Twenty-five years ago, the Berlin Wall came down. John F Kennedy’s famous speech “I am a Berliner” had made that wall the symbol of the West that embodies the “other” against which it fought for decades, justifying countless wars and dictatorships as well as internal repression. November 9, 1989 marked the end of the Cold War confrontation, and the Arab and Muslim populations became the new enemy.
The year 2002 saw the construction of a new wall, much longer, much higher – a tool of large scale confiscation of land and resources and ethnic cleansing. The Israeli apartheid wall, built on occupied Palestinian land, effectively creates Bantustans, separating Palestinian farmers from their farmland, families from their relatives, and children from their schools. It makes a Palestinian state or self-determination impossible. Sadly, today, this wall is the very symbol of the “free” world’s own paradigm: Under the cover of “security” and “self-defence”, everything is justified.
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Jerusalem and Israel’s apartheid Wall are the new symbolic battle field. There are no US airlifts or grandiose speeches, just the daily resistance against Israel’s attempts to exclude Palestinians and their neighbourhoods from the city in order to annihilate Palestinian existence there and deny Palestinians Jerusalem as their capital.
On November 7, clashes spread all across occupied East Jerusalem. In Shuafat refugee camp alone, dozens of people were injured. In Bir Nabala, the popular committee tore down a piece of the apartheid wall. Palestinians in Jerusalem aren’t waiting for the international community to comply with their obligation to ensure Israel tears down the wall, as reaffirmed by the International Court of Justice in its 2004 verdict. Already, the protests in Jerusalem have spread to Palestinian citizens of Israel in the Galilee and throughout the West Bank. Today, is the moment for people worldwide to stand in solidarity, denouncing the connivance of their own political leadership, by stating “I am a Jerusalemite.”
The ‘Jerusalem Intifada’
Jerusalem has always been central in Israeli strategies. During its ethnic cleansing campaigns in 1948, the most cruel and emblematic massacre of Palestinian civilians occurred in Deir Yasin, on the outskirts of Jerusalem. Since the occupation of the eastern part of the city in 1967, Israel has worked relentlessly to annex all of Jerusalem and to erase Palestinian presence in the city. Lately, Israeli aggression in Jerusalem has risen exponentially.
In the past two months, Israel announced over 3,600 new settlement housing units in and around Jerusalem, grabbing more Palestinian land for Jewish settlers. In the neighbourhood of Silwan, illegal settlers took over 25 Palestinian apartments.
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Adding to this, Israel has sparked the ire of the entire Muslim world by attacking the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the surrounding Noble Sanctuary compound. Over the last six months, the Israeli army and settlers, joined regularly by Israeli political leaders, have invaded the area almost daily. Israel now routinely closes the Noble Sanctuary to Palestinians in the morning hours. Muslim men under 50 and women under 40 are barred from entering Al-Aqsa.
Those entering are forced to leave their ID cards and many are then called for Israeli police interrogation when exiting. For the first time since Salahuddin liberated Jerusalem from the crusaders, Israeli occupation forces twice completely closed down the Noble Sanctuary compound, even prohibiting the call to prayer. Across the entire city, Palestinians are intimidated by ever increasing Israeli police presence.
Israel’s onslaught on Jerusalem aims at not only complete dominance over the Palestinian capital and holy places, it also works in parallel with the effort to create a settlement corridor from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea in order to advance the Bantustanisation of the West Bank. This would be a further phase of Ariel Sharon’s plan to “disengage” from all Palestinian ghettos trapped behind the apartheid wall while annexing the rest of the land and making any Palestinian self-determination impossible.
In the hills that stretch from Jerusalem to the Jordan Valley, 46 Palestinian Bedouin communities are currently being ethnically cleansed. Simultaneously, projects are under way to open a tunnel from al Aizariya to Anata while closing the historic roads connecting the southern West Bank with the north. In June, the checkpoint north of Bethlehem was temporarily closed to those without a necessary permit as a test run for the isolation of southern West Bank.
Confronted with this reality, Israeli repression serves only an internal discourse as politicians call for excessive force to rehabilitate their self-perception as an invincible power, especially after the military defeat this summer in Gaza. It does nothing to subdue Palestinian resistance.
The daunting images of 16-year-old Mohammed Abu Khdair, who was abducted and burned alive by a group of Israeli settlers on June 2, triggered the current “Jerusalem Intifada”. Only Israel’s terrifying attack on Gaza was able to divert the anger and the protests in Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Galilee. Immediately after the massacre, they intensified again as Israel announced more settlement units and the confiscation of 4,000 dunums (400 hectares) of Palestinian land in occupied Jerusalem.
A third Intifada?
It is no wonder that one of the widespread slogans in the protests in Jerusalem is “Come on West Bank, for God’s sake!” While there are dozens of protests in the West Bank heating up, a full scale third Intifada has yet to erupt.
One reason is that protesters in the West Bank in addition to Israeli repression, face the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) police forces prohibiting protests in areas under its control as part of a “security coordination” with Israel. The second obstacle is the lack of a united political leadership.
The president of the PNA, Mahmoud Abbas, has repeatedly spoken out against a third Intifada. Palestinian political parties so far have not shown sufficient responsiveness to develop a national strategy of resistance that could capitalise politically on the sacrifices of an Intifada. After the First Intifada that resulted in the Oslo Accords and the Second Intifada, which led to a strengthening of neoliberal and pro-US currents in the PNA, Palestinians are rightly sceptical over the possible political outcomes of another Intifada without the necessary leadership.
The most strategic calls of the Palestinian struggle today are coming from the streets: Support for the resistance and the rights of the Palestinian people in Jerusalem, accession to the Rome Statute to bring Israeli war criminals to trial and an immediate end to “security cooperation” between the PNA and Israel. Those responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity have to be held accountable.
This simple three point agenda being developed in the streets of Palestine seems to have more potential to break the current stalemate of repression and build a solid basis for the inevitable outbreak of a third Intifada than the diplomatic projects of the Palestinian and the world’s leadership.
It’s time for all of us, in Palestine and across the globe, to assert “We are all Jerusalemites.”
Jamal Juma is the general coordinator of the Stop the Wall Campaign.
Maren Mantovani is coordinator of international relations of the Stop the Wall Campaign.