Judaizing Jerusalem, Closing The Aqsa Foundation
|Sunday, May 24,2009 09:35|
|By Violette Daguerre|
Judaizing Jerusalem, Closing The Aqsa Foundation
Fact-Finding Mission in East Jerusalem
Second Half of Dec, 2008
C.A. DROITS HUMAINS
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Judaizing Jerusalem refers to the process of deleting all non-Jewish features of the city of Jerusalem. The Arab Commission for Human Rights issues this report in the midst of a new Jewish extremist attack on Al Aqsa mosque known as Al-Haram Al-Sharif, the second holy place for all Muslims after Mecca. The Arabs of Jerusalem were holding demonstrations in protest against the Jewish settlers’ plans to storm the Aqsa Mosque. This brought to memory Ariel Sharon, the former prime minister of Israel, when he stormed the Aqsa Mosque and triggered the second Intifadah in Palestine. At the same time preparations were ongoing for the Durban II Review Conference, which is held by the United Nations in Geneva. The conference will evaluate the current global developments in the fight against racism. This conference is attended by 350 nongovernmental organizations (NGO) from all over the world. The US and Israel are organizing fierce opposition to the overwhelming Arab presence in the conference. They aim to change the language adopted during the first conference in Durban, South Africa. The language condemned Israeli racist policies against the Palestinian people and declared the Palestinian people as victims of discrimination and apartheid-like policies. The US and Israel are trying to prevent the Palestinians and other international organizations supporting rights of the Palestinian people from holding events on the sidelines of this conference to condemn Israel as an apartheid regime.
Our report aims to uncover the Israeli efforts to Judaize the city of Jerusalem by destroying the Arab and Islamic features in the city. These efforts have been recently intensified; the process has been recently accelerated. This report is the last wakeup call to the world to rescue this iconic city from the intolerant and hateful ideology adopted by Israel against all non-Jewish in the city of Jerusalem and the rest of the occupied Palestinian territory. Israel is using military supremacy to systematically erase all non-Jewish characteristics of the city, especially Arab and Islamic features.
This was not my first visit to the Palestinian territories and it was not my first contact with people whose homeland was fragmented sixty years ago. These parts used to be Palestine, the historic homeland of the Palestinian people. As expected my freedom to move about and to witness the suffering of the people was restricted. The government prohibits Arabs from visiting the occupied territories under the pretext of preventing the normalization of relations with Israel. Arabs on their way to visit Palestine are subjected to humiliation and interrogation by the boarder officials. This is especially true if you are a human rights activist. I usually avoid entering Palestine through Ben Gurion Airport; I cross from Egypt to Gaza Strip through Rafah Crossing. The Egyptian border guards treat us with disrespect, not expected from a sister Arab country. Israelis crossing to Egypt deal with the Egyptian guards arrogantly and roughly. Many Israelis go to Egypt for relaxation or for more serious political or economic issues.
I wanted to get the full picture about the human rights conditions in the occupied Palestinian territories and what was happening to the city of Jerusalem, the future capital of Palestine. The latest attack against the Palestinian civil society was closing Al-Aqsa Foundation for the Construction of Islamic Sanctuaries. Jerusalem was the cradle of monotheistic religions and was mentioned several times in the Holy Quran. It is one of the world"s oldest cities. It was first inhabited by the Canaanite Arabs then the Yabous people then the Palestinians.
The city seemed gloomier this time, its residents sterner than a visitor expects. The streets became deserted by sunset as people hurried home as if worried for their safety in the dark. The taxi driver who drove me from the airport to my temporary residence said that he does not normally travel this trip because taxis from West Jerusalem do not usually venture to East Jerusalem, but he made an exception this time fearing that I might be in danger trying to get transportation at night. We traveled a long distance, which allowed me to see the huge scandalous differences between a beautiful wealthy and well-cared-for West Jerusalem, and slum-like and neglected East Jerusalem.
The latest Gaza aggression started soon after my visit to Jerusalem. The war on Gaza lasted 22 days; balls of fire were pounding the strip from air, land and sea. Conditions in Gaza were already dire due to the one-and-a-half-year Israeli siege. The siege meant to punish the people in Gaza for democratically electing representatives who did not meet Israeli approval. This latest aggression aimed to break the well of resistance in the Palestinian people and impose the well of occupying power and its supporters and collaborators. Gaza Strip has turned into a big open-sky prison. I had previously described the miserable conditions in Gaza after I lead a fact-finding delegation to Gaza a few years ago. As the blockade was maintained, the conditions in Gaza were getting tougher. The siege of Gaza was more or less undeclared war against the people.
Article 33 of the Geneva Convention bans any means of mass punishment; despite this, the Middle East Quartet agreed to the siege imposed by Israel on millions of Palestinian civilians. Israel, as an occupying authority, did not meet its obligations under the international law to provide safety, food, water, education, and freedom of religion to the occupied Palestinian people. Because the occupying authority did not meet its obligations, it became incumbent upon the international community to protect the Palestinians. Israel refused to apply the Security Council decision number 1860; the prime minister of Israel said, "Israel has the right to defend its citizens." Israel proved once again that it does not respect the international law or the United Nations decision, despite that the establishment of the State of Israel was decided by the UN General Assembly.
Gaza Strip is a densely populated area, 80% of the population composed of refugees of which more than half are children. The people of Gaza are caught between security fences and closed border crossings without any escape exits out of this hell on earth.
Gaza residents are gradually stripped of all means of existence. Patients are left without medications for certain death on occasion; children grow up without experiencing real childhood. At least 350 persons died during the blockade because they were not allowed by the Israeli authorities to leave the Gaza Strip to receive treatment in neighboring Jordan or Egypt. The destruction was unprecedented; thousands of people were made handicapped by internationally banned weapons used by the Israeli army. It is reported that the Israeli army tested some of its new ammunition on the Palestinian people during the latest Gaza aggression.
Egyptian and Israeli scientists declared that Israel used fusion bombs containing heavy metals, which can cause among other things damage to fetuses, renal failure, and other deadly illnesses. The world was watching on television when Israel used white phosphorus bombs, which melted the human flesh and mutilated the human body especially around the jaw of the victim. Israel used the infamous depleted uranium, which will cause congenital defects, accelerated aging, and high cancer rates among children for years to come.
