israel’s neofascist and extremist politicians managed to become kingmakers in Israel’s politics. Bennett, for example, who in 2013 bragged about “killing lots of Arabs” in his life, is set to be the Prime Minister of Israel.

It is in this strange context that we must understand Mansour Abbas’ position. His meager four seats at the Israeli Knesset made his party critical in forming the coalition that has been purposely created to oust Netanyahu. Ra’am does not represent Israel’s Palestinian Arab communities and, by joining the government, Abbas is certainly not making history in terms of finding common ground between Arabs and Jews in a country that is rightly recognized by Israeli and international human rights groups as an apartheid state.

On the contrary, Abbas is moving against the current of history. At a time that Palestinians throughout historic Palestine – the occupied Palestinian territories and today’s Israel – are finally unifying around a common national narrative, Abbas is insisting on redefining the Palestinian agenda merely to secure a position for himself in Israeli politics – thus, supposedly ‘making history.’

Even before Abbas shook hands with Bennett and other Israeli extremists who advocate the killing of Palestinians as a matter of course, he made it clear that he was willing to join a Netanyahu-led government. This is one of the reasons behind the splintering of the once unified Arab political coalition, known as the Joint List.

Following his meeting with Netanyahu in February, Abbas justified his shocking turnabout with unconvincing political platitudes as one “needs to be able to look to the future, and to build a better future for everyone”,  and so on.

The fact that Netanyahu was largely responsible for the despairing outlook of Israel’s Palestinian communities seemed entirely irrelevant to Abbas, who was inexplicably keen on joining any future political alliance, even if it included Israel’s most chauvinistic political actors. Sadly, though not surprisingly, this has proved to be the case.

Abbas’ position became impossible to sustain in May during the well-coordinated Israeli war in Gaza and the racist attacks on Palestinian communities in Jerusalem, the occupied West Bank and throughout Israel. Even then, when Palestinians were finally able to articulate a common narrative linking the occupation, siege, racism and apartheid in Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza and Israel together, Abbas insisted on developing a unique position that would allow him to sustain his chances of achieving power at any cost.

Although it was the Palestinian Arab communities that were under systematic attacks carried out by Israeli Jewish mobs and police, Abbas called on his community to “be responsible and behave wisely,” and to “maintain public order and keep the law.” He even parroted similar lines used by right-wing Israeli Jewish politicians, as he claimed that “peaceful popular protests” by Palestinian communities inside Israel have turned “confrontational,” thus creating a moral equilibrium where the victims of racism somehow became responsible for their own plight.

Abbas’ position has not changed since the signing of the coalition deal on June 2. His political narrative is almost apolitical as he insists on reducing the national struggle of the Palestinian people to the mere need for economic development – not fundamentally different from Netanyahu’s own ‘economic peace’ proposal in the past. Worse, Abbas intentionally delinks the state of poverty and under-development in Palestinian communities from state-championed racial discrimination, which constantly underfunds Arab communities while spending exuberant amounts of funds on illegal Jewish settlements that are built on ethnically cleansed Palestinian lands.

“We have reached a critical mass of agreements in various fields that serve the interest of Arab society and that provide solutions for the burning issues in Arab society — planning, the housing crisis and, of course, fighting violence and organized crime,” Abbas said triumphantly on June 2, as if the rooted inequality, including communal violence and organized crime, are not direct results of racism, socio-economic inequality and political alienation and marginalization.

No history has been made by Abbas. He is but an example of the self-serving politician and a direct expression of the endemic disunity in the Palestinian Arab body politic inside Israel.

Sadly, the unprecedented success of the Arab Joint List following the March 2020 elections has now culminated in a tragic end, where the likes of Abbas become the unwelcomed ‘representative’ of a politically conscious and awakened community.

In truth, Mansour Abbas, a Palestinian Arab politician who is willing to find common ground with extremists and proud ‘Arab killers’, only represents himself. The future will attest to this claim.

The post Power at Any Cost: How Opportunistic Mansour Abbas Joined Hands with Avowed “Arab Killers”  first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Remember the Name:  Sheikh Jarrah

Places have left their mark in the historical narrative – Lidice, where the Nazis, in the late spring of 1942, executed 173 men from the Czech village in reprisal for the assassination of Deputy of Bohemia and Moravia, Reinhard Heydrich; Wounded Knee, where, on December 29, 1890, a dispute between soldiers from the Seventh U.S. Cavalry Regiment and an arrested band of Lakota warriors resulted in the massacre of more than 250 men, women, and children of the Lakota tribe; Montségur, a rebuilt castle high in the French Pyrenees, where, the last of the Cathars, a Gnostic type sect that were considered heretics  by the Catholic Church, were sieged and eventually executed in March 1244; Guernica, Spain, where Nazi Stuka dive bombers killed Basque loyalists in the Spanish civil war; and Baba Yar, Ukraine, a ravine on the outskirts of Kiev, where German forces killed at least 34,000 Jews during September 1941. Add the village of Sheikh Jarrah to those of historical remembrances.

The  intent to evict Palestinians from their established homes served to highlight the more than 70 years of oppressions and well prepared destruction of the Palestinian community, forced attention to simultaneous aggressions against the Palestinian people, provoked serious warfare in the area, and led to a worldwide outcry in defense of the helpless and criminally attacked Palestinians. Sheikh Jarrah is now an eternal symbol for Palestinian independence and escape from Israel’s brutality.

Before expounding further on Sheikh Jarrah’s path to immortality, let us more accurately delineate the confused and misreported events that escalated the crisis. Regardless of the truth of any of the claims and their refutations, there is no necessity for anyone to collect rent on these properties and evict tenants because they have not paid supposed rents.

If residents who received housing from the Jordanian government after the 1947-1948 hostilities agree to pay rent, they will concede the property ownership to others and still not be guaranteed that they will be able to remain in their established homes in the future. Those trying to force the issue are obfuscating their intentions; they certainly did not purchase the rights to the property as a real estate investment — paltry and risky investment — nor for habitation. Living in a predominantly Islamic neighborhood is not a desired place for an Orthodox Jew to raise a family. The proposition that these people are followers of Simeon the Just, a fourth century BCE Jewish High Priest, and want to live near his tomb is suspect. Simeon the Righteous would certainly disapprove of followers who contradicted his teachings and followed a path of deceit rather than righteousness. Living close to a deceased person from ancient history that nobody of today or yesterday knew personally does not convey any benefits. There are millions of minor humanitarians in tombs around the world ─ take your pick. We know Ulysses Grant is buried in Grant’s tomb, but are we certain that Simeon the Just is buried in Jarrah?

According to archaeologists who excavated the site, it is the 2nd-century CE burial site of a Roman matron named Julia Sabina. From Archaeological researches in Palestine during the years 1873-1874, by Clermont-Ganneau,   p. 269-270.

While carefully studying the interior of this sepulchre, apparently of such a commonplace character, I made in 1871 an unexpected and very interesting discovery, a Roman inscription whose existence had escaped the notice of the archaeologists who had preceded me, even as it has that of those who have followed me, for up to the present day no one, as far as I know, has noticed it or mentioned it.

I took an excellent squeeze of it. The first line alone can be read with certainty: Julia Sabinae. This name Julia Sabina reminds one of that of …ius Sabinus, first centurion of the Tenth Legion Fretensis, a dedicatory inscription to whom I once brought to light from the inside of Jerusalem itself. Can our Julia Sabina have been the wife or daughter of this Julius Sabinus? The form of the letters in the two texts shows considerable similarity, moreover, the face of the stone in the one case and of the rock in the other seem to have been smoothed with the same toothed tool, worked in the same fashion. This identity of treatment is strikingly apparent when one compares the two squeezes. If this ancient Jewish tomb was re-adapted during the period of the Roman occupation to receive the body of a woman connected by marriage or by birth with one of the officers of the legion, which bore so terrible a part in the war against the Jews, one can easily see how eager the latter must have been to obliterate as soon as they were able, the traces of this double profanation of one of the sepulchres of their ancestors, by hammering the epitaph thus insolently displayed.

Israeli police continued their habit of treating the Palestinians as if they are an encumbrance by ejecting Palestinian youths from the Damascus gate ─ their evening gathering place after a day of Ramadan fast ─ and storming the al-Aqsa mosque. Using tear gas, stun grenades, and rubber-tipped bullets, police entered the mosque compound, clashed with protesters, and, reportedly, injured hundreds. All this mayhem left Hamas in a quandary ─ what to do to preserve Palestinian dignity? Knowing that its bold statement that “any more Israeli provocations will lead to a severe Hamas reaction,” is an invitation that Israel relishes, ‘die if we do and die if we don’t’ Hamas released its rockets on Israel. For Israel, provoking Hamas so that its forces can smash Gaza is a national sport, irrespective of the usual dozen Israeli deaths that accompany the onslaughts. Israel could have halted its oppressive tactics but, as always, continued with the same script and replayed the same movie.

When rockets from Gaza strike Ashkelon (previously the Palestinian town named al-Majdal), whom do they hit, and who fired them? Those hit by the rockets are descendants of those who stole the land and benefactors willing to be party to the theft from the Palestinian families who lived in the area for generations. In the 1945 statistics, al-Majdal had a population of 9,910. Not only had United Nations (UN) Resolution 181 awarded Ashkelon to the anticipated Palestinian state in, but the mass of Palestinians living in the area played no part in the hostilities. An Egyptian army, not invited by al-Majdal inhabitants, entered the town to protect its status under UN Resolution 181 and failed in the endeavor. Israeli forces captured al-Majdal on November 4, 1948. In the later months, the Israeli administration denied return to the original inhabitants that fled the engagements and forcibly removed the remaining inhabitants, almost all to Gaza.

