Sunday, September 27, 2015

Occupied Jerusalem: “Religious War” used to cloak Israeli Setter-Colonialism

Dear friends,
no doubt many of you will be aware of Israel's actions in Occupied East Jerusalem, repeatedly storming Haram al Sharif/Al Aqsa Mosque compound.  Israeli Occupation Forces launched a three day assault on September 13, coinciding with the start of the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashana) in order to facilitate access to the site by the Israeli Agricultural Minister, Uri Ariel and  illegal Israeli settlers.  Another attack took place yesterday on the last day of Eid to similarly facilitate access by illegal Israeli settlers and extremists. 

Israel's attack on al Aqsa is not a new occurrence but has become more frequent in the last couple of months as the Israeli state and its agencies actively facilitates the entry the site by illegal Israeli settlers and other Zionist extremists who are part of the Temple Mount movement.  The aim of this movement is to the physical destruction of Al Aqsa and its replacement with a Third Jewish Temple.  

While many of the mainstream press both in Israel and Internationally have reported this as some sort of "religious war", it is nothing of the sort. Instead, it is simply a stepping up of Israel's settler-colonial and ethnic cleansing agenda, cloaked in religious dogma.

I have just finished writing an article on the recent attacks, which will appear in the next issue Red Flag (which is out tomorrow).  

In the meantime, I am going to post two excellent pieces, about Israel's settler colonial agenda in relation to Al Aqsa and Occupied East Jerusalem.  The first one was published in February by the Palestinian policy agency, Al Shabaka, while the second is an analysis/ comment piece published last week by Al Jazeera which includes analysis and commentary by for Palestinian political activists, commentators and religious leaders.

In solidarity, Kim


In Jerusalem, “Religious War” Is Used to Cloak Colonialism

Photo of Israeli police at Dome of the Rock


The escalating clashes between Israeli settlers and Jerusalemite Palestinians are the harbingers of a major eruption with incalculable consequences. Immediately billed as a “religious war” by the media and Israeli right wingers, they are in fact the outcome of longstanding Israeli plans to Judaize the city and empty it of its Palestinian inhabitants. Al-Shabaka Policy Member Nur Arafeh analyzes the major changes that Israel has illegally imposed on Jerusalem and addresses the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO)/Palestinian Authority’s (PA) effective abandonment of the population to fend for itself. She concludes with policy recommendations to the PLO/PA, Palestinian academics and analysts, and the international solidarity movement.

The Myth of Religious War

Jerusalem has been thrust into the spotlight due to the recent clashes between Israeli settlers and Palestinians at the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Also referred to as Al-Haram al-Sharif or the Noble Sanctuary, the compound contains Al-Aqsa itself, Islam’s third holiest site, and the Dome of the Rock, where Prophet Muhammad is said to have ascended to heaven. Jews revere the site in the belief that it was once the location of two ancient Jewish temples.

A number of ultra-Orthodox Jews have been repeatedly violating the status quo that has been in place since 1967 by making incursions inside the Al-Aqsa compound and calling for Israel to build a third temple on what they term the Temple Mount. 1 A video posted recently on YouTube by the Temple Institute, which is part of the so-called Temple Mount and Land of Israel Faithful Movement, depicts a third temple replacing Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock.

The recent clashes between Palestinians and Israeli settlers and police in Jerusalem were punctuated by horrific attacks like the kidnapping and murder of the Palestinian youth, Mohammed Abu-Khdeir in July 2014. After Yehuda Glick, a key figure in the Temple Institute and a strong advocate of its messianic scheme, was allegedly shot by a Palestinian, members of the Temple Mount Movement made further incursions into Al-Aqsa, and on 30 October 2014 Israel banned prayers in the compound for the first time since 1967. Tensions in Jerusalem reached boiling point after an attack by two Palestinians on an ultra-Orthodox synagogue on 18 November 2014 left four Jews and a Druze police officer dead. The New Year began with a warning by the Mufti of Jerusalem of an Israeli organization’s plans to register Al-Aqsa Mosque as Israeli property.