According to Al Mezan Human Rights Center, the latest aggression on the Gaza Strip left 1,342 dead, including 109 women and 318 children. The aggression killed 1,107 civilians and 235 (15.5% of the total death toll) resistance fighters. The war against the people of the Gaza Strip is still waged in various forms. After all the carnage the Israeli occupation forces did not achieve its declared targets: the elimination of Hamas movement, putting an end to missile fired into Israel, and imposing a new security agreement on unarmed people. The people of the Gaza Strip are facing with stones and homemade missiles the forth strongest military power in the world, which in addition to its conventional weapons has 250 nuclear heads. Israel, with the help of the United States, Europe and some Arab countries, is still trying to achieve by political means what it could not achieve by war.
What happened in Gaza is part of what is happening in Jerusalem, the West Bank, and even what is recently happening to the Palestinians inside the green line. What happens in these three different areas should be linked because the offender is the same although the crimes are different. There is a link between the offensive on Gaza Strip called Operation Cast Lead and the scheme of judaizing Jerusalem. Olmert, the immediate past prime minister of Israel, toured the apartheid separation wall three days before the aggression began, stressing the plans to finish the construction in the separation wall early in the year 2009. The separation wall imposes de facto annexation of 85% of the holy city"s Eastern part of Jerusalem.
What is happening in the Palestinian territories aims to perpetuate the Israeli occupation and prevent the emergence of a viable Palestinian State. Israel is fragmenting the Palestinian territories and planting settlements. Jewish settlers come from all over the world to outposts and settlements in the Palestinian territories, while the Palestinians are forced to leave by policies aimed to make their lives miserable. Israel is trying to force neighboring countries and other countries to host the Palestinian refugees who are denied the right to return. These illegal Israeli policies are increasing despite all the negotiations, talks and agreements. The independent Palestinian state has not yet emerged. The number of settlers in the West Bank, since the Oslo Agreement of 1993, jumped from 190 thousand to half a million today. 25 % of the Palestinian lands have been swallowed inside the separation wall; the wall expanded the Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The Palestinians are left with 22% of historic Palestine to establish their own state. The separation wall, fragmentation, and Jewish settlements are making the establishment of a viable Palestinian State more and more difficult.
The Hebrew State is the only UN member who has no declared borders, hence allowing it to continue seizing more Palestinian territories without any restriction. It is also the only country that does not have a constitution and considers itself a home to every Jew all over the world. The United Nations’ conditions to recognize Israel were to accept the return of the Palestinian refugees and the establishment of a Palestinian State. Israel has not fulfilled these conditions 61 years after it was recognized by the UN. Israel is the only country that considers religion and ideology as reasons to expel people out of their land and replace them with anyone declaring himself Jewish. Israel has not agreed to the return of the six million Palestinian refugees from all over the world to their villages and towns. The United Nations recognize the rights of the Palestinian refugees to return and receive compensation for their losses.
The chairman of the 63rd UN General Assembly in his speech before the General assembly echoed Mr. John Dugard, the special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel since 1967, when he said, "In 2004 the UN judicial institution confirmed that Israel’s actions in the Occupied Territory, do indeed violate fundamental norms of human rights and humanitarian law and cannot be justified on grounds of self-defense or necessity, he then stressed that if the United Nations is serious about human rights it cannot afford to ignore this legal opinion in the deliberations of the Middle East Quartet. Failure to acknowledge and implement the legal finding of the UN on the Palestinian situation brings the very commitment of the United Nations to human rights into question."
Judaization of Jerusalem
Since resolution 303 was issued by the UN General Assembly on the 9th of December 1949 the city of the three major monotheistic religions was granted a special international status, with protection for all sacred places and respect for religious, cultural and social diversity of all the citizens in the city, this UN resolution could have been the base for peaceful final status; however, the Israeli occupation did not abide by this resolution. The Israeli authority prevents Muslim men younger than 50 years old from reaching Al-Aqsa mosque to pray. The Christian community is not spared these human rights violations by the Israeli authority. The Christian in Jerusalem are subjected to same martial laws imposed since the occupation of the city in 1967.
The UN formed a supervising body of the five permanent UN Security Council members to oversee the implementation of the UN resolutions about Jerusalem; this UN supervising body has been dissolved since the 1994 Oslo agreement took effect. Israel did not allow the United Nations to practice any administrative authority over Jerusalem. Israel annexed Jerusalem by military force against all the UN resolutions including resolution 181 and 242 issued by the Security Council. The annexation of the Holly City is also in contravention to the UN General Assembly resolution 303 stipulating that any measure that an occupying government takes cannot prevent the UN supervising body from maintaining the status of Jerusalem city as it is adopted by the UN general assembly. This issue undermined the United Nations’ credibility with the Arab countries and internationally.
Israel annexed East Jerusalem in 1980 after having occupied the city since 1967. Israel refuses to recognize 19 UN resolutions that consider Jerusalem an occupied land. The Israeli Knesset ratified a decision in late 2007 preventing any future concession of East Jerusalem unless it is approved by a two-third majority, i.e. 80 out of 120 representatives. This seems very difficult especially today with ultra rightwing government at the helm. Although some Palestinian civil institutions are still operating in East Jerusalem, the Palestinian Authority is banned from taking charge of the city or running the local government. The Israelis closed the Orient House years ago under the pretext that the Palestinian Authority practiced some influence over the center. Even Palestinians living in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip need special permit to enter East Jerusalem.
Israel started the process of Judaizing Jerusalem shortly after it captured the city during the 6 day war in 1967. Demolishing Arab homes was one of the means used to simply delete all features of Arab life in the city. One month after the 1967 war, the Israeli occupying forces demolished 5000 Arab houses; complete districts were fully destroyed, like Al-Magharba district, which was established during the era of Saladin at Al-Buraq squire. Some mosques were changed into Jewish synagogues, tourist and commercial attractions, and camel pens. Some Islamic cemeteries were destroyed, graves of some holy Islamic figures were demolished and their remains were moved to undisclosed places. The archive of the Islamic Sharia Court was confiscated and the Supreme Islamic Council building was demolished, although these building were considered Waqf (endowment) for so many years. The Israelis forged documents to falsely claim ownership over 120 pieces of land around the Aqsa Mosque. Israel continues to carry excavations under the foundation of the Aqsa Mosque building, which endangers the integrity of the historic and symbolic building. The Israeli occupation authorities claimed control over more than 60 thousand donum of lands and confiscated more than 100 buildings and houses in the vicinity of the Aqsa Mosque; they turned these confiscated properties into settlement outposts and built more than 50 synagogues on parts of these lands. The judaizing operation is still ongoing as dozens of other synagogues are opening. Construction on the world"s largest synagogue has just recently begun.