Those firing the rockets are those who had their land, livelihood, and the futures of all their descendants stolen from them by the Israelis. The innocent victims of land theft and ethnic cleansing suffered deprivation in the barren desert of Gaza. Later they endured decades of oppressive Israeli occupation. After an end to physical occupation, Israel has controlled and intruded into their lives with constant violence against them — destruction of their buildings, factories, agricultural lands, water supplies, power stations, cultural institutions, denial of the fishing rights, keeping them caged in a limited area and preventing them from leaving. Israel determines the fate of the people in Gaza and seizes every opportunity to make their lives miserable. Shooting rockets at those who have victimized them sounds, and is, irreverently revengeful, but serves as a catharsis for the frustrated and aggrieved Palestinians ─ let the oppressor know what it feels to live in fear and danger,

When the United Nations Human Rights Council investigates alleged war crimes committed during the latest conflict between Israel and Hamas, the council should consider that the constant deadly military exchanges between Israel and Hamas affect relatively few Israeli families, while the entire millions in Gaza and the West Bank feel the shattering force almost every minute of every day.

The attempt to evict well-established Palestinian families from their rightful homes escalated from what Israel termed “only a real-estate dispute,” into wide areas of Israel and Gaza being pounded by military weapons. The attempt to evict well-established Palestinian families from their rightful homes escalated into worldwide defense of Palestinian rights and demands for an end to their continuous oppression. Sheikh Jarrah has left a permanent imprint on history. The world will remember, for eternity, the Name – Sheikh Jarrah.

The post Remember the Name:  Sheikh Jarrah first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Palestinians in Israel now face far-right mob violence backed by the state

With Jerusalem ablaze and Gaza on the brink of another major Israeli onslaught, it has been easy to overlook the rapidly escalating ethnic violence inside Israel, where one in five of the population is Palestinian.

These 1.8 million Palestinians – Israeli citizens in little more than name – have spent the past week venting their frustration and anger at decades of Israeli oppression directed at their own communities inside Israel, as well as at Palestinians under more visible occupation.

Already the protests, which have been sweeping Palestinian communities inside Israel, have been greeted with a savage backlash – a combination of official violence from Israeli police and vigilante-style violence from far-right Jewish gangs.

Israeli politicians have been warning noisily of “Arab pogroms” against the Jewish population. But with the rising influence of the openly fascist far-right in Israel – many of them armed settlers, some with ties to military units – there is a much greater danger of pogroms against the Palestinian minority.

Israel’s Palestinian citizens have been at the heart of the wave of protests in occupied East Jerusalem that began a month ago, at the start of Ramadan. With the aid of their Israeli ID cards and relative freedom of movement, many travelled to East Jerusalem in organised bus convoys. They bolstered numbers in the demonstrations at Sheikh Jarrah, where many Palestinian families are facing expulsion from their homes by Jewish settlers, backed by the Israeli state. They also participated in the defence of al-Aqsa Mosque.

But last weekend, as social media was flooded with clips of police storming al-Aqsa and of Jewish extremists excitedly cheering a fire near the mosque, protests erupted inside Israel too. There have been nightly demonstrations in larger Palestinian towns, including Nazareth, Kafr Kanna, Kafr Manda, Umm al-Fahm, Shefa-Amr and Beersheva. Police have responded in familiar fashion, firing stun grenades into the crowds and smothering them with tear gas. There have been large numbers of arrests.

Boiling point

Some of the most violent clashes, however, have been taking place elsewhere, in communities misleadingly described by Israel as “mixed cities”. Israel has traditionally presented these cities – Lod (Lydd), Ramle, Jaffa, Haifa and Acre (Akka) – as examples of “Jewish-Arab coexistence”. The reality is very different.

In each, Palestinian citizens live on the margins of a former Palestinian city that was ethnically cleansed upon Israel’s founding in 1948 and has been aggressively “Judaised” ever since.

Palestinian residents of these cities have to deal daily with the racism of many of their Jewish neighbours, and they face glaring institutional discrimination in planning rules designed to push them out and help Jews – often members of the settler movement or extremist religious students – take their place. All of this occurs as they are tightly policed to protect Jewish residents’ rights at their expense.

Resentment and anger have been building steadily for years, and now seem to have reached a boiling point. And because the “mixed cities” are among the few places in Israel where Jewish and Palestinian citizens live in relatively close proximity – most other communities have been strictly segregated by Israel – the potential for inter-communal violence is especially high.

The roots of what some still view as a potential new intifada, or Palestinian uprising, risk being smothered in areas of Israel. The more the Palestinian minority protests against the structural discrimination it faces, the more it risks inflaming the passions of the Jewish far-right.

These Jewish fascists are riding high after their parties won six parliamentary seats in Israel’s March election. They are seen as integral to any coalition government that caretaker Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may put together.

Driving Palestinians out

For years, the settler right has been trying to drive remaining Palestinian families out of the “mixed cities”, especially those in the centre of the country, next to Tel Aviv. They have received state help to set up extremist religious seminaries in the midst of Palestinian neighbourhoods.

Now under cover of protests, the far-right has the chance to up the stakes. Its newest legislator, Itamar Ben Gvir, has claimed, fancifully, that police are being prevented from dealing with the protests firmly enough. The barely coded message is that the far right needs to take the law into its own hands.

More surprisingly, Ben Gvir was echoed by the government’s police minister, Amir Ohana, who called on “citizens carrying weapons” to work on the authorities’ behalf by “immediately neutralising threats and danger”. Social media has also been awash with calls from activists to arm themselves and attack Palestinian communities in Israel.

On Wednesday, the results of the incitement were all too evident. Jewish gangs, many of them masked, smashed and looted Arab-owned shops and food stalls south of Tel Aviv. Hundreds of onlookers were filmed by an Israeli TV crew watching as a driver was dragged from his car and severely beaten. Though the rampage had been going on for much of the evening, police were nowhere in sight.

Palestinian residents of mixed cities have been hurriedly organising defence patrols in their neighbourhoods. But with many members of the Jewish far right licensed to carry firearms, the reality is that Palestinian communities have few ways to protect themselves effectively.

Some of the worst scenes have emerged from Lod, where local Palestinians live in a few ghettoised neighbourhoods stranded in the midst of what is now effectively a Jewish city next to Tel Aviv.

‘Iron fist’

Confrontations on Monday led to an armed Jewish resident fatally shooting a Palestinian father-of-three, Musa Hasuna. The next day, his funeral escalated into a riot after police tried to block the mourners’ route, with the torching of cars and visible symbols of the Jewish takeover of central Lod, including a synagogue.

On a visit to the city, Netanyahu denounced the events as “anarchy” and warned that Israel would use an “iron fist if necessary”.

On Wednesday night, a curfew was imposed on the city, and under a state of emergency, control passed from the local council to police. Netanyahu said he had been working to overcome legal obstacles to give police even greater powers.

Echoing Netanyahu and the Jewish fascist parties, Israeli Police Commissioner Yaakov Shabtai argued that the explosion of Palestinian unrest had been caused by police being “too soft”.

Over the past few days, there have been tit-for-tat violent attacks on both Jewish and Palestinian citizens, with beatings, stabbings and shootings that have left many dozens injured. But claims of an imminent “civil war” in places such as Lod, as its Jewish mayor characterised the situation this week, fundamentally misrepresent the dynamics at play and the balance of power.

Even if they wanted to, Palestinian communities have no hope of taking on heavily armed security forces and Jewish militias.

Eruption of anger

What the state is doing in Lod and other communities – through the police and proxy settler allies – is teaching a new generation of Palestinian citizens a lesson in Jewish-state civics: you will pay a deeply painful price for demanding the rights we pretend to the world you already have.

Certainly, Netanyahu seems to have no real commitment to calming the situation, especially as violence between Jewish and Palestinian citizens takes his corruption trial off the front pages. It also feeds a right-wing narrative that is likely to serve him well if, as expected, Israel heads back to yet another general election in a few months’ time.

But other Israeli officials are stoking the flames, too – including President Reuven Rivlin, who unlike Netanyahu, is supposed to be a unifying figure. He denounced Palestinian citizens as a “bloodthirsty Arab mob” and, in an inversion of the rapidly emerging reality, accused them of conducting what he called a “pogrom” in Lod.

For decades, Israel has tried to cultivate the improbable notion for western audiences that its Palestinian citizens – restyled as “Israeli Arabs” – live happily as equals with Jews in “the only democracy in the Middle East”.

Israel has carefully obscured the minority’s history as Palestinians – clinging on to their lands during Israel’s mass ethnic cleansing operations in 1948 – as it has the systematic discrimination they face in a self-declared Jewish state.

As a consequence, the eruption of anger in Palestinian communities inside Israel is always difficult for Israel to manage narratively.

Treated as an ‘enemy’

Since the grip of a military government was loosened in the late 1960s, the Palestinian minority has staged constant protests. But massive, nationwide street demonstrations have erupted only once every generation – and they are always brutally crushed by Israeli forces.

Badly bloodied, Palestinian citizens have been forced to retreat into unhappy, and temporary, quiescence.

That was what happened in the 1970s during Land Day, when Palestinian communities launched their first one-day general strike to protest the state’s mass theft of their historic farming lands so that Jewish-only communities could be established on them. Israeli officials, including then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, were so incensed by the strike that they sent in tanks. Six Palestinian citizens were killed as a result.

The protests returned in October 2000, at the start of the Second Intifada, when the Palestinian minority took to the streets in solidarity with Palestinians under occupation who were being killed in large numbers in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza.

Within days, 13 demonstrators had been gunned down, and hundreds more were seriously wounded as Israeli police used live ammunition and rubber-coated metal bullets as their first-line of crowd control.

A subsequent judicial inquiry, the Or Commission, concluded that police viewed the minority as an “enemy”.

Double discrimination

The new generation protesting this week knows of the October 2000 protests chiefly as stories told by their parents. They are finding out first-hand how much has changed in Israel’s racist policing in the intervening two decades.

In fact, questions about the role of Israeli police and their relationship to Palestinian communities inside Israel have been at the forefront of political debates raging among Palestinian citizens over the past two years.

The Palestinian minority has long suffered a doubly discriminatory approach from Israeli security forces. On one hand, police have shirked a normal civilian policing role in Palestinian communities in Israel. That has allowed criminal elements to flourish in the vacuum created by this neglect. Murders and shootings are at an all-time high.

On the other hand, police are quick to crack down when Palestinian citizens engage in political dissent. The current arrests and police violence are part of a familiar pattern.