But can this really be described as the start of a religious war? Has the political conflict indeed been transformed into a war of beliefs? According to The Guardian: “This is what a religious war looks like.” A Palestinian Al-Hiwar commentator agreed. Deputy Knesset Member Moshe Feiglin went even further and described it as a global fight “against the evil forces of the most extreme Islam.” Worse, the Temple Mount Movement stands reality on its head by proclaiming that one of its long-term objectives is to “liberate the Temple Mount from Arab [Islamic] occupation,” thus portraying the colonizers as the colonized.

Yet the framing of these events as a religious war not only ignores the reality of the power imbalance between the colonizer and the colonized, but also fails to address the history and context in which the recent events have unfolded.

Israel’s Longstanding Targeting of Al-Aqsa Mosque

Jewish religious law prohibits Jews from praying in the Al-Aqsa compound; Jews are only expected to revere the site, but not to visit or own it for fear of profaning the inner sanctum of the alleged Temple, and are to pray at Al-Buraq Wall (renamed the Western Wall). Nevertheless, extremists have early on targeted Al-Aqsa Mosque with a view to rebuilding the Temple. In 1982, Meir Kahane, leader of the far-right Kach party, marched on the compound holding plans of the Temple to be built on the ruins of Al-Aqsa. In 1990, 21 Palestinians were killed and 150 were injured in clashes with members of the Temple Mount Movement who attempted to enter Al-Aqsa and place the foundation stone for the Temple. In 1996, Israeli excavations and the digging of tunnels near Al-Aqsa sparked violence that resulted in the killing of 70 Palestinians and 15 Israeli soldiers.

The Israeli government has also been supporting efforts to ensure Jewish control over the compound. Almost half of Likud party members support the Temple Mount Movement, which has recently won funding from the government. Between 2008 and 2011, the Temple Institute received an annual donation of $107,000 from the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Culture, Science, and Sports. In 2012, an educational unit in the Temple Institute was offered an additional $50,000 from the Ministry of Education.

However, the actions of specific groups to take control of Al-Aqsa should not be seen as isolated incidents, but rather as part of a larger Zionist project to Judaize Jerusalem and ensure Jewish supremacy over the city.

Creation of a New Reality in Jerusalem

Since the occupation began in 1967, Israel has been committed to transforming a multi-religious and multi-cultural city into a “reunified” Jewish city under the exclusive control and sovereignty of Israel. It has fast-tracked the Judaization of the city via policies that impact on the geographical and physical space and are designed to circumvent the “demographic threat” posed by Palestinians.

From the outset in 1967, Israel illegally annexed 70 km2 of West Bank territory, including East Jerusalem (6.5 km2), such that it maximized the area of land expropriated while minimizing the number of Palestinians. It also razed the Arab neighborhoods of Bab al-Magharbeh and Harat al-Sharaf to build the Jewish Quarter, Al-Buraq Wall plaza, houses for settlers, and Jewish synagogues. Israel also reshaped the physical landscape of Jerusalem by constructing a ring of settlements around the city, linked to bypass roads to ensure geographic continuity with other Israeli settlements in the West Bank. 2

The ensuing physical and political fragmentation of Jerusalem went hand in hand with its economic isolation long before Israel embarked on the construction of the Apartheid Wall in 2002, which redrew the borders away from the pre-1967 armistice line. The construction of the Wall was deliberately designed to cut inside the city and exclude areas populated by Palestinians as a means to ensure a Jewish majority.

To deal with the “demographic threat” posed by Palestinians, Israel designated Palestinians living in Jerusalem as “permanent residents” – a civil status usually reserved for foreign citizens and which does not guarantee residency rights. On this basis, resident IDs are often revoked. 

Between 1967 and 2013, Israel revoked the ID cards of more than 14,309 Palestinian residents. According to the 2003 Temporary Amendment to the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law (amended in 2005 and 2007), West Bank Palestinians married to Jerusalem residents do not qualify for residency status and are only granted temporary permits in exceptional circumstances. In contrast, Jews who immigrate to live in Jerusalem are granted immediate citizenship, reflecting the apartheid nature of the Israeli regime.

While strengthening the Jewish presence in Jerusalem, Israel has sought to contain the urban and demographic expansion of Palestinians via discriminatory urban and zoning policies consistent with ethnic cleansing. More than one third of land in Palestinian neighborhoods has been classified as “open landscape areas” where building is prohibited, constricting Palestinian building to only 14% of the land of East Jerusalem and causing an acute housing crisis. Moreover, since 1967, Israel has destroyed 1,673 housing units, affecting around 8,000 people between 1967 and 2013. With the implementation of all these policies, Israel is aiming to achieve a ratio of 30% “Arabs” and 70% Jews within the Jerusalem municipality.

