The Al-Aqsa cameras are a sideshow

There is the issue of Israeli impunity, even when provocations are filmed and documented.

Israeli security forces stand guard as Palestinian Muslim worshippers take part in Friday noon prayers in the east Jerusalem neighbourhood of Ras al-Amud [Getty]
Israeli security forces stand guard as Palestinian Muslims take part in Friday prayers in occupied East Jerusalem [Getty]

Saturday’s US-brokered deal between Israel and Jordan to reduce tensions over Jerusalem’s al-Haram al-Sharif holy site is diversionary in substance and context. As such, it is by no means certain that it will contribute to ending the latest escalation of Israeli-Palestinian violence, which began last month.

The agreement misdiagnoses its cause and minimises Palestinian grievances; so even if it does calm tensions, it will do so temporarily until the next inevitable flare-up. So far, however, it has made no difference on the ground with attacks continuing by both sides.

The main aspects of the deal involve round-the-clock video monitoring of the holy site and Israel’s reaffirmation of Jordan’s historic custodianship over the shrine. The impetus seems to be more about improving Israeli-Jordanian ties – which have been strained by the latest escalation in violence – rather than genuinely addressing Palestinian grievances.

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Last month, Jordan’s King Abdullah II warned that “any more provocations in Jerusalem will affect the relationship between Jordan and Israel”.

Video monitoring

Officials from both countries are to discuss who will conduct the video monitoring, though no date for consultations has been set yet. However, since the deal was announced, Israel has already blocked the installation of cameras by the Jordanian-run Islamic trust that administers the holy site.

Also, there are no indications so far that Palestinian monitoring will be an option, and sole or predominant Israeli monitoring will represent a whitewash. Little wonder, then, that Palestinian officials – seemingly sidelined by the deal – have reacted negatively.

Also read: Playing with fire at Al-Aqsa 

“This is a new trap,” said Palestinian Authority’s Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki. Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “wants to install cameras in order to monitor and arrest our people”.

Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki [REUTERS]
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki [REUTERS]

Netanyahu’s reaction to the deal will only raise suspicions about his motives. He said the cameras would “show where the provocations are really coming from and prevent them in advance”.

However, the UN said the current clashes began following “sweeping restrictions on entry into the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, which Israel applied beginning on 26 August”.

There is also the issue of Israeli impunity, even when provocations are filmed and documented. In July, Israeli human rights group B’Tselem highlighted once again “the authorities’ policy to avoid enforcing the law on Israelis who harm Palestinians and their property”.

And according to a report in May by Israeli human rights organisation, Yesh Din: “The probability that a complaint submitted to the Israel police by a Palestinian will lead to an effective investigation that results in the location of a suspect, and followed by indictment, trial and conviction, is just 1.9 percent.”

If punishments, on the rare occasions they are meted out, are largely symbolic or a slap on the wrist, why should this stop Israeli provocateurs?


If punishments, on the rare occasions they are meted out, are largely symbolic or a slap on the wrist, why should this stop Israeli provocateurs?

Israeli provocateurs

Furthermore, how Netanyahu plans to prevent provocations before they occur is anyone’s guess, and raises the possibility of using dubious pretexts to arrest Palestinians and justify other forms of repression.

Arguably, the deal’s biggest flaw is its narrow scope: Its premise is that the cause of the current escalation was events at the holy site. However, like the second Intifada of 2000, the site was the trigger, not the cause – this is an important distinction.

Palestinian anger was already pent up by myriad Israeli provocations. The fuel was already poured; events at the holy site simply provided the match.

It serves Israel’s interests to divert attention away from this fact by minimising and compartmentalising Palestinian grievances. At one time, it might be the siege of Gaza; next, it might be discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel, then settlement construction in the West Bank, and currently, the status of the holy sites in Jerusalem.

Israel goes to great lengths to separate these intrinsically linked issues so the world does not notice the totality of the injustices facing the Palestinians, and so their anger seems unreasonable.

Also read: Jerusalem: The ignored conflict

In East Jerusalem, it is not just the status of holy sites that is a source of tension, but that of the city itself. Since Israel captured it in 1967 and officially (and illegally) annexed it in 1980, it has pursued various policies to Judaise East Jerusalem. These include illegal settlement construction and coercing Palestinians to leave by making life for them as difficult as possible.

Israeli border policemen perform a security check on a Palestinian youth at Damascus Gate just outside Jerusalem's Old City [Reuters]
Israeli border policemen perform a security check on a Palestinian youth at Damascus Gate just outside Jerusalem’s Old City [Reuters]

Wasting no time since the deal with Jordan, Netanyahu is considering revoking Israeli residency, benefits and travel rights from a number of East Jerusalem Palestinians. Meanwhile, Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely said the Haram al-Sharif was “the centre of Israeli sovereignty, the capital of Israel”, and that “it’s my dream to see the Israeli flag flying” over it.

So much for trying to reduce tensions.

However, Palestinian grievances go well beyond East Jerusalem and its holy sites. To provide some context to the latest flare-up, a UN Security Council report said August saw the highest number of Israeli demolitions of Palestinian structures, including homes, since June 2010.

According to the UN, there were 456 flying checkpoints in the occupied territories in December 2014, compared with 65 in March 2009. Meanwhile, construction of Israel’s barrier snaking its way through the West Bank continues, as does the Gaza blockade.

Settlement construction

Israel set a 10-year record last year for the number of tenders it issued for settlement construction, which has now nearly tripled since 2013, compared with the 2009-2013 period of Netanyahu’s previous administration. Furthermore, 68 percent of construction starts were in enclaves not necessarily part of blocs that Israel has vowed to keep as part of any peace deal.

Construction of Israel's barrier snaking its way through the West Bank continues ...


In tandem with the scale and pace of settlement construction is the rampancy of settler attacks against Palestinians, often as Israeli forces either look on or actively partake.

According to the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), there were 369 settler attacks this year up until July 27, averaging more than 12 attacks each week.

Last week, senior Israeli commander Nitzan Alon acknowledged that Palestinian attacks are partly motivated by “the violence of right-wing elements in the West Bank” and by the Israeli army’s “activities in which Palestinians are hurt … For them, both are occupation”.

Cameras at Jerusalem’s holy sites will do nothing to solve the underlying cause of the conflict, and of every periodic flare-up, which is Israel’s relentless occupation and colonisation of another people’s homeland and the violent denial of their fundamental rights. Both Israel and the Palestinians know it.

Sharif Nashashibi is an award-winning journalist and analyst on Arab affairs. 

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.