Many of the factors that brought Palestinians out into the streets in 2000 have not gone away. Violent, politically repressive policing has continued. House demolitions and racist planning policies still mean that Palestinian communities are chronically overcrowded and suffocated. Incitement from Jewish politicians is still the norm. And Palestinian leaders in Israel continue to be excluded from the government and Israel’s main institutions.

Permanent underclass

But in recent years, matters have deteriorated even further. The passage of the 2018 nation-state law means the minority’s legal position is formally worse. The law has explicitly relegated Palestinian citizens to a permanent underclass – not really citizens at all, but unwelcome guest workers in a Jewish state.

Further, the ascendant Jewish far-right has a mounting grievance against the Palestinian minority for standing in the way of its securing a solid electoral majority in a run of elections over the past two years. The success of Palestinian parties is seen as effectively blocking Netanyahu from heading a stable coalition of the ultra-nationalist right.

And, with a two-state solution firmly off the table for all of Israel’s Jewish parties, Palestinian citizens are staring at a political and diplomatic cul-de-sac. They have no hope of emerging from under the shadow of an Israeli security paradigm that readily views them as a fifth column, or a Palestinian Trojan horse inside a Jewish state.

It is that very paradigm that is currently being used against them – and justifying police and settler violence in places such as Lod, Jaffa and Acre.

• First published in Middle East Eye

The post Palestinians in Israel now face far-right mob violence backed by the state first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Jerusalem protests: The mob “breaking faces” learned from Israel’s establishment

Inside the Israeli parliament and out on the streets of Jerusalem, the forces of unapologetic Jewish supremacism are stirring, as a growing section of Israel’s youth tire of the two-faced Jewish nationalism that has held sway in Israel for decades.

Last week, Bezalel Smotrich, leader of the far-right Religious Zionism faction, a vital partner if caretaker Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stands any hope of forming a new government, issued a barely veiled threat to Israel’s large Palestinian minority.

Expulsion, he suggested, was looming for these 1.8 million Palestinians, a fifth of the Israeli population who enjoy very degraded citizenship. “Arabs are citizens of Israel – for now at least,” he told his party. “And they have representatives at the Knesset [Israeli parliament] – for now at least.” For good measure, he referred to Palestinian legislators – the elected representatives of Israel’s Palestinian minority – as “our enemies sitting in the Knesset”.

Smotrich’s brand of brazen Jewish racism is on the rise, after his faction won six mandates in the 120-member parliament in March. One of those seats is for Itamar Ben Gvir, head of the neo-fascist Jewish Power party.

Ben Gvir’s supporters are now in a bullish mood. Last month, they took to the streets around the occupied Old City of Jerusalem, chanting “Death to Arabs” and making good on promises in WhatsApp chats to attack Palestinians and “break their faces”.

For days, these Jewish gangs of mostly youngsters have brought the lawless violence that has long reigned largely out of sight in the hills of the occupied West Bank into central Jerusalem. This time, their attacks haven’t been captured in shaky, out-of-focus YouTube videos. They have been shown on prime-time Israeli TV.

Equally significant, these Jewish mobs have carried out their rampages during Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting.

Arson attacks

The visibility and premeditation of this gang violence has discomfited many Israelis. But in the process, they have been given a close-up view of how appealing the violent, anti-Arab doctrines of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane – the ideological inspiration behind Jewish Power – are proving with a significant section of young Jews in Israel.

One, sporting a “Kahane was right” badge, spoke for her peers as she was questioned on Israeli TV about the noisy chants of “May your village burn down” – a reference to so-called “price-tag” arson attacks committed by the Israeli far-right against Palestinian communities in the occupied territories and inside Israel.

Olive groves, mosques, cars and homes are regularly torched by these Jewish extremists, who claim Palestinian lands as their exclusive biblical birthright.

The woman responded in terms she obviously thought conciliatory: “I don’t say that it [a Palestinian village] should burn down, but that you should leave the village and we’ll go live in it.”

She and others now sound impatient to bring forward the day when Palestinians must “leave”.

Machinery of oppression

These sentiments – in the parliament and out on the streets – have not emerged out of nowhere. They are as old as Zionism itself, when Israel’s first leaders oversaw the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from most of their homeland in 1948, in an act of mass dispossession Palestinians called their Nakba (catastrophe).

Violence to remove Palestinians has continued to be at the core of the Jewish state-building project ever since. The rationale for the gangs beating up Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem are the actions pursued more bureaucratically by the Israeli state: its security forces, occupation administrators and courts.

Last week, that machinery of oppression came under detailed scrutiny in a 213-page report from Human Rights Watch. The leading international human rights group declared that Israel was committing the crime of apartheid, as set out in international law.

It argued that Israel had met the three conditions of apartheid in the Rome Statute: the domination of one racial group over another, systematic oppression of the marginalised group, and inhumane acts. Those acts include forcible transfer, expropriation of landed property, the creation of separate reserves and ghettos, denial of the right to leave and return to their country, and denial of the right to a nationality.

Only one such act is needed to qualify as the crime of apartheid but, as Human Rights Watch makes clear, Israel is guilty of them all.

Dragged out of bed

What Human Rights Watch and other human rights groups have been documenting is equally visible to the gangs roaming Jerusalem. Israel’s official actions share a common purpose, one that sends a clear message to these youngsters about what the state – and Israel’s national ideology of Zionism – aims to achieve.

They see Palestinian land reclassified as Jewish “state land” and the constant expansion of settlements that violate international law. They see Palestinians denied permits to build homes in their own villages. They see orders issued to demolish Palestinian homes, or even entire communities. And they see Palestinian families torn apart as couples, or their children, are refused the right to live together.

Meanwhile, Israeli soldiers shoot Palestinians with impunity, and drag Palestinian children out of bed in the middle of the night. They man checkpoints throughout the occupied West Bank, restricting the movement of Palestinians. They fire on, or “arrest”, Palestinians trying to seek work outside the closed-off ghettos Israel has imposed on them. And soldiers stand guard, or assist, as settlers run amok, attacking Palestinians in their homes and fields.

All of this is invariably rubber-stamped as “legal” by the Israeli courts. Is it any surprise, then, that growing numbers of Israeli teenagers question why all these military, legal and administrative formalities are really necessary? Why not just beat up Palestinians and “break their faces” until they get the message that they must leave?

Uppity natives

The battlefront in Jerusalem in recent days – characterised misleadingly in most media as the site of “clashes” – has been the sunken plaza in front of Damascus Gate, a major entrance to the walled Old City and the Muslim and Christian holy places that lie within.

The gate is possibly the last prominent public space Palestinians can still claim as theirs in central Jerusalem, after decades in which Israeli occupation authorities have gradually encircled and besieged their neighbourhoods, severing them from the Old City. During Ramadan, Damascus Gate serves as a popular communal site for Palestinians to congregate in the evenings after the daytime fast.

It was Israeli police who triggered the current explosive mood in Jerusalem by erecting barriers at Damascus Gate to seal the area off at the start of Ramadan. The pretext was to prevent overcrowding, but – given their long experience of occupation – Palestinians understood the barriers as another “temporary” measure that quickly becomes permanent, making it ever harder for them to access the Old City and their holy sites. Other major gates to the occupied Old City have already been effectively “Judaised”.

The decision of Israeli police to erect barriers cannot be divorced from a bigger context for Palestinians: the continuing efforts by Israeli authorities to evict them from areas around the Old City. In recent weeks, fresh waves of armed Jewish settlers have been moving into Silwan, a Palestinian community in the shadow of al-Aqsa Mosque. They have done so as Israel prepares to raze an entire Palestinian neighbourhood there, using its absolute control over planning issues.

Similarly, the Israeli courts have approved the eviction of Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah, another neighbourhood under belligerent occupation close to the Old City that has been subjected to a long-running, state-backed campaign by Jewish settlers to take it over. Last month, Jerusalem officials added insult to injury by approving a plan to build a memorial to fallen Israeli soldiers in the midst of the Palestinian community.

The decision to close off the Damascus Gate area was therefore bound to provoke resistance from Palestinians, who fought police to take down the barriers. Police responded with tear gas, stun grenades and water cannon.

Those scenes – of uppity natives refusing to be disappeared back into their homes – were part of the trigger that brought the Jewish gangs out onto the streets in a show of force. Police largely let the mob rampage, as youths threw stones and bottles and attacked Palestinians.

Tired of half measures

The sight of Jewish gangs roaming central Jerusalem to hurt Palestinians has been described as a “pogrom” by some progressive US Jewish groups. But the difference between the far-right and the Israeli state in implementing their respective violent agendas is more apparent than real.

Smotrich, Ben Gvir and these street gangs are tired of the half-measures, procrastination and moral posturing by Israeli elites who have hampered efforts to “finish the job”: clearing the native Palestinian population off their lands once and for all.

Whereas Israeli politicians on the left and right have rationalised their ugly, racist actions on the pretext of catch-all “security” measures, the far-right has no need for the international community’s approval. They are impatient for a conclusion to more than seven decades of ethnic cleansing.

And the ranks of the far-right are likely to swell further as it attracts ever-larger numbers of a new generation of the ultra-Orthodox community, the fastest-growing section of Israel’s Jewish population. For the first time, nationalist youths from the Haredi community are turning their backs on a more cautious rabbinical leadership.

And while the violence in Jerusalem has subsided for the moment, the worst is unlikely to be over. The final days of Ramadan coincide this year with the notorious Jerusalem Day parade, an annual ritual in which Jewish ultra-nationalists march through the besieged Palestinian streets of the Old City chanting threats to Palestinians and attacking any who dare to venture out.

Turning a blind eye

Human Rights Watch’s detailed report concludes that western states, by turning a blind eye to Israel’s long-standing abuses of Palestinians and focusing instead on a non-existent peace process, have allowed “apartheid to metastasize and consolidate”.

Its findings echo those of B’Tselem, Israel’s most respected human rights organisation. In January, it too declared Israel to be an apartheid regime in the occupied territories and inside Israel, towards its own Palestinian citizens.