According to Arab Knnest member Ahmed Abu Halabiya 90 % of the Arab lands are put under control of the occupation authorities, of these 34 % were illegally confiscated, 40 % are natural reserves, 10 % suspended lands, and 6 % infrastructures and roads. Only 5-10% of Jerusalem"s city budget is spent on the Palestinian neighborhoods; although the Palestinian population is 34 % of the total city population, the Palestinian neighborhoods lack basic services and infrastructure. Two thirds of the Palestinians live under the poverty line.
More than 2,200 buildings and houses, and thousands of donum are under threat of confiscation by the Israeli occupying authority. Al Ansari Public Library, the oldest and on of the most important cultural centers in Jerusalem is threatened with evacuation and demolition. The occupation authorities are ramping up measures of annexation and confiscation of thousands of donums of Arab lands and hundreds of buildings under various pretexts, by executive orders. The Israelis enacted more than twenty laws, the most prominent of which are Imminent Domain over absentee properties, natural sanctuaries, forests, etc. These Israeli policies aim at displacing the Arab residents of Jerusalem to decrease the Arab population by 88%, i.e. a quarter of million, while raising the Jewish population to one million in the next decade.
Al Aqsa Mosque buildings and landmarks sit on an area of 144 Donum. The mosque was subject to attacks by Jewish extremists, the Israeli occupying authority seized Al-Buraq Wall; they claim the wall is the same famous Wailing Wall. The Israeli occupying authority demolished Al-Magharbeh Gate in early 2007 and built a bridge in the place where the gate stood in the past. What Israel is building in place of the demolished Islamic structures aims at changing the Islamic identity of the place. The occupation authorities intensified diggings under the foundation of Al Aqsa mosque and its courtyard. The massive digging is stretching from under the southern wall to reach below the Rock Mosque in the northern part, and from the east side to the west side. The operation includes digging tunnels for dump trucks and other heavy machines. These tunnels further weaken the foundation under the Aqsa Mosque and all other Islamic structures in the area. Israel claims that the Temple Mound is buried under Al Aqsa Mosque. The digging poses dangers to the foundations of the mosque and too many other buildings and private homes around the mosque. The occupation authority refused to grant the Islamic Endowments Department permits to repair cracks and collapses in the western and southern walls of the Aqsa Mosque, the mosque courtyard, Al-Buraq mosque, the Old Al Aqsa Mosque, and the Marwani mosque and affiliated schools.
A fire demolished a part of the Aqsa Mosque in 1969, two years after the city of Jerusalem fell under the Israeli occupation, and there were repeated attempts to burn the mosque down. Jewish extremists stormed the mosque several times and on occasion opened gun fire on the Muslim worshippers killing and injuring many. One attack against the mosque was carried out by Ariel Sharon, the ex prime minister of Israel, when he stormed the mosque with his security guards in 2000; this ignited the Second Intifadah (popular uprising). The mosque guards were repeatedly attacked and prevented from doing their jobs. Palestinians living in Gaza Strip and the West Bank were denied access to pray in the mosque. Only certain age groups among the Arab residents of Jerusalem and inside the green line are given access to the mosque if they can produce an administrative permit from the local authorities in their place of residence.
In contravention to the demands of the international community and the commitments of the road map, Israel is speeding up its illegal seizure of East Jerusalem, through building settlements and demolishing Palestinian houses and buildings. The new Separation Barrier divided East Jerusalem and worsened the economic conditions of for the Arab residents; it is almost impossible for a Palestinian to receive building licenses in Jerusalem, even the Palestinian residents of Jerusalem are prevented from vertical or horizontal expansion in their homes. If a Palestinian is given a building permit, he or she must pay $25,000 Dollars licensing fees for residential apartment; meanwhile, Jews are given all required licenses and facilitations for a very small fee. Some Palestinians were forced to build their houses without these licenses. The Israeli authority was fast to demolish these houses. More than 400 Palestinian houses have been demolished since 2004, and more than 1000 houses are waiting demolition orders. Often the Israeli authorities evict Palestinian residents to replace them with Jewish ones.
Al- Kurd family is one of the families evicted from their homes in north Jerusalem"s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood. We visited the family in their tent near what used to be their house. The tent became a symbol for the Palestinian resistance, and they called it the "Steadfastness Tent". The land for the tent was donated by a Palestinian neighbor as a temporary solution while Al-Kurd family awaited justice. I was informed that Israeli bulldozers demolished the tent two days after our visit. The family and their friends rebuilt the tent again. They preferred to endure the tough living in the tent during the hard winter over giving up their hope to rebuild their home again. Living in a tent was this family’s only option. Despite the harshness of this reality, they were luckier than most of the 1,500 Palestinian residents evicted from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood alone. The aim of the Israeli policies was to break the spirit of resistance among the Palestinian people. The Palestinians would rather endure living in a tent over giving away what is their inalienable right to their land.
Other people we met in the old parts of Jerusalem city were very concerned over the threats they had been receiving. They fear that one day they will loose their houses and properties because of alleged lack of building license. They may even pay costly fines for their alleged violations. In spite of all hardships and suffering, they insist on staying in their land to maintain and defend their rights and keep the real identity of the city of Jerusalem. There were 28 houses under eviction orders in Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, 36 in the Abbasiya neighborhood and 55 in Ras Khamis neighborhood near Shufat Camp north of the Old Town. Shufat town itself lacks Arab schools, which force half the students in town to travel to neighboring towns. This overwhelms the classrooms in the neighboring towns; some classrooms have more than 50 students. The Israeli authorities deny equal educational opportunities to the Arab children in Jerusalem in an attempt to force their families to leave the city. The Israeli occupation authority facilitates the spreading of illegal addictive drugs among the Palestinian youth to undermine the most vibrant sections in the Palestinian communities to eventually break the people resistance.
The town of Sulwan south of Al Aqsa Mosque is owned by the Islamic Endowments Department. The town area is about 5,700 donum. The area is rich with natural wells, which the Israelis have seized. The water from Sulwan Well runs in a tunnel between the rocks. The tunnel attracted tourists from all over the world. The Israeli occupation authorities closed the well in 1988 and altered the flow of the water to run toward Israeli land. The Israeli charge visitors to the well 10 dollars each. The Israeli changed other wells and water reservoirs in the area like the seasonal Louza well and Ayoub water reservoir, both of which were under supervision of Jordanian army before the occupation in 1967. The Israelis pumped the water reservoir from Al Rabab Valley in al Shama"a region. The Sulwan town is very densely populated with78,000 residents living inside an area of only hundreds of donums. The lack of land made the people seek vertical expansion.