Discriminatory Israeli policies are also apparent in the discrepancies in service provision between Palestinian and Jewish neighborhoods. Less than 10% of the municipal budget is allocated to Palestinian districts despite Palestinians paying the same amount of arnona (property) tax as Jewish citizens.

Judaization has been accompanied by “de-Palestinianization” to eradicate the Palestinian identity in Jerusalem. For example, Sultan Suleiman al-Qanuni Street (a sultan of the Ottoman Empire) was renamed King Solomon Street, and the Wadi Hilweh district of Silwan was renamed “the city of David.” Furthermore, unnamed streets in Palestinian areas were recently given Arabic names that are devoid of political and national connotations. This renaming process is linked to the re-writing of history in line with Zionist dicta, a process in which archeology and excavations are exploited to create a fictitious Jewish history of the city, while the heritage of other eras is ignored.

Israeli control over the historical narrative extends to the educational system. Since March 2011, Israel has attempted to force Palestinian schools that receive budget allocations from the Israeli authorities to use textbooks prepared by the Jerusalem Education Administration (so far, five have done so). These books present Palestinian students with a one-sided history and censor any topic related to Palestinian identity and heritage.

Palestinian institutions in Jerusalem have also been targeted to erode Palestinian activism in the city. Since 2001, Israel has closed at least 31 Palestinian institutions, including the Orient House, the former headquarters of the PLO, and the Chamber of Commerce and Industry. This climate of repression led many institutions to relocate from Jerusalem and caused a huge institutional vacuum, accompanied by an absence of leadership.

Other steps to de-Palestinianize Jerusalem include the latest five-year socio-economic “development” plan for Palestinian areas approved in June 2014 by the Israeli cabinet. This plan focuses on gaps in infrastructure, education, social welfare, and employment between Palestinian and Jewish neighborhoods in an apparent attempt to encourage the integration of Palestinians within Israel and bolster security by thwarting “violence” and “stone throwing.”

In other words, development is a tool to strengthen Israeli control over Jerusalem and suppress Palestinian steadfastness and resistance to the Israeli occupation. Thus, the plan cannot be seen as an initiative to address the deteriorating socio-economic conditions of Palestinians in Jerusalem in terms of the extremely high poverty rate (75% of Palestinian residents live below the Israeli definition of the poverty line); collapsing trade and tourism sectors; lack of investment; depleted health and educational services; high unemployment rates (16.7% in 2014); and high costs of living.

In this context, Palestinian clashes with Israeli Jews should be seen as acts of resistance and desperation within the larger historical struggle of Palestinians against occupation, apartheid, ethnic cleansing, land theft, dispossession, forced displacement, and economic marginalization. The recent intensification of incursions at Al-Aqsa and calls to build a third temple simply ignited the flames of these smoldering emotions. To focus on the religious dimensions of the recent unrest while overlooking its root causes would only lead to further violent clashes and eruptions of unprecedented magnitude. Religion is being exploited to serve Israeli political and national goals as it entrenches its colonial apartheid policies.

The Leadership Vacuum Leaves Palestinians Powerless

The recent unrest in Jerusalem, in which Palestinians have resorted to new forms of resistance such as using vehicles and fireworks, should be seen within the broader context of a city that lacks political leadership. The PA has demonstrated a lack of genuine investment in Jerusalem since signing the 1993 Oslo Declaration of Principles, of which the PA was itself a product. This was already evident when the PLO accepted to defer the issue of Jerusalem to the negotiations on the final status of the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT). While the PLO/PA clings tightly to the farcical peace process, Israel has entrenched its occupation and control over Jerusalem.