Despite the reluctance of US and European politicians and media to talk about Israel in these terms, a new survey by B’Tselem shows that one in four Israeli Jews accept “apartheid” as an accurate description of Israel’s rule over Palestinians. What is far less clear is how many of them believe apartheid, in the Israeli context, is a good thing.

Another finding in the survey offers a clue. When asked about recent talk from Israeli leaders about annexing the West Bank, two-thirds of Israeli Jews reject the idea that Jews and Palestinians should have equal rights in those circumstances.

The mob in Jerusalem is happy to enforce Israel’s apartheid now, in hopes of speeding up the process of expulsion. Other Israelis are still in denial. They prefer to pretend that apartheid has not yet arrived, in hopes of easing their consciences a little longer.

• First published in Middle East Eye

The post Jerusalem protests: The mob “breaking faces” learned from Israel’s establishment first appeared on Dissident Voice.

A Palestinian Prayer for Ramadan: May the Voices of the Oppressed Be Heard

COVID-19 cases in Palestine, especially in Gaza, have reached record highs, largely due to the arrival of a greatly contagious coronavirus variant which was first identified in Britain.

Gaza has always been vulnerable to the deadly pandemic. Under a hermetic Israeli blockade since 2006, the densely populated Gaza Strip lacks basic services like clean water, electricity, or minimally-equipped hospitals. Therefore, long before COVID-19 ravaged many parts of the world, Palestinians in Gaza were dying as a result of easily treatable diseases such as diarrhea, salmonella and typhoid fever.

Needless to say, Gaza’s cancer patients have little fighting chance, as the besieged Strip is left without many life-saving medications. Many Palestinian cancer patients continue to cling to the hope that Israel’s military authorities will allow them access to the better equipped Palestinian West Bank hospitals. Alas, quite often, death arrives before the long-awaited Israeli permit does.

The tragedy in Gaza – in fact, in all of occupied Palestine – is long and painful. Still, it ought not to be classified as another sad occasion that invokes much despair but little action.

In fact, the struggle of the Palestinians is integral to a larger struggle for fundamental human rights that can be witnessed throughout the Middle East which, according to a recent Carnegie Corporation report, is one of the most economically unequal regions in the world.

From war-torn Libya to war-torn Syria, to Yemen, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Afghanistan and many parts of the Arab and Muslim world, the dual tragedy of war and want is a scathing reminder of the price ordinary people pay for frivolous power struggles that yield nothing but more uncertainty and achieve nothing but more hatred.

Once more, the holy month of Ramadan visits the Muslim Ummah while its tragedies are still festering – new conflicts, unfinished wars, an ever-expanding death toll and a never-ending stream of refugees. Sadly, not even Ramadan, a month associated with peace, mercy and unity, is enough to bring about, however fleeting, moments of tranquility, or a respite from hunger and war for numerous Muslim communities around the world.

In Palestine, the Israeli occupation often takes even more sinister turns during this month, as if to intentionally compound the suffering felt by Palestinians. On April 14, Sheikh Muhammad Hussein, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and preacher of Al-Aqsa Mosque called on Arabs and Muslims to intervene so that Israel may cease its harassment of Palestinians at the holy shrines of Al Quds – occupied East Jerusalem.

Aside from the increased attacks by Jewish extremists, who are now storming Al-Aqsa Mosque at a significantly higher rate than ever before, the Israeli occupation authorities have “removed the doors of the Mosque’s minarets, cut the electrical wires of loudspeakers to prevent the Adhan (call to prayer) and seized (Ramadan) iftar meals, in addition to threatening to storm the Mosque on the final days of the holy month of Ramadan,” Sheikh Hussein said in a statement.

Israel fully comprehends the spiritual connection that Palestinians, whether Muslims or Christians, have to their religious symbols. For Muslims, this rapport is further accentuated during the holy month of Ramadan. Severing this connection is equal to breaking the collective spirit of the Palestinian people.

These are only a few examples of a multifaceted and deeply rooted tragedy felt by most Palestinians. Numerous similar stories, though of different political and spatial contexts, are communicated every day throughout the Muslim world. Yet, there is no meaningful discussion of a collective remedy, of a strategy, of a thoughtful answer.

Ramadan is intended to be a time when Muslims are united on the basis of a wholly different criterion: where political and ideological differences disappear in favor of spiritual unity which is expressed in fasting, prayer, charity and kindness. Unfortunately, what we are witnessing is not Ramadan as it was intended to be, but different manifestations of the holy month, each catering to a different class – a painful but true expression of the disunity and inequality that have afflicted the Muslim Ummah.

There is the Ramadan of boundless wealth, finely catered iftar meals, coupled with endless, cheap entertainment. In this Ramadan, platitudes are often offered about charity and the poor, but little is delivered.

There is also the Ramadan of Palestine, Sudan and Yemen, of the Syrian refugee camps and of little dinghies dotting the Mediterranean, carrying thousands of desperate families, holding little but their hope of a better future beyond some horizon. For them, Ramadan is a stream of prayers that the world, especially their Muslim brethren, may come to their rescue. For them, there is little entertainment because there is no electricity and there are no massive iftar feasts because there is no money.

“Dua” is Arabic for supplication. For the oppressed, dua is the last resort; at times, even a weapon against oppression in all of its forms. This is why we often see bereaved Muslims raising their open palms to the sky whenever tragedy has befallen them. Ramadan is the month where the poor, destitute and oppressed raise their hands to Heaven, beseeching God in various accents and languages to hear their prayers.

They are reassured by such hadiths – sayings of Prophet Mohammed – as this:

The supplications of three persons are never turned away: a fasting person until he breaks his fast, a just ruler and the supplication of the oppressed which is raised by Allah above the clouds, the gates of Heaven are opened for it, and the Lord says: By my might, I will help you in due time.

There has never been a more critical time for the Ummah to work together, to heal its collective wound, to uplift its down-trodden, to care for its poor, to embrace its refugees and to fight for its oppressed. Many Muslim communities around the world are aching and their pain is unbearable. Perhaps this Ramadan can serve as the opportunity for social justice to be finally enacted and for the oppressed to be heard so that their hymn of torment and hope may rise above the clouds.

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Recognition of Palestine is ‘Symbolic’ but also Critical: The Australian Case

Australia’s Labor Party’s recognition of Palestine as a State on March 30 is a welcomed position, though it comes with many caveats.

Pro-Palestinian activists are justified to question the sincerity of the ALP’s stance and whether Australia’s Labor is genuinely prepared to fully adopt this position should they form a government following the 2022 elections.

The language of the amendment regarding the recognition of Palestine is quite indecisive. While it commits the ALP to recognize Palestine as a State, it “expects that this issue will be an important priority for the next Labor government”. ‘Expecting’ that the issue would be made an ‘important priority’ is not the same as confirming that the recognition of Palestine is resolved, should Labor take office.

Moreover, the matter has been an ‘important priority’ for the ALP for years. In fact, similar language was adopted in the closing session of the Labor conference in December 2018, which supported “the recognition and right of Israel and Palestine to exist as two states within secure and recognized borders,” while adding this important clause: The ALP “calls on the next Labor government to recognize Palestine as a State”.

Unfortunately for Labor, they lost the May 2019 elections, where the Liberal Party maintained the majority, again forming a government under the leadership of Scott Morrison.

Morrison was the Prime Minister of Australia when, in 2018, the ALP adopted what was clearly a policy shift on Palestine. In fact, it was Morrison’s regressive position on Israel that supposedly compelled Labor to develop a seemingly progressive position on Palestine. Nine days after former US President, Donald Trump, defied international law by officially recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel – and subsequently relocating the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem – Morrison flirted with the idea as well, hoping to enlist the support of the pro-Israel lobbies in Australia prior to the elections.

However, Morrison did not go as far as Trump, by refraining from moving his country’s embassy to the occupied city. Instead, he developed a precarious – albeit still illegal – position where he recognized West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, promising to move his country’s “embassy to West Jerusalem when practical, in support of, and after, final-status determination.”

Canberra, however, did take ‘practical’ steps, including a decision to establish a defense and trade office in Jerusalem and proceeded to look for a site for its future embassy.

Morrison’s self-serving strategy remains a political embarrassment for Australia, as it drew the country closer to Trump’s illegal, anti-Palestinian stance. While the vast majority of United Nations member states maintained a unified position regarding the illegality of the Israeli occupation of Palestine, asserting that the status of Jerusalem can only be determined based on a negotiated agreement, the Australian government thought otherwise.

As Palestinians, Arabs and other nations mobilized against Australia’s new position, the ALP came under pressure to balance out the Liberal party’s agenda, seen as blindly supportive of military occupation and apartheid.

Since the ALP lost the elections, their new policy on Palestine could not be evaluated. Now, according to their latest policy conference conclusion, this same position has been reiterated, although with some leeway, that could potentially allow Labor to reverse or delay that position, once they are in power.

Nonetheless, the Labor position is an important step for Palestinians in their ‘legitimacy war’ against the Israeli occupation.

In a recent interview with Professor Richard Falk, former UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories, the international law expert explained the need to “distinguish symbolic politics from substantive politics”.

“In the colonial wars that were fought after 1945, the side that won usually was the side that won what I call the legitimacy war, which is the ‘symbolic battlefield’, so to speak, and maintain the principled position that was in accord with the anti-colonial flow of history,” Falk said.

Practically, this means that, often, the militarily weaker side which may lose numerous military battles could ultimately win the war. This was as true in the case of Vietnam in 1975 as it was in South Africa in 1994. It should also be true in the case of Palestine.

This is precisely why pro-Israeli politicians, media pundits and organizations are fuming in response to the ALP’s recognition of Palestine. Among the numerous angry responses, the most expressive is the position of Michael Danby. He was quoted by Australian Jewish News website as saying that ALP leaders, Anthony Albanese and Richard Marles, have done more than adopting the pro-Palestinian position of former British Labor leader, Jeremy Corbyn, by also adopting “his Stalinist methods by suppressing debate on the foreign policy motions”.