The residents of Al-Bustan district challenged the Israeli eviction orders. The district land area is only 70 donum, all owned by Palestinian citizens. The Israeli authority in Jerusalem handed eviction orders to about 134 families, 1500 Palestinians living in 88 buildings on Feb, 21st, 2009. The evacuations were ordered in preparation to demolish the building under the pretext of building a park. The residents were previously forced to pay high fines to the Israeli authorities for building violations. The Israelis attempted to evacuate the Palestinian residents in late 2004, but they had to back down because of growing international pressure.
The local Israeli authorities backpedaled on their previous offer to give the displaced Palestinian residents houses in Bait Hanina in Jerusalem. The Palestinian residents refused other offers of compensations including replacement land because the Israeli plan would isolate them from Jerusalem and make them part of the West Bank. The Israeli occupying authority is trying to encircle Al Aqsa Mosque with Jewish parks and settlements in order to change the demographics in Jerusalem; the Israeli authority is trying to Judaize Sulwan district, Jebel Tur and Ras Al-Amoud. After changing the Arab demographics of these old Arab towns, the Israeli will link the towns by Jewish settlements. To help in their efforts to erase the Palestinian identity from Jerusalem, the Israelis are trying to replace the Islamic Endowments Department with different organizations where they have more control over the Islamic Endowments Department, which runs Al-Aqsa Mosque affairs.
Some Palestinian residents quit their jobs and stayed in their homes willing to die under the rubble over losing their rights to the lands and homes of their ancestors. The Palestinians wanted to protect the city of Jerusalem against the Israeli plans to erase the Arab and Muslim features from the city. After the Israeli authority issued the eviction orders, the Arab residents filed a complaint with the Israeli courts; the Jerusalem Israeli municipality informed them that they have to prepare a city building plan to avoid demolition. The residents spent $70,000 US Dollars on the city building plans. When they submitted the plan to the committee in charge, the committee chairman still decided that King David Park will be built on the rubble of the Arab houses. The former mufti of Palestine gave a fatwa (religious edict), which prohibits the rightful owners from accepting any financial or material compensation for buildings, lands or houses. He saw that accepting any compensation is considered selling the land building or house to the Israeli authorities, which is banned by Sharia (Islamic law).
The district residents have previously presented a plan to organize their neighborhoods; they resorted to all legal methods and peaceful protests to prevent the demolition, but the occupation authorities did not give building licenses to the Arab residents of Jerusalem. If ever an exception made, the fees are cost prohibitive. They could be more than $25,000 dollars for a residential apartment. Jerusalem local municipality used to manage these issues, but nowadays, licenses are only issued by Israeli central authority in Tel Aviv. West Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barakat is more bent on building more settlements to change the demographic distribution in Jerusalem; he wants to replace the Arabs with Jews.
A visitor to Sulwan can see the Israeli flags over some houses. These houses are occupied by extremist colonialist settlers. The settlers’ houses formed some sort of fortresses guarded by the Israeli army around the clock. The armed settlers attack and beat the unarmed Arab citizens, and throw garbage at Arab houses. The well-funded settlers’ organizations seize the Arab houses by covert buyers, who pose as Westerners buying homes for western companies; in reality, they were buying the homes for extremist Zionist movements. The final purpose is to "clean King David"s city" of Arabs. When Arab families resort to the Courts to protest the demolition orders and present the deeds and licenses issued before the occupation of city, the Israeli judge will temporarily stop the demolition order, but the judges will eventually introduce a provision allowing the demolition for imminent domain reasons.
The occupation authorities have completed the bigger part of the so-called historical "David City" in Wadi Hulwa in the district of Sulwan, in addition to Jewish settlements built on Palestinian land surrounding Al Aqsa Mosque. The numerous Israeli army checkpoints and the separation barrier are isolating the Palestinian districts around the Old Town and Al Aqsa Mosque from the rest of the city of Jerusalem, and preventing the Palestinian residents of these districts from using large numbers of roads and streets. The budget for the Judaization project is about 150 million dollars over the next few years. The authorities implementing these projects are Jerusalem Municipality, Jerusalem Development Authority and Israel Antiquities Authority.
The shrines and Talmudic themed tunnels in this emerging city were dug as part of a plan that includes the so-called "the Sacred Basin", which includes the Old Towns and large parts of the districts surrounding the Old Town like Sheikh Jarrah district, Wadi Al-Gouz in the North, Tur suburb in the East, and Sulwan suburb in the south. Sheikh Raed Salah believes that what happens at the Bustan district, "is not arbitrary because there is a plan to remove all Palestinian presence in this area by 2050".
More than ten thousand Palestinians are living in tough conditions in Al Issawiya district, east of Jerusalem; they are denied schools and parks and even postal services. The residents resorted to using addresses of the available shops to receive their mail. They are subjected to inspection and interrogations at checkpoints, which prevent students from getting to their schools and workers from getting to work.
Jabal Al-Mukabber is densely populated by Arab residents who have no place to start families for Arab youth and are living in bad health conditions with no sewage network, schools, streets, or health clinics. The municipal authority refused to link the Arab houses with the sewage network, which was built exclusively for the new Jewish settlements. The municipal authority seized olive orchards owned by some residents of Jabal Al-Mukabber and plan to build a Nof Zion settlement on the orchard land.
The occupying authority is helping Jewish institutions like Otairet Kohanim, Ilad and other settlement institutions to buy or annex the ancient buildings around Al Aqsa Mosque. More than 100 buildings were annexed so far, at the same time the occupying authority is doing its best to make life for the Arab citizens as tough as possible, and to seize thousands of the Arab properties. The Jewish institutions are conducting excavations; they are digging wide and long tunnels under the old Arab houses in the ancient city of Jerusalem and under lands of the Arab city of Sulwan. These tunnels are dug secretly; they usually start from a settler house with a middle-sized opening and then expand gradually in long and convoluted paths, some of the tunnels reaching as much as 8 meters in width.