In a clear divergence from its rhetoric of support, the PA allocates a negligible budget to the city. The total budget allocated to the Ministry of Jerusalem Affairs and to the Jerusalem Governorate was around $15 million in 2014, representing 0.4% of the total PA budget expenditure for that year. Compare this shameful and insignificant budget allocation to the supposed capital of the Palestinian state with 27% of the budget allocated to the security sector in the same year. Moreover, most of the budget is disbursed in the areas of Jerusalem that fall under Palestinian administration and outside the Wall. Locations such as Shu’fat and Beit Hanina that lie within the Israeli municipal boundaries of Jerusalem rarely receive any funds. 3

This meager budget is the main reason that prompted Hatem Abdel-Qader to resign 40 days after his appointment as the first minister for Jerusalem Affairs in 2009. He noted that the Palestinian “government fails to uphold its commitments to the city, which is undergoing a difficult period.” Another Palestinian intellectual, who served as a PA representative in Jerusalem, also argued that, “The PA’s behavior was never in line with its stated goals. It has continuously failed to implement the numerous studies and plans made for the city.” 4

While Israel is turning its vision for Jerusalem into reality via numerous policies and master plans (2020, 2030, and 2050), a coherent strategy for the future of the city by the Palestinian leadership remains absent. This was apparent in the omission of a development plan for Jerusalem in the National Development Plan 2014-2016. Although it is true that the document refers back to the Strategic Multi-Sector Development Plan for East Jerusalem (SMDP) 2011-2013 issued by the Jerusalem Unit at the President’s Office, the SMDP was published in 2010 and requires updating. Moreover, the Jerusalem Unit itself, which was previously allocated most of the funds for Jerusalem, was closed in 2010. 5

More significantly, the development approach used in the SMDP disconnects development from political and colonial realities; it reduces Palestinian struggle to that of “survival” instead of freedom and takes the Israeli occupation as given rather than seeking to end it. As the introductory section of the SMDP put it: “How can the PLO assist Jerusalemites to survive and thrive within the existing context in order to have a solid foundation for the capital of the future Palestinian state?” (Emphasis added).

The lack of genuine official interest in the city, the emergence of Ramallah as the de facto capital, and the absence of Palestinian political leadership in Jerusalem leave Palestinians feeling abandoned and resentful towards the PLO/PA. PA President Mahmoud Abbas is still paying lip service to Palestinians in Jerusalem, while refusing to end security collaboration with Israel or to support non-violent means of resistance, such as the boycott of all Israeli goods.
Meanwhile, Israel has responded to leaderless Palestinian protests and resistance with characteristic force that includes land confiscation, house demolitions, and collective punishment, such as raids on homes, spraying neighborhoods with putrid water, and mass arrests. For example, between June and September 2014, approximately 700 Palestinians were arrested in Jerusalem, the majority of them children, according to Al-Dameer Association for Human Rights. 6 Israeli settlers who commit brutal crimes against Palestinians undergo no such punishment. In fact, the Israeli government has eased gun restrictions and increased funding to protect settlers in Jerusalem – additional evidence of the institutionalized discrimination to which Palestinians are subjected.

Protecting Jerusalem and Its Palestinians

The current turmoil in Jerusalem is the result of colonial subjugation, institutionalized discrimination, dispossession, and Israel’s establishment of facts on the ground to ensure it maintains Jewish supremacy over the city. Israel’s plans should thus be resisted locally and internationally, primarily by increasing their cost to Israel. The apartheid system in South Africa only began to unravel once the costs of preserving white supremacy became too high to bear.
First and foremost, Palestinians need proactive leadership that will propel the status of Jerusalem to the forefront of government commitment and to the heart of the national struggle as a matter of urgency. It is vital that Palestinians project a clear vision of Jerusalem to counter the prevailing Israeli vision. Information and communication are key tools to counter Israel’s re-writing of history and silencing of the Palestinian narrative.

In particular, Palestinian leadership should confront Israeli attempts to frame its colonial policies in religious terms and should remind the world that the core issues are those of occupation, dispossession, and land theft. It is imperative to challenge the power of the Israeli discourse by exposing its shameful record of oppression in Jerusalem and the rest of the occupied territory. The PLO/PA should also further capitalize on the hard won status in international organizations such as UNESCO to take legal steps to protect Al-Aqsa and the Old City in Jerusalem.

Secondly, academics and policy analysts can play a crucial role in putting Jerusalem in the vanguard. To date, Palestinian intellectuals have been biased towards the analysis of socio-economic development in the West Bank, and, to some extent, the Gaza Strip, to the detriment of discussion about Jerusalem. Palestinians must emphasize Jerusalem in their discourse and move beyond mere diagnosis of problems to devise solutions. The concept of development under occupation itself needs to be revised and redefined as a form of economic, political, and social resistance embedded in the larger historical struggle of Palestinians for self-determination, freedom, and justice.