Israel and its supporters fully understand the significance of Falk’s ‘legitimacy war’. Indeed, Israel’s military superiority and complete dominance over occupied Palestinians may allow it to sustain its military occupation on the ground a while longer, but it does very little to advance its moral position, reputation and legitimacy.

The fact that ALP’s position advocates a two-state solution – which is neither just nor practical – should not detract from the fact that the recognition of Palestine is still a stance that can be utilized in the Palestinian quest for legitimizing their struggle and delegitimizing Israel’s apartheid.

Falk’s theory on ‘substantive politics’ and ‘symbolic politics’ applies here, too. While calling for defunct two-states is part of the substantive politics that is necessitated by international consensus, the symbolism of recognizing Palestine is a crucial step in dismantling Israel’s monopoly over the agenda of the West’s political elites. It is an outright defeat of the efforts of pro-Israeli lobbies.

Politicians, anywhere, cannot possibly win the legitimacy war for Palestinians, or any other oppressed nation. It is the responsibility of the Palestinians and their supporters to impose their moral agenda on the often self-serving politicians so that the symbolic politics may someday become substantive. The ALP recognition of Palestine is, for now, mere symbolism. If utilized correctly, through pressure, advocacy and mobilization, it could turn into something meaningful in the future.  This is not the responsibility of Labor, but of Palestinians themselves.

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Who is Archbishop Atallah Hanna, and why Israel hates him

“They will run and not grow weary,” is a quote from the Bible (Isaiah, 40:41) that adorns the homepage of Kairos Palestine. This important document, which parallels a similar initiative emanating from South Africa during the anti-apartheid struggle years, has come to represent the unified voice of the Palestinian Christian community everywhere. One of the main advocates of Kairos Palestine is Archbishop Atallah Hanna.

Hanna has served as the Head of the Sebastia Diocese of the Greek Orthodox Church in Jerusalem since 2005. Since then, he has used his leadership position to advocate for Palestinian unity in all of its manifestations. Expectedly, Hanna has been on Israel’s radar for many years, as this kind of leadership is problematic from the viewpoint of a hegemonic political and military power that requires utter and absolute submission.

So when Archbishop Hanna was hospitalized on December 18 as a result of what was reported to be Israeli “poisoning”, Palestinians were very concerned. A few days later, Hanna was found to be at a Jordanian hospital receiving urgent medical treatment for what was described, by Hanna himself, as “poisoning by chemical substance”. Whatever that substance may have been, it was reportedly discharged from an Israeli army gas canister, lobbed at Hanna’s Church in Jerusalem.

“The Christians of Palestine are one family of Jordanians and Palestinians,” he told journalists from his hospital bed, where he also said that “Israeli occupation may have attempted to assassinate him or keep him sick all his life, indicating that the substance has very serious effects, especially on the nervous system”.

Those familiar with Hanna’s discourse would know precisely what the rebellious Christian leader was aiming at when he spoke about the oneness of Palestinian Christians in Jordan and Palestine: unity which, sadly, has eluded Palestinians for a long time. Indeed, wherever the man may be, standing tall at a rally in Jerusalem in defence of Palestinian rights or from a hospital bed, he advocates unity among Palestinians and for the sake of Palestine.

The Kairos document is itself an act of unity among Palestinian Christian churches and organizations. “This means for us, here and now, in this land in particular, that God created us not so that we might engage in strife and conflict but rather that we might come and know and love one another, and together build up the land in love and mutual respect,” the document, championed by Hanna and many others, states.

Even before claiming his current leadership position, Hanna was a target of Israel. During the Second Intifada, the uprising of 2005, Hanna emerged on the scene as an advocate, not of Palestinian Christian rights but the rights of all Palestinians. He actively pursued the World Council of Churches to use its credibility and outreach to speak out against the Israeli occupation of Palestine and for an independent Palestinian state.

In August 2002, Hanna was detained by the Israeli police in front of his home in Jerusalem’s Old City. On the orders of the Israeli Attorney General, he was charged with ‘suspicion of relations with terrorist organizations’, a concocted charge that allowed the Israeli government to confiscate the Palestinian leader’s Israeli and Vatican passports.

Despite the fact that Palestinian Christians undergo the same experience of military occupation, oppression, and ethnic cleansing as their Muslim brethren, Israel has laboured to propagate an erroneous narrative that presents the “conflict” as one between Israel and Muslim fundamentalists. Hanna is particularly troubling for Israel because his political language demolishes Israeli hasbara at its very foundations.

“We intend to conduct special prayers inside the Church of the Nativity for the sake of our martyrs,” he declared on October 10, 2001, when he joined Christian and Muslim leaders in their march from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, to challenge Israel’s targeting of Palestinian religious sites.

In an interview with ‘Russia Today’ on January 30, 2015, Hanna refused to even concede the language battle to those who ignorantly – or purposely – ascribe Muslim terminology to terrorism. “Allahu Akbar” – God is great in Arabic – is as much Christian as it is a Muslim phrase, he argued.

“We Christians also say Allahu Akbar. This is an expression of our understanding that the Creator is great. We don’t want this phrase to be related to terrorism and crimes,” he said.

“We speak against using this phrase in this context. Those who do, they insult our religion and our religious values,” he added, again, thoughtfully linking all religious values through faith, not politics.

“The city of Jerusalem is the city of the three Abrahamic religions,” Hanna recently said at Istanbul’s “First Global Conference on Israeli Apartheid”. Tirelessly and consistently, the Archbishop announced that “Christian and Muslim Palestinians living in Jerusalem suffer from the occupation, suffer from repression, tyranny, and oppression.”

Although born in Ramah in Palestine’s upper Galilee region, Hanna’s true love was, and remains, Jerusalem. It was there that his spirituality deepened and his political ideas formulated. His advocacy for the Palestinian Arab Muslim and Christian identity of the city stands at the core of all of his activities.

“Everything Palestinian in Jerusalem is targeted by Israeli occupation,” Hanna said last January during a meeting with a Doctors without Borders delegation. “The Islamic and Christian holy sites and endowments are targeted in order to change our city, hide its identity and marginalize our Arabic and Palestinian existence,” the Archbishop lamented.

In fact, Israel has been doing exactly that, efforts that have accelerated since Donald Trump’s advent to the White House, and the US’ subsequent recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Archbishop Hanna is one of the strongest and most articulate Palestinian Christian voices in Jerusalem. His relentless work and leadership have irked Israeli authorities for many years. Now that Israel is finalizing its takeover of the illegally occupied city, Hanna, and like-minded Christian and Muslim leaders, are becoming more than mere irritants but real hurdles in the face of the Israeli military machine.

I met Abouna – Father – Hanna at a California Conference a few years ago. I heard him speak, his thunderous voice is that of a proud Palestinian Arab. He urged unity, as he always does. I chatted with him later, in the hotel lobby, as he was ready to go out for a walk with his close friend, the Mufti of Jerusalem. He was gentle and polite, and extremely funny.

As I watched them both walk outside, I felt hopeful that unity for the sake of Palestine is very much possible.

Occupied Palestine: From BDS To ODS

We spent the last week in Occupied Palestinian Territory, commonly referred to as Israel, where we traveled around the country to visit communities in Jerusalem, Jaffa, Bethlehem, the West Bank, the Nagab, and more.

We call Israel Occupied Palestine because it is not just the West Bank and Gaza that are occupied, but all of historic Palestine, the entire Palestinian nation. Palestinian people do not have equal rights and their communities are constantly encroached upon by settlers pushing them into small, crowded areas. The mistreatment of Palestinians happens right before the eyes of the Israeli Jews. If they do not see it, it is either because they do not want to see it or because they are encouraged not to see it. Just as Jim Crow racism was evident to all in the southern states of the US, apartheid in Palestine is obvious.

This visit deepened our support for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement because we saw modern apartheid, Jim Crow-segregation laws, ongoing land theft, and ethnic cleansing. For example, we were in Jerusalem when a squadron of fighter jets flew over our heads to bomb the open-air prison of Gaza killing more than 30 people. The Israeli people, media and politicians applauded that, displaying a sickness that runs deep in this colonized land founded on theft, terrorism, and violence.

To end the colonization, there is great hope of developing a movement for the creation of One Democratic State (ODS). This is being organized by a large group of Palestinians and Jews as the formation of two separate states is impossible. ODS envisions a universally equal and democratic nation where minority communities are protected and every person can vote. ODS is the first step to the decolonization and healing of Palestine.

Aida Refugee Camp (Photo by Margaret Flowers)

Correcting The Record

Palestinians are disenfranchised:  Occupied Palestine is called a liberal democracy. In reality, while Palestinians are the majority, most of them can’t vote. Out of a total population of twelve million people, five million Jews can vote and five million Palestinians can’t. The remaining two million Palestinians who live in “The 48,” the land between the West Bank and Gaza, can vote but often boycott elections in protest. The dominant parties all support anti-Palestinian policies.

Sign entering Area A, Israeli Citizens Forbidden.

Palestine has hyper-segregation: Palestine can only be described as a modern apartheid state with updated Jim Crow laws. We drove on Jewish-only roads where the color of a person’s license plate determines if they can use the road. There are military checkpoints along these roads. Palestinians are often forced to take long detours to get around the segregated roads and walls. Many Jews never meet a Palestinian because their lives are so segregated.

Under the 1993 Oslo Accords, Occupied Palestine was divided into Areas A, B and C. We visited Bethlehem, classified as Area A, where a sign upon entry warns it is against the law for Israeli-citizens to enter. In Area A, the Palestinian Authority (PA) serves as police and can arrest Israeli-Jews and turn them over to Israeli-police. In Area B, both the PA and Israeli-police have power. And, in Area C, the majority of the country, only the Israeli-police have authority.

Land Theft Against Palestinians Continues: People are often told that no one lived here before 1948 when the occupation of the area by Jewish settlers began. This massive land theft continues today. Although the German Holocaust is used to justify this, the Zionist project began well before then.

