Osama Al Sharif
Even when some Israeli commentators and politicians warn of an imminent outburst of a “quiet Intifada” in occupied Jerusalem, and the rest of the West Bank, accusing Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of stoking it, what is clear from the events of the past few weeks is that the Israeli government is waging an open war to take over Al Aqsa Mosque and Judaise occupied East Jerusalem. What we are witnessing is the execution of a diabolic scheme to detach occupied Jerusalem from its Arab and Muslim roots and identity.
Since Israel occupied East Jerusalem, including the old city, in June 1967, there have been numerous attempts by Jewish extremists to take over Al Haram Al Sharif and destroy Al Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site for Muslims. Under various governments, Israel launched heavy subterranean excavations under the Muslim quarter in search of archaeological clues, trying to prove the existence of the temple of Solomon. In addition, large areas in the old city were torn down and Arab inhabitants relocated in order to make room for a Jewish quarter adjacent to the Separation Wall (western). Right after the Six-Day War, Israel annexed East Jerusalem, declaring the “united city” as its capital and in 1980 it passed a law making this annexation explicit and final. Successive Israeli governments refused to concur with United Nations Security Council resolutions that occupied East Jerusalem is an occupied territory. It is no wonder then that right-wing governments carried out massive colony building in East Jerusalem, effectively cutting any geographical connection with the West Bank.
Such plans coincided with attempts to depopulate Arabs from the city through heavy taxation, denying building permits, withdrawing residency cards and demolishing entire Palestinian neighbourhoods. The Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) estimated that there were 267,000 Jewish colonists in occupied East Jerusalem living in 26 colonies by the end of 2011; almost the same number as Arabs. According to researcher Maath Musleh, the Israeli government has confiscated about 86 per cent of the Palestinian land in occupied East Jerusalem since the occupation. Its target, he says, is to reduce the percentage of Arabs in occupied East Jerusalem to less than 10 per cent by 2015. The assault on occupied East Jerusalem is not new, but the acceleration of attempts to break into Al Haram Al Sharif by Jewish extremists and Israeli officials is. In the past two months, incursions into Al Haram Al Sharif have become a daily occurrence, coinciding with the kidnapping and killing of Palestinian youth Mohammad Abu Khudair last July. Since then, Arab residents of occupied East Jerusalem’s neighbourhoods and refugee camps have been on the edge with frequent clashes with Israeli police resulting in death and injuries.
And last week, Israel took an unprecedented step of closing Al Aqsa Mosque to Muslim worshippers. It took the personal intervention of King Abdullah of Jordan to force Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who reportedly paid a secret visit to Amman, to reverse that decision. But by mid-week, the incursions picked up again, igniting Palestinian anger. Jordan recalled its ambassador to Tel Aviv in protest and planned to lodge a complaint with the UN Security Council.
The fate of occupied East Jerusalem is an essential component of the final status negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis in search of a two-state solution. However, negotiations between Palestinians and the right-wing government headed by Netanyahu had faltered after months of fruitless negotiations. The fate of the Old City and Muslim holy places is not a bilateral issue between Israel and the Palestinians. Under the 1994 Jordan-Israel peace treaty, the former maintains a special role as custodian of holy places. Jordanian waqf administers Al Aqsa Mosque and other Muslim shrines in the city. That role had been respected by Israel for decades — until the past few weeks.
However, now the Netanyahu government is violating its commitments. Israeli lawmakers want to “partition” the mosque so that Jewish worshippers can enter and pray at a specified daily time slot. So far, the law has not been passed and Netanyahu has declared that the status of Al Aqsa Mosque will not change. Yet, his government had just announced plans to build an additional 1,000 units of colony houses in occupied East Jerusalem. His police are providing protection as they escort officials and Jewish extremists into the compound while preventing Muslims from having access to the mosque.
Netanyahu has defended colony plans in occupied East Jerusalem and his government is unlikely to bow under US and international pressure. He is using the pause in negotiations and the fact that the international community is busy fighting Daesh (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) in Iraq and Syria to hasten plans to drive away Arab residents and enable Jewish extremists to take over Al Aqsa Mosque.
The fact is occupied East Jerusalem is under a blatant Israeli attack. The Palestinians and Jordanians can only do so much, but that is not enough to stop Israel from carrying out its threats. Netanyahu, who has challenged US President Barack Obama in the past and won, will make use of the latest Republican victory in US mid-term elections, which will weaken Obama further for the remainder of his second term in office. It may sound parochial and naive, but the only way occupied East Jerusalem and Al Aqsa Mosque can be saved is by Arab and Muslim leaders banding together and taking a united stand on this issue.
Israel is betting on Arab and Muslim divisions and is raising the stakes in spite of Netanyahu’s assurances. Unless a decisive step is taken today, the final battle for Occupied Jerusalem will be lost.