Finally, the local boycott of Israeli goods and services is a vital means of resisting the Israeli occupation. Not only is it a moral duty for every Palestinian but also the boycott of Israeli products increases the cost of Israel’s apartheid system and enhances the productive capacity of the Palestinian economy. In parallel, thought must be given to ways to develop a Palestinian economy capable of resisting integration and dependence on the Israeli economy and that can pave the foundations for a solid political base from which an emancipated and self-determining society may emerge.

At the international level, the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement and the pressure this imposes on Israel worldwide should be maintained and intensified. Arab countries need to engage in a significant way to isolate Israel for its designs on Jerusalem and its multiple human rights violations.

Without concerted efforts by Palestinians with Arab and international support to uphold Palestinian rights in Jerusalem, the present small fires in the city could turn into a conflagration with permanent damage to Palestinian and Arab heritage in the city and to the Palestinian Jerusalemite presence in the city of their ancestors.

  1. Following Israel’s occupation and illegal annexation of East Jerusalem in 1967, the control of the mosque and
    Noble Sanctuary were transferred to a Jordanian Islamic _waqf_ (trust). The 1994 Wadi Araba agreement between Jordan and Israel stipulated Jordan’s guardianship over all Muslim holy shrines in Jerusalem.
  2. Two plans were drafted specifically for this purpose: The Greater Jerusalem Project intended to create a “greater Jerusalem” extending over an area of 600 km2; and the E1 plan called for the expansion of the Ma’ale Adumim settlement to ensure its connection with Jerusalem. Both plans would cause geographical discontinuity between the northern and southern parts of the West Bank and would further isolate the eastern part of Jerusalem from the rest of the Occupied Palestinian Territory.
  3. Author’s interview.
  4. Unless otherwise stated, all quotes come from interviews conducted by the author in 2014.
  5. Author’s interview.
  6. Author’s interview.


Analysis: Why Israel wants a religious war over Al-Aqsa

The struggle over Al-Aqsa Mosque is a colonial and not a religious one, Palestinian experts say.

Al Jazeera Staff |
'The present struggle over Al-Aqsa is the consequence of Israel's use of religious dogma as a cover for its violent settler-colonialism,' says Abunimah [AP]
Much of the media coverage of recent raids and protests by Israeli police and settlers at Al-Aqsa Mosque have focused on the "exclusive Muslim control" over the compound in Israeli-occupied Jerusalem, and Palestinian fears of the demand by Jewish settlers to "divide it". Lost in the religious warfare narrative is the colonial impulse governing both Israeli actions and Palestinian reactions. Where does the struggle for Al-Aqsa fit within the wider Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

Four leading Palestinian figures give their take on the latest round of Israeli violence at Al-Aqsa.

Salman Abu Sitta: founder and president of Palestine Land Society

The escalating Israeli attempts to take over the Aqsa Mosque and the rest of the Noble Sanctuary (al-Haram al-Sharif) in Jerusalem is a sign of Israeli boldness to complete the occupation of all Palestine. It is also a sign of Israeli realisation that neither Palestinians nor Arabs have a determined leadership to defend Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim rights.

This is a time of Israeli fanatic extremism at its height and the Arab defence at its lowest ebb.

At its origins, Zionism was a pure colonial project to serve the interests of wealthy European Jews who had financed European colonialism in the 19th century. It was a secular movement which used religion at later stages to recruit simple followers.

In his only visit to Jerusalem in 1898, [Theodor] Herzl found in Jerusalem a miserable Jewish community, full of superstition and fanaticism, and preferred to build his intended capital in Galilee.

Leading Zionists have expounded the priority of their aims clearly: to acquire land and bring Jews to colonise it. The Zionist programme was a gradual takeover of Palestine.
It is the same today. But history and international law go against Zionist schemes.
In July 1924, the British Mandate of Palestine, in spite of its bias towards Zionism, promulgated an order-in-council that guaranteed the status quo of religious sites and practises, which existed many centuries before.