Jaffa, above, as depicted by Gutman, and, below, as the crowded Arab city that actually existed (Photo by Margaret Flowers)

This false picture is depicted by the well-known Zionist artist Nahum Gutman. His famous painting of the major Arab city of Jaffa showed only sand dunes and a few buildings where hundreds of houses stood. Today Sir Charles Clore Park covers the remains of this section of the city. Similar tactics have hidden thousands of Palestinian villages that existed before “The Nakba” in 1948.

Jaffa was an important Arab port city with a population of 90,000 before 1948 that served as an entry point into Jerusalem and beyond. The first Jewish neighborhoods were built there in the late 19th Century. Tel Aviv, the first Jewish-governed city, began in the early 20th century as a suburb of Jaffa. More than ninety-five percent of the population of Jaffa was expelled by Zionist militias in 1948 and beyond. The remaining residents were confined to an area under guard and forced to operate the port. Between 1947 and 1949, the Nakba terrorized Palestinians and forced 800,000 to flee their homes. The Absentee Property Law was used to seize the homes of those who fled.

Zionist settlers continue encroaching on land in Palestinian neighborhoods. In the historic walled city of Old Jerusalem, they come up from underground tunnels to seize homes in the Palestinian quadrant and put them under armed guards. In Palestinian East Jerusalem, Zionists continue to confiscate houses and land, pushing Palestinians to the other side of the segregation wall where they are crowded into areas without city services. Similar forced urbanization and crowding is occurring throughout Palestine. Gaza is perhaps the most severe example of this. Over the last 50 years, the Israeli government has transferred between 600,000 and 750,000 settlers to the West Bank and East Jerusalem in at least 160 settlements and outposts.

In the West Bank, Jerusalem, and Gaza, this land annexation has made a two-state solution physically impossible. The combination of hundreds of thousands of settlers, Jewish-only roads plus the Expansion (or Annexation) Wall that divides Palestinian communities, and more than 200 checkpoints have severely restricted movement for Palestinians and seized 78% of their country.

A banner hanging in Mea Shearim, a Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem.

Judaism is not Zionism: In the 1880s, Palestinian Jews amounted to three percent of the total population. They were apolitical and did not aspire to build a Jewish state. We met with Rabbi Meir Hirsch in the Mea Sharim neighborhood of Jerusalem. This tightly-knit ultra-Orthodox Jewish neighborhood has signs posted on the walls that say: ‘A Jew Not a Zionist,’ ‘Zionism is Dying’ and ‘Arabs are Good.’

Hirsch’s family came to Palestine 150 years ago from Russia. His people came to better worship God, not to take land from Palestinians. Hirsch told us about Jacob Israël de Haan, a Dutch Jew who worked to prevent the 1917 Balfour Declaration and almost succeeded. The Balfour Declaration, issued by the British government, announced support for the establishment of a “national home for the Jewish people” in Palestine. De Haan was assassinated in Jerusalem by the Jewish paramilitary organization Haganah for his anti-Zionist political activities. His murder led to the Neturei Karta movement, which resists Zionism to this day.

Hirsch views Zionism as contradictory to the Jewish religion. His community believes the Torah does not allow Jewish sovereignty of any kind over the Holy Land and those who want to live there must have the approval of the native Palestinian people. Hirsch says that ultra-Orthodox Jews “want to see the end of the Zionist tragedy and the restoration of peace to the Middle East.”  His views counter those who claim criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic as, he says, “Judaism and Zionism are as foreign to each other as day and night, good and evil.”

Graffiti made by the graffiti artist Banksy is seen on Israel’s Separation Wall in Abu Dis on August 6, 2005. (Photo by Marco Di Lauro/Getty Images)

One Democratic State

There is a positive path to resolving the conflict between Jews and Palestinians. The path comes from the movement for One Democratic State, which envisions a genuinely just and workable political agreement developed by Palestinians and Jews together.

There has been a marked decline in support for a two-state solution. A poll conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research from September 11-14, 2019 found only 42% of Palestinians now support the two-state solution. When President Netanyahu entered office a decade ago, that figure was 70%. Similarly, fewer than half of the Jews now support a two-state solution. Further, 63% of Palestinians believe a two-state solution is no longer practical or feasible due to the expansion of the settlements and 83% support the local and international boycott (BDS) movement against Israel.

We met separately with two leaders of this campaign, Awad Abdelfattah, a founder of the Arab Balad Party, and Ilan Pappe, an Israeli historian. Along with many others in the ODS campaign, they seek a multicultural and constitutional democracy in which all people enjoy a common citizenship, a common parliament, and equal civil rights, with constitutional protection granted to national, ethnic and religious views. ODS means equal rights for Palestinians and protection of the rights of Jews.

Their vision includes making the Palestinian ‘right of return’ a reality. Palestinian homes and communities were demolished years ago. According to the Palestinian geographer Salman Abu-Sitta, 85% of Palestinian lands taken in 1948 are still available for resettlement. While more than 530 villages, towns, and urban areas were systematically demolished, their agricultural lands still exist. Other lands lie under public parks and forests. Refugees could actually return, if not to their former homes, at least to the parts of the country where they originated. Palestinian planners could design modern communities for refugees and their descendants in the areas they left with new communities and economic infrastructure that is integrated with other segments of the society. Land redistribution, financial compensation, and equal access to education, training and the economy would enable refugees, like other Palestinians, to achieve economic parity with Jews within a fairly short time.

For Jews, their security will increase by providing constitutional protection of their collective rights. While structures of privilege and domination would be dismantled, the “collective rights” of groups to maintain their community in the framework of a multi-cultural democracy (e.g., communities of ethnic Russians, African asylum-seekers, foreign workers, anti-Zionist ultra-orthodox Jews, and others) give Jews the collective security they need.

ODS views the establishment of a just and working state as requiring: decolonization, restoration, and reconciliation. Decolonization includes ending economic, cultural, political, and legal domination. This means building an egalitarian, inclusive and sustainable society that restores the rights, properties (actual or through compensation), identities and social position of those expelled, excluded and oppressed. This is followed by reconciliation to confront the still-open wounds of the Nakba and the Occupation, and the suffering they have caused.

While the view may sound Utopian to some, in fact, it is the practical path out of the current disaster of Occupied Palestine. Palestine is already one nation. The issue is whether it will be a democratic state with equal rights for all citizens that dismantles the apartheid system or whether it will remain an undemocratic and unequal settler-colonial nation.

We titled this article “BDS to ODS” because while this solution must come from the Palestinian people, along with Jews, people in the United States and throughout the world who support peace and justice have an important role to play through the growing BDS campaign to pressure Israel into accepting ODS. This struggle will be won through solidarity between popular movements inside and outside Occupied Palestine.

We encourage you to visit Occupied Palestine to see and learn for yourself. If you visit Jerusalem, be sure to take the tour offered by Grassroots Jerusalem. They also offer a guide to Palestinian places to stay, shop and eat. Zochrot is an organization that also offers tours and resources about the Nakba. If you are interested in direct service, you can volunteer to assist with the olive harvest or volunteer in places such as the Aida Refugee Camp. They need all sorts of volunteers, especially those who can provide instruction to children in music and arts. Visit Volunteer Palestine to see the many opportunities available.

How Evangelical Christians Risk Setting the Middle East on Fire

The recent arrival of Africa’s most popular televangelist preacher, TB Joshua, to address thousands of foreign pilgrims in Nazareth produced a mix of consternation and anger in the city of Jesus’s childhood.

There was widespread opposition from Nazareth’s political movements, as well as from community groups and church leaders, who called for a boycott of his two rallies. They were joined by the council of muftis, which described the events as “a red line for faith in religious values”.

Joshua’s gatherings, which included public exorcisms, took place in an open-air amphitheatre on a hill above Nazareth that was originally built for papal masses. The site was used by Pope Benedict in 2009.

The Nigerian pastor, who has millions of followers worldwide and calls himself a prophet, aroused local hostility not only because his brand of Christianity strays far from the more traditional doctrines of Middle Eastern churches. He also represents a trend of foreign Christians, driven by apocalyptic readings of the Bible, interfering ever more explicitly in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories – and in ways that directly aid the policies of Israel’s far-right government.

Much-needed tourism boost

Nazareth is the largest of the Palestinian communities in Israel that survived the Nakba, or catastrophe, of 1948, which forced most of the native population out of the bulk of their homeland and replaced it with a Jewish state. Today, one in five Israeli citizens are Palestinian.

The city and its immediate environs include the highest concentration of Palestinian Christians in the region. But it has long suffered from the hostility of Israeli officials, who have starved Nazareth of resources to prevent it from becoming a political, economic or cultural capital for the Palestinian minority.

The city has almost no land for growth or industrial areas to expand its income base, and Israel has tightly constrained its ability to develop a proper tourism industry. Most pilgrims pass through briefly to visit its Basilica of the Annunciation, the site where the angel Gabriel reputedly told Mary she was carrying Jesus.

Nazareth’s municipal officials leapt at the chance to exploit the publicity, and income, provided by Joshua’s visit. The municipality’s longer-term hope is that, if the city can attract even a small proportion of the more than 60 million Christian evangelicals in the US and millions more in Africa and Europe, it will provide an enormous boost to the city’s economy.

Recent figures show evangelical tourism to Israel has been steadily rising, now accounting for about one in seven of all overseas visitors.

Playing with fire

But as the fallout over Joshua’s visit indicates, Nazareth may be playing with fire by encouraging these types of pilgrims to take a greater interest in the region. Most local Christians understand that Joshua’s teachings are not directed at them – and, in fact, are likely to harm them.

The Nigerian pastor chose Nazareth to spread his gospel, but faced vocal opposition from those who believe he is using the city simply as the backdrop to his bigger mission – one that appears entirely indifferent to the plight of Palestinians, whether those living inside Israel in places such as Nazareth, or those under occupation.

Political factions in Nazareth noted Joshua’s “ties to far-right and settlers circles in Israel”. He is reported to have had meetings about opening operations in the Jordan Valley, the reputed site of Jesus’ baptism but also the agricultural backbone of the West Bank. The area is being targeted by the far-right government of Benjamin Netanyahu for settlement expansion and possible annexation, thereby dooming efforts to create a Palestinian state.