Ilad extremist settlers directly or indirectly seize old Arab homes in the old town in preparation for digging a tunnel under the town. These activities are especially concentrated in Sulwan city. The Shitah tunnel under Sulwan city runs in two directions: one towards Ancient Jerusalem and the other towards Mount Zion. Work on this tunnel has been temporarily suspended due to the sudden landslides resulting from the digging. Palestine Chief Justice and chairman of the Sharia Supreme Judicial Council sheikh Taysir Al Tamimi warned of the danger of digging under Al Aqsa Mosque, which may lead to the collapse of this historic shrine of Islam.
Most of the tunnels move towards the Old Town to meet under the Mosque and near Al-Buraq Wall. Ironically the Israelis are trying to control the city by literally controlling the foundations of the Arab buildings in Jerusalem; as a result many Arab homes may collapse. In Old Jerusalem, we witnessed houses with cracked walls and we were able to hear the digging and excavation operations despite the noisy streets. We saw old stairs used by the Israeli Antiquities Authority to access the underground digging operations. Seventeen Palestinian girls were injured because of a landslide under the floor of their classroom at Qods primary School, which is operated by the Palestinian United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Refugees (UNRWA). This school is very close to Al Aqsa Mosque.
The latest project to deeply alter the city of Jerusalem according to Al Aqsa Foundation is Kikar Tzahal in the north west side of the wall of Old Jerusalem. Part of the areas surrounding Old Jerusalem walls were converted into parks. The annexation of Islamic and Arab buildings in Old Jerusalem city is persistent, especially in Sharaf Neighborhood, west of Magharba district, at the end of Al Wad street, near Al-Naby Dawoud mosque and Al Dagani family endowment land. The Arab street names are replaced with Hebrew ones. There are plans to rebuild Old Jerusalem gates, walls and some historical sites and districts; the work has started in Al Khalil gate in the western side. Al Aqsa Foundation for Endowment and Heritage has recently revealed that the occupation authorities plan to dig two tunnels 56 meters and 22 meters long. They will install electric elevators and create passages to link the Sharaf district in the old town to Al-Buraq Wall and Al Aqsa Mosque to facilitate settlers’ and tourists’ movements. Of note is that the Sharaf Arab district was demolished after the occupation of Jerusalem in 1967, the Arab residents were pushed out and the district was named the Jewish Neighborhood.
Israel"s targets are not limited to changing the political and demographic aspects of Jerusalem, but they include also changing the cultural and religious aspects of the city by removing the Arab and Islamic identity and replacing it with a Jewish identity, and isolating Al Aqsa Mosque from Palestinian Arab districts. Israel plans to deport large numbers of the Arab and Muslim population from Jerusalem and to establish geographical links between Jewish settlements in and around the Old Jerusalem, like the French Hill settlement in the north, the settlement of Eastern Tal Biyot in the south, and another settlement in the east. This will permanently change the city of Jerusalem and create the conditions that prejudge any future final status negotiations.
Israel is working on these plans feverishly; we noticed that the construction work on the subway system continues even on official holidays. The subway is scheduled to start operating in 2010. It is worth noting that digging uncovered the remains of an old city from the Roman empire era, which consisted of well-designed houses with two public baths. The subway construction plan includes digging a 15-kilometer long tunnel, swallowing key parts of East Jerusalem lands. The subway will link settlements in the eastern part with the western part of Jerusalem. French companies like Stom and Viola are part of a Consortium working on the project. They signed the contracts in late 2004 with Sharon government. They continue the work despite protests, lawsuits, and the illegality of the contracts. Stom company is making 46 train compartments with bullet proof glass to protect the passengers against "terrorist acts". Some of the company workers and their union voiced their protests against working on the project, because the project is against international laws that do not allow building operations under illegal occupation.
Israel had signed the Geneva Convention but never abided by it when it came to the treatment of the Palestinian population. Israel blatantly ignores most of the UN resolutions including resolution 446 dated 22nd March 1979, that rejects Israeli policies of building settlements in Arab and Palestinian territories occupied in 1967. Building settlements illegally in the occupied territories is undermining the peace process in the Middle East. Israel has always ignored such conventions and resolutions. Israel was condemned by the Security Council and the International Court of Justice in The Hague because of these illegal practices against the Arab population. The tramway and subway projects led to the demolition of Palestinian houses and the annexation of Palestinian lands. These projects facilitate the annexation of East Jerusalem and settlement building. Human rights societies in France filed lawsuits against both French companies involved in the Subway project in 2007. The lawsuit called for canceling the contracts with the Israeli government. The companies affirmed their commitment to respecting human rights, and denied the existence of any contract with the Israeli government. The uproar, caused by the human rights societies in several European countries especially the Swedish society of Diaconya, made the company Viola lose a $3.5billion contract in Sweden, which went to a Hong Kong based company. A Dutch bank stopped financing Viola company for the same reasons.
Evicted Palestinians usually take refuge with their relatives using tents donated by the Red Cross. The Palestinians are forced to leave their places and immigrate away from their homeland because they have no more options. The occupation authorities make any excuse to withdraw the identity (ID) cards of the Arab residents of Jerusalem; life and movement in Jerusalem without the identity card is almost impossible for an Arab. Israel withdrew more than 40,000 ID cards from Palestinian residents. The Interior Ministry in Israel grant special blue ID cards. For a Palestinian to obtain a blue ID card, he or she must go through long bureaucratic processes with multiple layers of paper work, including difficult conditions to prove one’s residency in Jerusalem. Israel uses multiple excuses to deny the Palestinians the right of living in Jerusalem; these excuses include but are not limited to amending the entry laws, denying residence to Palestinians who travel away or obtain another nationality. The occupation authorities even close Palestinian houses in Jerusalem because they claim that they are not inhabited for long periods despite evidence to the contrary. Palestinians with foreign passports are denied residence in Jerusalem and are treated like tourists in their own country; they have to get a visitor visa, which has to be renewed every three months. Palestinian husbands and wives cannot reunite if a spouse is not from Jerusalem, otherwise the violator faces prison sentence and the spouse from Jerusalem is subject to fines.
The representative of the Muslim Scholars (Ulema) Council in Palestine said; Israel is accompanying its crusade to displace the Palestinians out of Jerusalem with raising Arnona municipal tax, which is higher than other places including Tel Aviv. At the same time the Palestinians do not receive municipal services in return. Road maintenance, new schools, health facilities and public buildings are lacking in the Palestinian areas. The occupation authorities demanded fines for traffic violations, not even known to those being fined; these fines were increased ten times recently. Objections were not accepted and lawsuits before the courts were useless except in very few cases. Arabs are not granted proper hearing in the courts by Israeli judges, who issue their rulings mostly against Arabs in Jerusalem even before hearing the lawyers’ argument.