When Jewish fanatics broke the law and attacked the Buraq Wall (Western Wall) in 1929, an international committee was convened to investigate the situation; it determined that the Buraq Wall is an absolute Muslim property and Jews are only allowed to pray there "as per custom", provided they do not install any permanent structures.

The famous United Nations resolution 194 of December 1948, calling for the return of refugees, states that "the holy places, religious buildings, and sites in Palestine should be protected and free access to them assured, in accordance with existing rights and historical practise".
The 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict states that "the high contracting parties further undertake to prohibit, prevent and, if necessary, put a stop to any form of theft, pillage or misappropriation of, and any acts of vandalism directed against cultural property. They shall refrain from requisitioning movable cultural property situated in the territory of another high contracting party; and, they shall refrain from any act directed by way of reprisals against cultural property".
But Israel violates all these laws.
After the Israeli destruction of the 800-year-old Moroccan Quarter in June 1967, Jews wanted to take the Noble Sanctuary. The burning of Saladin's minbar in August 1969, the slaughter of worshippers on many occasions, and now, the brazen attempts to attack Al-Aqsa Mosque, highlight Israel's unchecked behaviour.

This is a direct consequence of Israel revealing its true face of fanaticism, racism, and extended occupation. It is futile to call this Israeli government right-wing. Its basic structure is, as always, a settlers' regime that now wants to ensure its full control of what is left of Palestine and to make Jerusalem the unchallenged political and religious capital of Greater Israel.

This development is a direct result of the absence of a trustworthy Palestinian leadership, of its acquiescence in the Oslo Accords to serve the Israeli occupation, of the failure of the Arab government to defend Arab rights - with some actually siding with Israel - and of the inability of 1.5 billion Muslims to defend the first Qibla and the third holy mosque after Mecca.
But resistance will undoubtedly rise, possibly from unexpected quarters.

Resistance can take many forms: legal, public, boycott, and international sanctions, to name a few. The list is endless.The burden will fall upon people, not governments.There is a great reservoir of power there.

'The escalating Israeli attempts to take over the Aqsa Mosque and the rest of the Noble Sanctuary is a sign of Israeli boldness to complete the occupation of all Palestine,' says Abu Sitta [AP]

Ali Abunimah, co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine

The present struggle over Al-Aqsa is the consequence of Israel's use of religious dogma as a cover for its violent settler-colonialism and ethnic cleansing in Jerusalem and the rest of the occupied West Bank since 1967.

Recall that the key founders of Zionism and the Israeli state - Theodor Herzl and David Ben-Gurion, for instance - were not particularly religious and indeed anti-religious. Religious dogma was not the most prominent feature of Zionism in its earliest phases. Rather, Zionism was modelled after other 19th-century European Romantic nationalist movements.

After 1967, Israel sought excuses for its colonisation of the newly conquered West Bank, leading to the ascendancy of the so-called national-religious trend and the formation of Gush Emunim, the right-wing group that spearheaded the new settlement movement in the West Bank.

Their doctrine, once seen as fringe even in Israel, is now entirely mainstream. It posits that the modern-day Israeli state is justified in settling the whole "Land of Israel" because of promises contained in biblical texts.

In this sense, modern-day Zionist settler-colonialism is not terribly different from its defunct cousins in South Africa and Northern Ireland, where Afrikaners and Unionists respectively imagined themselves as beleaguered peoples fulfilling a covenant with God by settling the land.
The logical extension of this post-1967 trend is the so-called "temple movement", which today finds support in the heart of the Israeli government and establishment.

Temple groups, funded by the state and the occupation municipality in Jerusalem, are actively agitating for the construction of a Jewish "Third Temple" in place of Al-Aqsa Mosque.

These are the groups behind the increasingly aggressive incursions into Al-Aqsa, under the guise of seeking more access for Jews. But the outcome they seek is the destruction of Al-Aqsa in order to build the temple; some groups have already developed detailed blueprints for it.

Many believe that violent provocations will bring about the conditions necessary to bring their vision to reality.

If they make a serious attempt to destroy Al-Aqsa - something that is growing more likely by the day - there is no underestimating the catastrophic geopolitical consequences.

The Palestinian and broader Muslim reactions to Israel's use of religious dogma to justify its violent takeover of Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank has sometimes been to advance religious counterclaims and to emphasise the Islamic sanctity of Al-Aqsa as the prime motivation for defending it.