A view of Armageddon

During his visits to Israel, Joshua has also enjoyed access to key government figures such as Yariv Levin, a close ally of Netanyahu’s, who has been in charge of two portfolios viewed as critical by the evangelical community: tourism, and the absorption into Israel of new Jewish immigrants from the US and Europe.

Many in the evangelical community, including Joshua, believe it is their duty to encourage Jews to move from their home countries to the Promised Land to bring forward an end-times supposedly prophesied in the Bible.

This is the Rapture, when Jesus returns to build his kingdom on earth and righteous Christians take their place alongside him. Everyone else, including unrepentant Jews, it is implied, will burn in Hell’s eternal fires.

The cliff above the Jezreel Valley where Joshua and his disciples congregated offers views over Tel Megiddo, the modern name of the biblical site of Armageddon, where many evangelicals believe the end of the world will soon happen.

Speeding up the second coming

These Christians are not simply observers of an unfolding divine plan; they are active participants trying to bring the end-times closer.

In fact, the traumas of the Israel-Palestine conflict – the decades of bloodshed, violent colonisation and expulsions of Palestinians – cannot be understood separately from the interference of Western Christian leaders in the Middle East over the past century. In many ways, they engineered the Israel we know today.

The first Zionists, after all, were not Jews, but Christians. A vigorous Christian Zionist movement – known then as “restorationism” – emerged in the early 19th century, predating and heavily influencing its subsequent Jewish counterpart.

The restorationists’ peculiar reading of the Bible meant that they believed the Messiah’s second coming could be accelerated if God’s chosen people, the Jews, returned to the Promised Land after 2,000 years of a supposed exile.

Charles Taze Russell, a US pastor from Pennsylvania, travelled the world from the 1870s onwards imploring Jews to establish a national home for themselves in what was then Palestine. He even produced a plan for how a Jewish state might be created there.

He did so nearly 20 years before the Jewish Viennese journalist Theodor Herzl published his famous book outlining a Jewish state.

The secular Herzl didn’t much care where such a Jewish state was built. But his later followers – deeply aware of the hold of Christian Zionism in western capitals – focused their attention on Palestine, the biblical Promised Land, in the hope of winning powerful allies in Europe and the US.

Rallying cry for Herzl’s followers

Imperial Britain’s support was especially prized. In 1840, Lord Shaftesbury, who was connected through marriage to Lord Palmerston, a later prime minister, published an advert in the London Times urging the return of Jews to Palestine.

Christian Zionism was an important factor influencing the British government in 1917 to issue the Balfour Declaration – effectively a promissory note from Britain that became the blueprint for creating a Jewish state on the ruins of the native population’s homeland.

Writing of the declaration, Israeli historian Tom Segev has observed: “The men who sired it were Christian and Zionist and, in many cases, anti-Semitic.” That was because Christian Zionism took as its premise that Jews should not integrate into their own countries. Rather, they should serve as instruments of God’s will, moving to the Middle East so that Christians could achieve redemption.

Edwin Montagu was the only British cabinet minister to oppose the Balfour Declaration, and he was also its sole Jewish member. He warned – for good reason – that the document would “prove a rallying ground for anti-Semites in every country in the world”.

‘Struggle until the Rapture’

While Jewish Zionists looked to the imperial powerhouse of Britain for sponsorship a century ago, today, their chief patron is the US. The standard-bearers of Christian Zionism have been enjoying growing influence in Washington since the Six-Day War of 1967.

That process has reached its apotheosis under President Donald Trump. He has surrounded himself with a mix of extreme Jewish and Christian Zionists. His ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, and Middle East envoy, Jason Greenblatt, are fervent Jewish supporters of the illegal settlements. But so too, it seems, are key Christians in the White House, such as Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Before he entered government, Pompeo was clear about his evangelical beliefs. Back in 2015, he told a congregation: “It is a never-ending struggle … until the Rapture. Be part of it. Be in the fight.”

This past March, he backed the idea that Trump might have been sent by God to save Israel from threats such as Iran. “I am confident that the Lord is at work here,” he told the Christian Broadcasting Network.

Pence, meanwhile, has said: “My passion for Israel springs from my Christian faith … It’s really the greatest privilege of my life to serve as vice-president to a president who cares so deeply for our most cherished ally.”

Sleeping giant awakens

Trump’s relocation last year of the US embassy to Jerusalem, pre-empting any negotiated settlement of the Israel-Palestine conflict, was designed to pander to his Christian Zionist base. Some 80 percent of white evangelicals voted for him in 2016, and he will need their support again in 2020 if he hopes to be re-elected.

Not surprisingly, the new US embassy in Jerusalem was consecrated by two prominent televangelist pastors, John Hagee and Robert Jeffress, known for their fanatical support for Israel – as well as occasional antisemitic outbursts.

More than a decade ago, Hagee, the founder of Christians United for Israel, told delegates at a conference organised by AIPAC, Israel’s main political lobby in Washington: “The sleeping giant of Christian Zionism has awakened. There are 50 million Christians standing up and applauding the state of Israel.”

The Hagee group’s activities include lobbying in Congress for hardline pro-Israel legislation, such as the recent Taylor Force Act that slashes US funding to the Palestinian Authority, the Palestinians’ government-in-waiting. The group is also active in helping to push through legislation at the state and federal levels, penalising anyone who boycotts Israel.

For US evangelicals, and those elsewhere, Israel is increasingly a key issue. A 2015 poll showed some three-quarters believe that developments in Israel were prophesied in the Bible’s Book of Revelation.

Many expect Trump to complete a chain of events set in motion by British officials a century ago – and more and more of them are getting directly involved, in hopes of speeding along that process.

Closer ties to settlers

Israel’s vision of an “ingathering of the exiles” – encouraging Jews from around the world to move to the region under the Law of Return – fits neatly with Christian Zionism’s beliefs in a divine plan for the Middle East.

The efforts of extremist Jewish settlers to colonise the West Bank, the bulk of any future Palestinian state, also chimes with Christian Zionists’ understanding of the West Bank as the “biblical heartland”, an area Jews must possess before Jesus returns.

For these reasons, evangelicals are developing ever-closer ties with Israeli Jewish religious extremists, especially in the settlements. Recent initiatives have included online and face-to-face Bible studies programmes run by Orthodox Jews, often settlers, targeted specifically at evangelical Christians. The tutorials are designed to bolster the settlers’ narrative, as well as demonising Muslims and, by extension, Palestinians.

The most popular course offered by Root Source, one such venture, is titled “Islam – Insights and Deceptions”. It uses the Old and New Testaments to make the case that Islam “is extremely dangerous”.

A few months ago, Haaretz, Israel’s leading liberal newspaper, published an investigation into the growing flow of evangelical volunteers and money into the West Bank’s illegal settlements – the chief obstacle to achieving a two-state solution.

One US organisation alone, Hayovel, has brought more than 1,700 Christian volunteers over the past 10 years to help in a settlement close to Nablus, in the heart of the West Bank.

Evangelical money pours in

An increasing number of similar initiatives have been aided by new rules introduced last year by the Israeli government to pay Christian Zionist groups such as Hayovel to advocate abroad for the settlements.

It is much harder to know exactly how much evangelical money is pouring into the settlements, because of a lack of transparency regarding US donations made by churches and charities. But the Haaretz investigation estimates that over the past decade, as much as $65m has flowed in.

Ariel, a settler town sitting in the very centre of the West Bank, received $8m for a sports centre from John Hagee Ministries a decade ago. Another evangelical outfit, J H Israel, has spent $2m there on a national leadership centre.

Other Christian charities that have historically funded projects inside Israel are reported to be increasingly considering assisting the settlements too.

Should a Trump peace plan – touted for publication later this year – back annexation of parts of the West Bank, as is widely expected, it would likely unleash a new and even greater wave of evangelical money into the settlements.

Immune to reason

This is precisely the problem for Palestinians, and the wider Middle East. Christian Zionists are meddling yet again, whether they be government officials, church leaders or their congregations. Evangelical influence is to be found from the US and Brazil to Europe, Africa and Southeast Asia.

Western governments typically have more practical and pressing concerns than realising biblical prophecy to justify divide-and-rule policies in the Middle East. Chiefly, they want control over the region’s oil resources, and can secure it only by projecting military power there to prevent rival nations from gaining a foothold.

But the uncritical support of tens of millions of Christians around the world, whose passion for Israel is immune to reason, makes the job of these governments selling wars and resource grabs all the easier.

Both Israel and the West have benefited from cultivating an image of a plucky Jewish state surrounded by barbaric Arabs and Muslims determined to destroy it. As a result, Israel has enjoyed ever greater integration into a Western power bloc, while Western governments have been offered easy pretexts either to interfere in the region directly or delegate such interference to Israel.

The payoff for Israel has been unstinting support from the US and Europe, as it oppresses and drives the Palestinians off their lands.

With an evangelical base behind him, Trump has no need to offer plausible arguments before he acts. He can move the US embassy to Jerusalem, or approve the annexation of the West Bank, or attack Iran.

Standing against Israel’s enemies

Seen this way, any enemy Israel claims to have – whether the Palestinians or Iran – automatically becomes the sworn enemy of tens of millions of evangelical Christians.

Netanyahu understands the growing importance of this uncritical overseas lobby as his and Israel’s standing drops precipitously among liberal US Jews, appalled by the rightward lurch of successive governments.

In 2017, Netanyahu told a crowd of evangelicals in Washington: “When I say we have no greater friends than Christian supporters of Israel, I know you’ve always stood with us.”

For Palestinians, this is bad news. Most of these evangelicals, such as T B Joshua, are largely indifferent or hostile to the fate of the Palestinians – even Palestinian Christians, such as those in Nazareth.

A recent editorial in Haaretz noted that Netanyahu and his officials were now “endeavoring to make evangelicals – who support Israel’s hawkish rejectionism regarding the Palestinians – the sole foundation of American support for Israel.”

The truth is that these Christian Zionists view the region through a single, exclusive prism: whatever aids the imminent arrival of the Messiah is welcomed. The only issue is how soon God’s “chosen people” will congregate in the Promised Land.