The Israeli government has recently closed the last gate linking Jerusalem city with the Ram town and Al-Barid suburb. The Gate of Al-Barid Suburb was the only link between North and South Jerusalem. The city became like a prison separated from the West Bank after closing the gate. The residents were packed inside high security fences under Israeli control with no freedom to move around the city. The freedom of movement is subject to the Israeli soldiers’ moods; the soldiers decide who gets exit or entry permission. Al-Barid Suburb virtually became a militarized zone with surveillance cameras monitoring people’s movements. 60,000 Palestinians in Jerusalem are living in the isolated region under the threat of losing their blue Israeli ID cards. Their daily lives became constant suffering to get to work, schools, or other places. The population of the town of Ram is about 58,000; more than half of them have an Israeli ID card, but the town lacks health centers and schools. Because of these measures, the town Palestinian residents have to pass through Kalandia and Hazma Israeli military checkpoints daily. Most of the shops in their town have closed after their business dwindled down because of the security wall built by Israel.
Demolitions and evictions have been accelerated in order to turn Jerusalem into a Jewish city and empty its Arab residents by 2020. About 260,000 Arabs and more than 182,000 Jews are living in East Jerusalem. The separation wall caused the eviction of 1,635 Arab families, about 100 thousand Arab citizens, out of Jerusalem. Israel is building a new Greater Jerusalem with new imposed demographics to guarantee the domination of Jewish colonists in this sacred city. The demolition of houses was one of the first acts of the the Israeli occupation in 1967, followed by imposing a military system, ethnic cleansing, detention, deportation and denial of citizenship rights to Palestinians.
Demographic and geographic aspects of Jerusalem are forcefully changed to prejudge any final status negotiations and force the Palestinians and the world to accept the illegal domination of Israelis over Jerusalem and to make it the capital of Israel. Settlement building has increased in the first half of 2008 by 1.8%, twice as much as the previous year according to the Central Bureau of Statistics. The Israeli occupation authorities work to remove the so-called green line by intensive settlements building (the green line marks the border line of Israel before the six day war started on the 5th of June 1967). There are more than 192 thousand settlers living in 12 illegal settlements in East Jerusalem; these include agricultural, industrial, and military settlements. The occupation authorities facilitate settlement expansion through tax breaks and financial incentives.
What is taking place in Jerusalem applies also to the occupied West Bank. A study issued by the National Security Studies Institute in Tel Aviv University covering the settlement building in the occupied territories in the span of four decades, concluded that settlement building did not stop despite the peace process. The settlements are a serious obstacle in the way of the two-state solution. The study points to the presence of more than 100 illegal settlement outposts; more than half of them were built after Sharon assumed office and after the United States proposed the road map in March 2001. The authority demolished only three settlements outposts so far. The Israeli occupation authority is providing the means to increase the Jewish settlers’ population in the Palestinian occupied land; the Israeli governments has always catered to the ultra orthodox right wing Jewish movements by supporting settlements building.
According to Mahdi Abdul Hadi, the demographic, geographical, social, and economic changes imposed on Jerusalem by the Israeli occupation authority were met only by individual and small protests in the absence of a strategy to stop the Israeli campaign to change the multicultural face of the city. There are no organized actions by the Arab, Palestinian, Islamic or Christian communities to stop the Israeli plans to alter the city of Jerusalem. Few actions were partially and temporarily fruitful; the local affairs court in Jerusalem recently issued a ruling to freeze demolition orders of 55 Palestinian apartments in Ras Khamis district in central Jerusalem, pending further hearings by the court. Some see this as an important legal breakthrough, which buys some time for the lawyers to work to cancel the administrative orders of demolition. The Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions sent a petition to the United Nations demanding the enforcement of resolution 252 adopted by the Security Council after the Magharba District was illegally demolished by the Israeli occupation authority; the resolution called to immediately stop any measures that may change the situation of Jerusalem. The committee promised to launch a campaign to rebuild the demolished Palestinian houses (about 300 houses every year).
The Documentation and Research Department at Jerusalem Center for Social and Economic Rights documented more than 200 demolition orders for Palestinian houses in Jerusalem and its suburbs since the beginning of 2009. The occupation authorities have already demolished about 30 houses this year, at a rate of 1-3 houses every day. The Palestinian life in East Jerusalem is very difficult because of the Israeli restrictions. The Israeli municipality grants only between 150 and 350 building licenses every year to Palestinians, at the same time they demolish more than 150 Palestinian houses every year. This leads to the displacement of thousands of Palestinians and the withdrawal of their residence rights in their city. The Israeli actions are causing the biggest mass displacement operation of Palestinians in Jerusalem since 1967.
The irony is that the Palestinian Authority (PA) has no mechanisms to protect the city of Jerusalem. There is no clear policy to confront the projects of settlement building and Judaization. Many say that the PA acts as if it has no relation to Jerusalem residents with no clear policies to protect the city. Israeli Interior Ministry officers have free rain to do whatever they want against the Arab residents of Jerusalem: they storm the Arab houses at night under the pretext of holding a census; they even interrogate the Arabs about attendees and absentees at the house. When we asked the ministry about this alleged census, we did not receive any answers.
Muslim scholars (Ulema) Council in Palestine has warned in a statement that black days are coming ahead in Jerusalem, as the city of Jerusalem is changing overnight. The residents who are asked to stand strong in the face of the mighty Israeli power have never received any support. There is a big Israeli plan to quickly change Jerusalem into a Jewish city. The Israelis are digging under the city and its surrounding walls; they plan to build synagogues in the Holy City. The historical Dome of the Rock might disappear in a few months and be replaced by a giant dome of a synagogue. Israel carries out secret underground diggings to hide the truth from the world; they claim that they are performing archeological work to uncover evidence that they owned the city thousands of years ago. They are working to uncover the historical Hashmonaim tunnel, although the Hashmonaim civilization has never existed in Jerusalem. Scientific inspection of this digging work uncovered that Israel has used chemicals to dissolve big rocks on their way to the alleged historical channel. The Israelis are rewriting the history of Jerusalem and its surroundings; they allocated huge sums of money and employed tens of historians and archeologists in the West, to silencing voices that react to their claims.
