Forty seven years of occupation, physical isolation and successful annihilation of its leaders and leadership structures have turned Jerusalem’s 300,000 Palestinian Arabs into political orphans.
The Palestinians of Jerusalem are totally stateless. The few Palestinians holding any sort of symbolic leadership position, such as members of the Palestinian Legislative Council, or religious leaders are regularly hauled to the Israeli police station for questions, short-term arrests and are sometimes forbidden to enter Islam’s third holiest mosque, Al-Aqsa Mosque. The Orient House, which was the focal point of the pre-Oslo Palestinian leadership, has been closed along with the Jerusalem Chamber of Commerce despite Israeli commitments to respect Palestinian organisations in the city.
Israel’s uncompromising policy against Palestinian leadership structures and leaders is often seen by the ridiculous Israeli decisions to ban a children’s puppet festival or the launch of a film on the problems of drug use in the Old City simply because it received funding from or through the Palestinian government in Ramallah.
As a result of this systematic Israeli effort to deny Palestinians any form of recognised local leadership, various forms of alternative, often unknown, groups have sprouted to fill the vacuum left because of the absence of genuine leaders, often along tribal or family structures.
Thugs and hooligans
At times, thugs and hooligans reign in certain areas is earned by these gangs through physical turf wars in which switchblades and sheer physicality decide who wins.
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The attacks on Al-Aqsa have also encouraged newly unrecognised leaders of sorts. The Tahrir Party is now one of the strongest in terms of sheer presence in the mosque.
Another group that has drawn the attention and anger of the Israelis is the Islamic movement from the north of Israel, which is headed by Sheikh Raed Salah. He is often imprisoned or denied entry for months and cannot even get close to the Old City of Jerusalem.
A new phenomenon has been successful to a certain extent in defending the mosque from attempts by Jewish radicals to claim sovereignty on it: The Women of Al-Aqsa. Their success has been vividly illustrated in a documentary by Sawsan Qaoud, shown on Al Jazeera TV, titled “The Women of Al-Aqsa”. These women, referred to as murabitat, literally hold daily teachings in the mosque’s courtyard and shout out religious hymns or slogans if the infiltrating Jewish radicals attempt to pray on the grounds of Al-Aqsa, which is a clear violation of the status quo.
In Silwan and other locations, local groups have sprouted attempting to organise their own community in defence of the Israeli onslaught that attempts to move them out of their homes and city with the goal of making Jerusalem an even more Jewish city.
While Israel regularly denies it, these Judaisation attempts are synchronised by the Israeli government, police, courts, Jewish settlers, radical groups and Knesset members, with each group doing its part.
Israel’s use of the carrot and stick are reflected in what appears to be a coordinated policy to take over strategic Palestinian locations and to insert Jewish settlers in their place. On the surface, these efforts are portrayed as a simple right of people to buy people’s houses. However many of these suspicious housing deals occur after the lives of those who refuse to sell are made hell while the settlers who “buy” their properties through unknown proxies are constantly protected and rarely ever held to account for their harassment of their Palestinian “neighbours”.
Palestinians seeking housing permits are routinely denied because the requests are not based on an approved zoning plan. Arab East Jerusalem neighbourhoods have purposely not been planned, leaving the local communities to build illegally and then to suffer regular house demolitions for violating city laws. At the same time, Israel builds settlements in East Jerusalem in violation of international law. A nine-storey building named Yonathan House, built illegally (according to Israeli law) in Silwan continues to house rowdy Jewish settlers without any attempt to execute equal justice.
In 1978, the Israeli high court denied a Palestinian, Mohammad Burqan, the right to repurchase his own house in the Moghrabi quarter, adjacent to the Jewish quarter, because the now expanded Jewish quarter has “special historical significance” to Jews, and this “supersedes all other claims by non-Jews”. Of course, Jews now live in all quarters of the Old City and in all Palestinian neighbourhoods outside the walls.
As a result of all the above, the totality of this Israeli oppressive attempts against the city and its people succeeded in cutting Palestinians off from their natural Palestinian and Arab leadership, but as a result, these new leaderless orphans have creatively found their own means of survival and resistance.
What is being called the silent Intifada that is taking place today in Jerusalem is clearly a result of a successful Israeli policy of denying Palestinians their natural rights and refusing to include Jerusalem and their legitimate leadership in serious talks.
Daoud Kuttab, an award-winning Palestinian journalist, is a former Ferris professor of journalism at Princeton University.