If the Palestinians stand in Israel’s way, these tens of millions of foreign Christians will be quite happy to see the native population driven out once again – as they were in 1948 and 1967.

• Previously published in Middle East Eye

Jerusalem’s Old City: How Palestine’s Past is Being Slowly Erased

Israel has controlled East Jerusalem and the walled Old City since the 1967 war in which it also occupied the adjacent West Bank. It has effectively treated them as annexed territory ever since.

To consolidate its grip on the Old City, Israel has demolished homes and expelled Palestinian residents, empowered Jewish settlers, and imposed sweeping restrictions that make it virtually impossible for most Palestinians to pray at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, one of the holiest sites in Islam.

The final status of the Old City has been the subject of various proposals ever since the United Nations’ 1947 partition plan, which proposed that it should fall under a special international regime, separate from the division of historic Palestine into Arab and Jewish states because of its shared importance to Muslims, Jews and Christians.

The Palestinians claim East Jerusalem, including the Old City, as the capital of a future state, while Israeli leaders have claimed Jerusalem as the state’s “eternal capital” since 1949.

The Old City has huge historic, economic, religious and now national symbolism for both Palestinians and Israelis, particularly because of the Al-Aqsa compound, known as Haram al-Sharif to Muslims and Temple Mount to Jews. This is the most explosive issue in an already incendiary conflict.

Trump endorsement

But US President Donald Trump’s decision to move the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem in May 2018 appeared to pre-empt negotiations determining Jerusalem’s status by implying US recognition of exclusive Israeli sovereignty over the city.

Washington’s endorsement for such a move in any proposed peace plan – including Trump’s infamous “deal of the century” – would not, however, mark the first time it has suggested that the Palestinian claim to the Old City should be brought to the negotiating table.

At talks in 2000 between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat, hosted by US President Bill Clinton at his Camp David residence, US mediators proposed dividing sovereignty over the Old City.

According to the US proposal, Israel would take the Jewish and Armenian quarters, with the Palestinians getting the Muslim and Christian quarters.

Israel, however, demanded exclusive sovereignty over East Jerusalem, with the Palestinians having merely administrative authority over the Old City’s Muslim and Christian Quarters.

Seven years later, at Annapolis, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert evaded the sovereignty issue by proposing instead a temporary international trusteeship administered by Israel, a Palestinian state, the US, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.

More than half a century of Israeli occupation has left its physical and political mark on the Old City. Along with East Jerusalem, the Old City is ruled over by a Jerusalem municipality run by Israeli officials.

After occupying the Old City in 1967, Israel quickly sought to secure control of the area immediately next to the Western Wall, demolishing dozens of homes in a Moroccan neighbourhood and expelling many hundreds of Palestinian inhabitants to create a large prayer plaza.

The Jewish Quarter was also re-established, though Israel converted many former homes into synagogues and seminaries for religious Jews.

Shrinking Palestinian population

Palestinians have been unnerved by the number of physical changes around Al-Aqsa and the neighbouring Muslim Quarter that appear to be designed to strengthen Israel’s control not only over the Western Wall but the mosque compound too.

This has included extending tunnels under homes in the Muslim Quarter to make more of the Western Wall accessible. Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to open a Western Wall tunnel exit in 1996 led to clashes that killed dozens of Palestinians and 15 Israel soldiers.

Israel has denied the Old City a master plan, making it all but impossible for Palestinians to expand their homes to cope with population growth.

In fact, rather than growing over the past decade, the Palestinian population has shrunk by 2,000, now down to 32,000 residents. Most have left for other areas of Jerualem or the West Bank.

The lack of vacant space in the Muslim and Christian Quarters has prevented Israel from building Jewish settlements there, as it has done elsewhere in East Jerusalem. It has therefore assisted settler organisations in taking over existing Palestinian homes.

There are now about 1,000 Jewish settlers living in the Muslim and Christian Quarters, according to Ir Amim, an Israeli organisation campaigning for equal rights in Jerusalem. These settlers constitute a quarter of the Jews living in the Old City.

Ateret Cohanim, a settler group, has been at the forefront of these incremental takeovers of Palestinian homes, threatening blackmail, using Palestinian collaborators as middlemen to make purchases, and seeking evictions in the Israeli courts.

Currently, 20 Palestinian families in the Old City face evictions, according to Ir Amim.

Settlers have also been taking over properties in the Christian Quarter owned by the Greek Orthodox church, apparently using each new Patriarch’s dependence on Israel’s approval of his appointment as leverage to force through the sales.

‘Death to the Arabs’

Every Jerusalem Day, an Israeli holiday celebrating the capture of Jerusalem in 1967, settlers march in force through the Muslim Quarter, chanting “Death to the Arabs” and intimidating local residents.

A rally by Palestinians inside the Al-Aqsa compound this year was broken up by Israeli security forces who entered the site firing rubber bullets and stun grenades. Settlers were able to march through the site.

Aviv Tartasky, of Ir Amim, notes that the expansion of Jews living in the Muslim and Christian Quarters brings more aggressive and invasive policing operations that make life harder for Palestinians, further pressuring them to leave.

Over the years, Israel has made it even harder for Palestinians to access the Old City.

Despite Al-Aqsa’s central place in Islamic worship, almost none of the two million Palestinians from Gaza have been able to reach Jerusalem since the mid-1990s, when the coastal enclave was sealed off by Israel with a fence.

Israel’s wall and checkpoints have separated Palestinians in the West Bank from Jerusalem, leaving most struggling to reach the Old City too.

And while Palestinians within Jerusalem have traditionally accessed the Old City via the northern Damascus Gate, Israel has made the gate less appealing by increasing the presence of armed police there, providing them with a guard tower, and conducting regular security checks on Palestinian youths.

Banned from al-Aqsa

After 1967, Israel and Jordan agreed on a so-called “status quo” for Al-Aqsa: the Waqf, a Jordanian-led Islamic trust, would administer the compound while Israel would be responsible for security outside. In addition, only Muslims would be allowed to pray at the site.

In practice, Israel’s interpretation of that agreement has strengthened its hand by allowing it to control who has access to the compound. Sweeping restrictions mean only older Palestinians, and a few who receive permits, are now allowed to access Al-Aqsa for Friday prayers.

Israel has regularly operated inside the compound too. It shuttered a prayer room, Bab al-Rahmeh, in 2003 after it was renovated by a popular Palestinian religious leader in Israel, Sheikh Raed Salah. Despite holding Israeli citizenship, Salah has been banned from entering the Al-Aqsa compound for more than a decade.

Israel blocked Waqf-led efforts to reopen Bab al-Rahmeh in February, leading to clashes with Israeli security forces and a temporary bar on Waqf leaders entering Al-Aqsa.

In 2015, Israel also banned volunteer male and female civil guards, the Mourabitoun, from the compound after confrontations with Jewish visitors to the site. But Israel had to climb down in 2017 after it installed surveillance cameras and tried to force Palestinian worshippers to pass through metal detectors.

Meanwhile, Israelis have been staking ever stronger claims to control of the compound. In 2000, Ariel Sharon, then opposition leader, marched into the site backed by hundreds of armed guards, triggering the Second Intifada.

And since the ban on the Mourabitoun, Israeli police have failed to enforce rules banning Jews from praying in the compound, according to watchdog groups.

Israeli politicians, including government ministers, have become increasingly sympathetic to settler demands to divide the site to allow for Jewish prayer.

Even more hardline groups wishing to destroy Al-Aqsa and build a new Jewish temple in its place have become more mainstream in Israeli society in recent years.

In the two years from 2016 to 2018, the number of Jews reported entering the compound more than doubled, from 14,000 to 30,000.

Christians squeezed out

Christian residents suffer similar problems to Muslims, including planning restrictions and efforts by settlers to take over properties.

But Christians also face specific pressures. As a very small community, they have been severely isolated by Israel’s policy cutting off Jerusalem from West Bank Christians in Bethlehem and the Ramallah area.

Israel’s denial of the right of Jerusalemites to live with a West Bank spouse in the city, or register their children, has hit the Christian community particularly hard, forcing many to move into the West Bank.

Also, a dramatic downturn in tourism for many years after the eruption of the Second Intifada in 2000 left many Christian families in the Old City in financial trouble because they depend on income from souvenir shops and work as tour guides.

A move last year by Israel to tax Church property in Jerusalem was reversed after the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was shuttered in protest.

But it was seen by Christians as a further sign that their community is under assault and that Israel views them as an obstacle to its efforts to “Judaise” the Old City, said Yousef Daher, of the Jerusalem Interchurch Centre, located in the Old City.

Daher noted that rather than growing, as would be expected, Jerusalem’s wider Christian population has declined from 12,000 in 1967 to a total of 9,000 today.

Although there are no official figures, he estimated that no more than 2,400 Christians remained in the Old City. He added that Palestinian Christians find it easier to leave the region because of their connections to overseas churches and the fact that they often have relatives abroad.

Shopping mall and a cable car

Israeli access to the Old City, traditionally via the Jaffa Gate on the western side between the Christian and Armenian quarters, has been facilitated by the new luxury Mamilla shopping mall, which effectively serves as a bridge from West Jerusalem’s city centre.

Israel is now seeking to turn Dung Gate, on the south-eastern side and leading into the Jewish Quarter, into the main entrance. The difficulty is that Dung Gate abuts the Palestinian neighbourhood of Silwan.

Ir Amim notes that Dung Gate is seen by Israel as an important gateway for the settlers as they intensify their takeover of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem, part of efforts to encircle the Al-Aqsa compound.

Israel is therefore building a cable car that will carry visitors from West Jerusalem over Silwan directly to a settler-run compound. From there, visitors will be able to enter above ground through Dung Gate or underground through tunnels running below the Old City walls to surface at the foot of the Western Wall.

Palestinians and Israeli activists are concerned that the purpose is to direct Jewish and foreign visitors away from the Muslim and Christian quarters, both to conceal the Palestinian presence in the Old City and to starve Palestinian shopkeepers of the traditional trade from those passing through Damascus and Jaffa gates.

• First published in Middle East Eye