Ehud Barak, the previous primd minister of Israel, said one day to Yasser Arafat, the late PA chairman: "You own what is above the land in Jerusalem and we own what is below it." These claims were rejected by the PA chairman. Israel is working out of limitless greed, not even stopping at what was decided during the Oslo agreement between the Palestinians and the Israeli. Israel acts as if it owns what is above and what is below the land of Jerusalem and Palestine, while the Palestinian Authority continues to negotiate with no tangible results. The Israelis continue to take over the Palestinian lands illegally, and steal what is underground including sources of energy, gas, water and stones to build houses for the Jewish settlers and even historic artifacts to decorate their houses.
Closing Al-Aqsa Foundation for Reconstruction of Islamic Sanctuaries
The Israeli occupation authorities seek by all means to harass Palestinian cultural, economic, social, health and educational institutions. They prevent these institutions from doing their work, imposing high taxes, preventing building or expanding and obstructing renovations, and even closing some of these institutions. Since the beginning of the second Intifadah, which embarrassed the Israeli occupation in the international circles, Israel is instigating a war against charity organizations in the occupied territories regardless whether Islamic or secular. Israel’s campaign against civil society in Palestine is part of the international campaign against Islamic charitable institutions in Western and Arab countries. (See our report issued in early 2007 about restrictions on charity and humanitarian groups in the West Bank and the closing of about 100 humanitarian institutions).
The Israeli occupation authorities started the war against the civil society institutions long before the international campaign against Islamic charities; they closed the Palestinian Islamic Movement Institutions in 1996, arrested their leaders, and confiscated their documents and money. The Israeli occupation authority aims to keep these institutions under constant pressure with the threat of arrests and closure. The civil society institutions are forced to go on the defense, while the occupation attacks Al Aqsa mosque and other Islamic sanctities. The Israeli occupation authorities’ actions highlight the ineffectiveness and marginal defenses of the Arab and Palestinian societies. There is an Arab and Palestinian defeatist approach against the Israeli occupation. Israel is imposing emergency laws on the Palestinian society.
Closing Al Aqsa Foundation for Reconstruction of Islamic Sanctities was issued this time by the then Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak on the 14th of August 2008, under the pretext of "threatening stability, coexistence and security of citizens." The storming of the offices took place at night, using a barbaric, destructive and intimidating method. In fact, this storming came after Sheikh Raed Salah held a press conference in which he revealed the occupation’s plans towards Al Aqsa Mosque, and he showed documents supporting his accusations. These documents reveal the planned construction of Jewish synagogues around the mosque and a military bridge that ends inside Al Aqsa Mosque. This triggered an Arab and Islamic popular and official uproar.
The confiscation included tens of thousands of invaluable historical documents dating back two centuries. The most important of these documents include documents related to the project of "a comprehensive survey of Islamic and Christian Waqf" in historical Palestine, which began in 2000 and was near completion. It includes 3,000 files covering 75% of Palestinian holy places and documented about 2,500 geographical, historical and engineering sites. Also confiscated were documents related to Waqf of major cities such as Jaffa, Haifa, Acre, Ramle and Lod in the past two centuries. Documents of Ottoman Tabu and the land of Islamic and Christian Waqfs dating back to the Ottoman Empire were taken from the Ottoman Archives. Also confiscated were files of prosecutions concerning the assaulted and seized sanctuaries; architect designs; a press archive that includes tens of thousands of pictures, films and documentaries about the Nakba and displaced villagers and violations of Israeli settlers and intelligence against Al Aqsa Mosque; and finally oral historical testimonies and interviews with centenarians who lived in Palestine before the Nakba and are witnesses to that period.
Al Aqsa Foundation"s only guilt is that it brought to memory the towns and villages that were nearly forgotten due to systematic Judaization and elimination of Islamic and Arab identity, such as Sarafand Haifa, the mosque of Hattin village and Majdal Ashkelon, and the many villages destroyed by the occupation and sent into historic oblivion. Israeli political and military establishment saw this as a grave crime, a crime in the eyes of the Israelis to resist the revision of history. The Israelis are revising the history of Palestine to support the Zionist movement’s infamous claim about Palestine: "a land without a people, for a people without land". Multiple evidence refute the Israeli claims; uncovered documents and artifacts studied by Israeli archaeologists and international political scientists like Finkelstein and others have shown that the Prophet Abraham did not enter Palestine and Joshua did not enter Jericho; moreover, they proved that the Kingdom of David and Solomon and the Temple Mount did not exist on the land of Palestine.
Because of the lack of scientific evidence to support the Israeli claims, the occupation authority resorted to a policy of intimidation, silencing voices and concealing evidence. The Israeli authorities closed the Islamic Heritage Commission in Al Aqsa Mosque in 2002, following this with the closing of the Wifadah and Rifadah institution and today Al Aqsa Foundation. The Israeli policies are not restricted to institutions but they are applied against individuals working to refresh the consciousness and civil resistance. The Israelis are carrying out a silencing campaign and media blackout in order to complete their mission to seize all Islamic sanctuaries.
Officials in Al Aqsa Foundation see the Israeli actions against them as a serious escalation in the campaign against Al Aqsa Mosque. This campaign includes preventing the Muslims living inside the 1948 boarder from praying in the mosque in order to keep hidden the diggings carried out under the mosque. The digging is an initial step to demolish the mosque and to build the alleged Temple Mount. The Israeli action against Al Aqsa Foundation aims to stop its activities in preserving the holy sites, and to stop dozens of claims filed by Muslims and Christians in the court over grave yards, mosques and holy places. This demonstrates the Israelis’ attempts to obliterate the Palestinian version of history. Al Aqsa Foundation and Muslim Women for Al Aqsa foundation are working to revive displaced mosques, cemeteries and villages and what is left from the homeland by organizing historic site visits and cultural events like festivals and cultural exchanges.
Sheikh Raed Salah, the chairman of the Islamic movement inside the green line, denied the Israeli allegations about the relationship between Al Aqsa Foundation and the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas): what Israeli authorities called "terrorist parties" in occupied Jerusalem. He denied that the "Coalition of Good" is supported by Hamas. He stressed that he will continue Al Aqsa Foundation’s mission under another name. Sheikh Salah accused the Israeli intelligence service of being behind the closure and pointed out that this action is a part of closing 36 Islamic institutions in the Arab and Islamic world in only one month. He pointed out that there is a Jewish edict (fatwa) to kill him and that Jewish extremists have arrived in his hometown searching for him.
