The outburst of Palestinian protests and Israeli “security” measures in Jerusalem since July 14 continues a saga that has pertained since Israeli occupied the entire city in June 1967, but with a few significant new twists this time. Here are some of them in this ongoing battle between Israelis and Palestinians.
The power of sustained, mass, non-violent protest by Palestinian civilians, with a precise focus and specific demands, caused Israel to drop all the new “security” measures it said were needed at the Al-Aqsa compound. The success and power of such mass protest will have major implications for the future. Tens of thousands of men, women, and children who placed their prayer mats on the ground in the open air and prayed near their Islamic holy site sent a critical message to multiple audiences: Israel, the Palestinian leadership, the Arab-Islamic world, and the international community.
To the Israeli government and its rightwing colonial-settler Zionist fanatics, the message was that hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Arabs in Jerusalem will stand their ground when they feel their rights are threatened, and they will kneel to no one, literally, but to God, as they do when they kneel in prayer.
To the divided and broadly hapless Palestinian national leaderships (Fateh and Hamas) that cling to power without serving their people very well, the message was that Palestinian men and women can take charge of their own interests and well-being when they need to; and they can negotiate with the Israelis to achieve better results than Fateh and Hamas have ever achieved. An important new development in this instance of Palestinian-Israeli confrontation in Jerusalem was the role played by the four-member religious leadership of the Islamic holy places waqf (endowment), in close consultation with local community leaders.
To the Arab-Islamic world, where support for the Palestinians in occupied Arab East Jerusalem was sporadic and erratic, the message was that it would be childish of them to try and establish close political, economic, or security links with the Israeli government while Israel was still taking measures to consolidate its control of all Jerusalem against the wishes of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Arab residents of the city.
This is particularly relevant to continuing attempts by Israel, with apparent U.S. support, to develop more normal relations with Saudi Arabia and other Arab Gulf states, as a confidence-building measure to prod all concerned in the Arab-Israeli conflict towards a negotiated peace. The Palestinians on the ground showed that their confident assertion of their presence and their rights in Jerusalem was the way to push Israel to change its policy.
To the rest of the world, the message was that the international community should stop falling for the old Israeli ruse that strict controls on Palestinian movement and actions must be put in place for “security” reasons. Israel dropped all the “security” measures it had taken unilaterally—cameras, gates, railings, metal-detectors—when it saw itself confronted by the collective will of hundreds of thousands of unarmed men, women, and children who took to the streets every day and night to affirm only that they are Palestinians who have the right to live in dignity in their own ancestral city.
Some people will say that this particular show of mass collective self-assertion by the Palestinians was due to the fact that it was a religious site—the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound—that they felt was being threatened and besmirched by Israeli actions. That is only partly correct. The more accurate and complete picture is that this incident exploded into a major confrontation because of the complex interactions between religious and political identity that converge in Jerusalem as they do nowhere else in the world. The Palestinians of Jerusalem have found themselves vulnerable, unrepresented, unprotected, and leaderless for many decades since 1967, because neither the occupying Israeli authorities nor the fragmented Palestinian leaderships look out for the best interests and basic human rights of the Jerusalemite Palestinians.
After the Israelis removed all their “security” measures Thursday and the waqf leadership announced that public prayers would resume in the mosque, the lengthy and boisterous Palestinian street celebrations were a rare instance of this community enjoying a collective success. All these aspects of the episode suggest that more organized local coordination among religious and civic leaders in Arab East Jerusalem is likely to occur, especially because Israeli continues to find ways to continue the slow-motion ethnic cleansing of Palestinian Arabs that it wants to drive out of the city.
The latest example is an Israeli move to redraw the borders of occupied Arab East Jerusalem as Israel defines them, which would exclude over 100,000 Palestinian Arabs from being residents of the city. If this happens, the Arab proportion of Jerusalemites would shrink further, making them more vulnerable to Israeli pressures and incentives to emigrate. The lessons to be learned from this round of nationalistic confrontation in Jerusalem will be pivotal for future developments in the city where Arabism and Zionism have battled for control for many decades now, and the battle goes on.
Rami G. Khouri is senior public policy fellow and professor of journalism at the American University of Beirut, and a non-resident senior fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School Middle East Initiative. On Twitter: @ramikhouri.
Copyright ©2017 Rami G. Khouri — distributed by Agence Global
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