But recasting the anti-colonial struggle in Palestine in religious terms would be a mistake, which ultimately plays into Israel's hands.

Zionists actively promote the idea that Jews, represented by Israel, and Christians, represented by "the West", are engaged in a global struggle against "radical Islam". A religious struggle has no ultimate solution. It is an endless war. That suits Israel just fine.

A political, territorial and colonial struggle, by contrast, does have a solution: decolonisation and the restoration of the rights of the colonised people. That, of course, is the last thing Israel wants, which is why it will continue to stoke religious strife at Al-Aqsa.

'Resistance will undoubtedly rise, possibly from unexpected quarters,' says Abu Sitta [Getty Images]

Khalil Toufakji, head of Maps and Survey Department at the Orient House, Jerusalem

Israeli leaders have long strategised and planned to frame this conflict along religious lines. All of their designs for Jerusalem, ever since they occupied it in 1967, have been about how to increase the Jewish population of the city and decrease the Palestinian Muslim and Christian populations.

To achieve that end, Israel crafted several laws that favour incremental Israeli control of the city and systematic expelling of its Palestinian residents.

Israeli plans for Jerusalem are to put the Arab population in the city at only 12 percent, while the remaining 88 percent would be Jewish, with full Israeli sovereignty over all of Jerusalem, excluding the villages of Beit Hanina and other outlying areas.

The conflict in Jerusalem is a demographic one that Israel is framing along religious lines. In 1972, for example, then Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir wanted the percentage of the city's residents to be 78 percent Jewish and 22 percent Arab.

But now, the strategies have changed, with Israeli leaders speaking about a "Metropolitan Jerusalem" that would comprise about 10 percent of the entire land area of the West Bank. This would include all of the Israeli settlements that are now outside the municipal boundaries of the city and exclude the Palestinian areas located outside of the separation wall. This is known as Israel's "master plan", the "Jerusalem 2020". 

Accordingly, Israel plans to build a synagogue inside the Aqsa courtyard to further enhance its religious narrative, inflaming Muslims' religious passion and solidifying its religious framing of the conflict.

Israel wants to drag Palestinians and Arabs into a religious war between Muslims and Jews, altering the nature of the conflict from a conflict over the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories to a religious war.

By framing the conflict as a religious one, Israel would argue on the world stage that Jews are once again being threatened with a holocaust, but this time around, at the hands of Muslims and in the Middle East, rather than in Europe.

It is a hideous design that incorporates politics, geography, law and slick PR tactics in order to convince the world.

At the same time, it is Israel that has systematically undermined the Palestinian Muslim and Christian historic presence in the city and worked tirelessly to eradicate the Palestinian character of the city.

 'The Israeli government should work to restrain Jewish extremists before they drag the whole region into more conflict and more violence,' says Pastor Noam [EPA]

Very Reverend Hosam Naom, Dean of St George the Martyr Cathedral in Jerusalem

What's happening in Al-Aqsa today is a very dangerous escalation, and it does undermine the peace and stability of our city. The Israeli government should work to restrain Jewish extremists before they drag the whole region into more conflict and more violence.

We as Palestinian Christians have always stood with our Muslim brothers and sisters in defence of our city and our holy places. We condemn any act of vandalism against holy sites of all Abrahamic faiths.

We also stress the importance of the status quo of the holy sites in Jerusalem, and we value the role of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan as custodian of these holy sites.

The tragic events at Al-Aqsa are a serious reminder to all of us of the need to have a solution to this conflict, and we hope it will be a peaceful one. We always pray for the peace of Jerusalem.

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict - and particularly in Jerusalem - is not about religion; that is, it is not between Muslims and Jews or Christians and Jews. The issue is much bigger than that.

From a Palestinian Christian perspective, the issue for us is the same as for the rest of Palestinians who are not Christians. Palestinians have the right to have their own state in their own territories as per the agreements signed between Palestinian leaders and Israel.

This conflict cannot be resolved along religious parameters or framed as a religious one simply because it is not. A religious war is very dangerous for all of us.

Palestinians aspire to be free in their own country, regardless of the religious affiliation of anyone who is party to this conflict.

Source: Al Jazeera

No comments: