Jerusalem, the unfolding tragedy

For Netanyahu, Jerusalem and Gaza are the gift that keeps on giving.

Israeli forces walk near the Dome of the Rock during a crackdown on Palestinian protests at Al-Aqsa compound against the possible forced expulsion of several Palestinian families from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of Jerusalem on May 7, 2021 [File: Ammar Awad/Rreuters]

Israel is a colonial war machine that never sleeps. Its mounting provocations in Jerusalem in recent weeks have predictably driven Palestinians to the streets in protest.

Hence, the short answer to the question, “why?”, is simply, “why not?”, considering that every new Israeli day brings along more Palestinian dismay.

The Israeli occupation, repression, disruption, discrimination, property confiscation or home demolition are a decades-long daily affair. Likewise, racist and violent provocations by Israeli fanatics are common practice in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Not surprisingly, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu justifies the Israeli repression of peaceful protest and religious worship by portraying it as “a struggle between tolerance and intolerance; law and order and law breaking and violence”.

Netanyahu’s carefully articulated, self-righteous trademark “hasbara” has grown tired, blatant and ineffective, alienating instead of deceiving the allies, and infuriating Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims the world over. But it works at home.

In fact, the short answer to the other frequently asked question, “why now?” is well, Netanyahu, of course. Duh!

The man widely believed to be a serial liar and a skilled manipulator is on trial in Israel on various corruption charges, including fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes. If he loses his premiership, there is little doubt he, like his predecessor Ehud Olmert, will go to jail.

Netanyahu has resorted to all possible means to maintain power, including grooming, empowering and allying with the most fanatic elements of the Israeli society – even more extreme than his extremist Likud party.

These are the same ultra-religious “neo-fascists” who, according to one Israeli journalist, in mid-April descended on the Palestinian areas of the city, intimidating, beating, looting, and destroying Palestinian property.

Netanyahu helped these racist fanatics organise and unite into the Religious Zionist Party, to ensure they pass the minimum threshold to enter the Knesset and join his planned coalition.

But while he has thus far failed to form another coalition government, they have succeeded beyond expectations, winning six decisive seats in the new parliament and unleashing a tirade of violent provocations, starting with Jerusalem.

Meanwhile, late last month, the relentless Netanyahu vetoed occupied East Jerusalem’s Palestinians from voting in their upcoming national election, as they had done before, further infuriating the Palestinians and hampering their internal democratic process.

Ironically, the Palestinian Authority’s President Mahmoud Abbas jumped on the opportunity, postponing the elections he feared he would lose. Even more ironic is that the Palestinians are rebelling the most in areas where Abbas commands no security control or coordination with Israel.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu has jumped on the threats by the Islamist movement Hamas to retaliate against Israel, if it continued its siege on Al-Aqsa compound, to further escalate the tension leading to attacks, counterattacks and, sadly, scores of mostly Palestinian casualties, and steering the attention away from the popular upheaval in Jerusalem.

I have no doubt that Netanyahu will use the new escalation to stay in power, whether by denying the opposition the chance to form a coalition or by insisting on another national emergency government.

But while he has had a major role in the ongoing escalation, he is by no means the first, nor it seems, the last to provoke violence and war.

Netanyahu, like his right- and left-wing predecessors, has been guided by his ideological guru, Ze’ev Jabotinsky, who published almost a century ago his revisionist treatise, “The Iron Wall”, advising the Zionist leaders to do all to snuff out any glimmer of Palestinian hope that they might be able to prevent the transformation of “Palestine” into the “Land of Israel”.

Jabotinsky argued that the Palestinians are no fools to be deceived or bribed into giving up their homelands to the Jewish newcomers, and no reward would ever be enough to compensate them for the loss of their homeland, and therefore, they must be driven into total despair by coercion or force.

This may be shockingly brutal, but unlike Netanyahu’s spin, it is at least candid, especially in Jerusalem, the focal point of the Zionist conquest.

Israel has systematically Judaised Jerusalem at the expense of its Palestinian inhabitants, whether current or refugees prevented from returning. And today, the Palestinians are worried that Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam, could be next, considering Israel’s colonial record.

Jerusalem is in fact a microcosm of occupied Palestine, where for decades, Israel has confiscated or demolished Palestinian lands, homes, and businesses in favour of its Jewish immigrants, and deconsecrated or reconsecrated many of Palestine’s holy sites in further the process of Judaisation.

Former deputy mayor of West Jerusalem, Meron Benvenisti, who also served as the head of Jerusalem planning department from 1971 to 1978, argued in his book, Sacred Landscape: The Buried History of the Holy Land Since 1948, that:

“There was nothing novel about the victorious Jews’ takeover of sites sacred to the Muslims, save for the fact that it was something that might have been plucked from another era; not since the end of the Middle Ages had the civilised world witnessed the wholesale appropriation of the sacred sites of a defeated religious community by members of the victorious one. It’s true that places of worship in many countries have been vandalised – even recently – from the bombing of mosques in Sarajevo in the 1990s and the blowing up of churches by the Bolsheviks following the October Revolution, down to the plundering of churches and monasteries during the French Revolution. But to find accurate parallels for the reconsecration of places of worship by a conqueror, one must go back to Spain or the Byzantine Empire in the middle of the late 15th century.”

Another such example of rare candour came from none other than Teddy Kollek, who was West Jerusalem’s mayor for almost two decades, notably after the 1967 occupation of the eastern part of the city. He revealed Israeli chauvinism in a telling interview with Ma’ariv newspaper soon after the Al-Aqsa massacre in October 1990:

“Kollek: We said things without meaning them, and we didn’t carry them out, we said over and over that we would equalize the rights of the Arabs to the rights of the Jews in the city – empty talk … Both Levi Eshkol and Menachem Begin also promised them equal rights – both violated their promise … Never have we given them a feeling of being equal before the law. They were and remain second- and third-class citizens.

Ma’ariv: And this is said by a mayor of Jerusalem who did so much for the city’s Arabs, who built and paved roads and developed their quarters?

Kollek: Nonsense! Fairy tales! The mayor nurtured nothing and built nothing. For Jewish Jerusalem I did something in the past 25 years. For East Jerusalem? Nothing! What did I do? Nothing. Sidewalks? Nothing. Cultural institutions? Not one. Yes, we installed a sewerage system for them and improved the water supply. Do you know why? Do you think it was for their good, for their welfare? Forget it! There were some cases of cholera there, and the Jews were afraid that they would catch it, so we installed sewerage and a water system against cholera.”

This goes to show how Israel’s bigotry in Jerusalem is nothing new; in fact, it has been going on for decades, and it has gotten worse as more extremist mayors have taken the rein, contributing that much more to the pent-up tension in the city. Meanwhile, the Israeli authorities have continued their sermons about tolerance and peace.

Today, the self-proclaimed “only democracy in the Middle East” with the self-proclaimed “eternal, united capital”, stands once again exposed for its hypocrisy and double standard, having once again fuelled the cycle of hate and violence in Jerusalem and beyond.

Israel annexed East Jerusalem and extended its jurisdiction and administration to the captured city after the 1967 war, but for the Palestinians and for much of the world, Al-Quds remains an occupied city, albeit with better medical insurance.

It is also an isolated city. Israel severed Jerusalem from its Palestinian hinterland in the occupied West Bank soon after it signed the Oslo accords in 1993, making it ever harder for its residents to connect with their own families and loved ones.

In short, Jerusalem highlights Israel’s greed and Palestine’s creed like no other. The Palestinians generally accept to share the city, the Israelis mostly insist on having it all for themselves, come what may.

But Israel should be careful what it wishes for as it might just come true. The only way Jerusalem will be truly united is as the capital of a binational state.