Al Aqsa Foundation team is working to preserve the city of Jerusalem and keep it connected to its history and surroundings; the work is done on behalf of the Arab and Islamic world and the Palestinians. Courageous individuals continue the struggle to defend the Palestinian civilians against the Israeli onslaught. These individuals are targeted by the Israeli police; the media coordinator of Al Aqsa Foundation was recently arrested in the courtyard of Al Aqsa Mosque.
The Populous Committee for the Defense of Freedoms, which is operating inside the Green Line, linked the closing Al Aqsa Foundation with its effort to organize the festival of "Al Aqsa in danger" in the city of Umm al-Fahm. The festival was attended by tens of thousands of 1948 Palestinian refugees. This aggression against Al Aqsa Foundation came during the holy month of Ramadan, when charity work is very important and is possibly the only source of joy for tens of thousands of the Palestinian citizens. According to chairman of Al-Mezan human rights center, "The emergency law, adopted under the pretext of confidential materials that the intelligence services provide to the Ministry of Security, infringe on the freedom of expression and belief." Amir Makhoul, the Chairman of the Committee for the Defense of Freedoms, said that the Israeli actions constitute a new aggressive phase in the oppression of the Palestinian people. He declared that it is not only Al Aqsa in danger but all Arab people as well.
The website Aqsaonline, which has tracked the Palestinian, Arab and Islamic official reactions, over four years, found that there was no official and coordinated effort to save Al Aqsa mosque by more than twenty Arab countries and more than fifty Muslim states. These nations act as if the issue is an "internal Israeli matter". The Israelis aim to close Al Aqsa Foundation and confiscate its documents to eradicate years of efforts to prove the Arab and Muslim identity of Al Aqsa mosque. The goal of closing the Foundation is to silence a voice that leads the ongoing struggle in defense of the Palestinian land and the Islamic holy sites. The Israelis want to continue their crimes against the city with no witnesses. Alquds Institution confirmed that closing Al Aqsa Foundation aims to block people from going to Al Aqsa Mosque, because people are a shield that protects the mosque from the repeated and continued attacks by Jewish extremists.
Furthermore, this was not the first time Al Aqsa Foundation faced closure; it was closed before in 2003, when it was stormed by the Israeli officers. The chairman and a number of the leaders were arrested and became known as Al Aqsa hostages. This was carried out to prevent the movement from building institutions for self maintenance. The Israelis are targeting all effective institutions, whose work is not limited to empty slogans.
Every national or religious institution or figure in Jerusalem faced attempts to be silenced and pressured to prevent their effort against the occupation authority in defense of the Palestinian people. Father Atallah Hanna embodies the Muslim-Christian brotherhood in the holy land. He usually speaks out locally and internationally against the occupation and gives an accurate account of what is happening on the ground against the Palestinian people. He received us during our visit to the city and detailed the Israeli crimes committed against the Palestinian people while the world was watching. His statement, issued after we published this report, stressed that "the attack on Al Aqsa constitutes an attack on Muslims and Christians alike and fully rejects religious extremism and racism". The statement concluded that the attack on Al Aqsa foundation is inhumane and immoral. He reiterated his call to "the Christian Palestinians to enter the Palestinian city of Jerusalem on Thursday and Friday and to take part in the religious events on Good Friday and Bright Saturday to voice their protest against the occupation actions along with their Muslim brothers in Jerusalem".
Jerusalem is the capital of Arab culture
One of the key objectives of the resistance against the occupation and the Judaization of the Holy City of Jerusalem is to emphasis the cultural identity of East Jerusalem. This is especially more important now because of the Arab and Muslim unawareness of what is being committed by the Israelis against the Arab and Muslim identity of Jerusalem, and the unprecedented acceleration of the Judaization measures since the end of the aggression on Gaza City. Jerusalem was chosen to be celebrated as the capital of Arab culture in 2009. Jerusalem replaced Baghdad because of the instability in Baghdad. Hamas movement lobbied the Council of Arab Ministers of Culture held in Muscat to choose Jerusalem three years ago. The idea seemed attractive at the time; it was agreed that the cultural activities would not be confined to Jerusalem. The Palestinian territories and the Arab states would actively participate in the celebrations.
Events were scheduled to be held at the same time in four Palestinian cities besides Jerusalem. These include Bethlehem in the West Bank, which will host Palestinian and Arab figures who cannot enter Jerusalem; the city of Nazareth inside the green line; the city of Gaza, to highlight the Palestinian unity despite the political and geographical divisions; and the Rashidieh Palestinian refugees camp in Lebanon to remind the world of the Palestinians in the Diaspora since 1948. More celebrations were planned in other Arab capitals. Jerusalem is currently facing the most serious measures to change its identity in order to remove its Arab and Muslim heritage and to dominate it by only Jewish culture, a process we call Judaization. To face this Israeli attack against the identity of the city, Jerusalem needed to be named the capital of Arab culture to highlight its importance to the heritage of humanity.
The Israeli occupation is using all means available to target not only Jerusalem’s glorious history, but also its present and future. The Israeli occupation targets the language, culture, and religious aspects of the city. The Israeli occupation confronted those who have declared Jerusalem the capital of Arab culture for 2009. The Israeli forces arrested the participants in the celebrations and dispersed their gatherings during the cultural events. Nachi Eyal, the Chairman of the Meeting of the Legal Forum for the Land of Israel, met with Public Security Minister Avi Dichter and Police Commissioner David Cohen to block the festivities. They declared the choice of Jerusalem as the Capital of Arab Culture in the 2009 as an illegal attempt to confirm the Palestinian sovereignty over Jerusalem. The irony is that the Palestinian Authority continues to hold peace talks with the occupation authorities even after blocking the celebration of Jerusalem as the Capital of the Arab Culture in 2009.
The Israeli Security Minister issued an order on March 20, 2009 canceling all festival activities scheduled to start on the following day. Of note is that the celebration of Jerusalem as the capital of Arab culture had been delayed earlier for three months due to the aggression on Gaza. The launch of the celebrations in Jerusalem was a press conference in a press tent in Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood. The main celebration was held in Bethlehem. The press tent was surrounded by a huge number of police, special forces, and secret intelligence officers. They handed over Um Kamel an order to disperse assembly inside the tent. Then, they physically assaulted and detained a number of participants in the conference, including journalists and cameramen.
The Israeli authority declared that it will stop the festivity; the celebration was in an open place continuously watched by the Israeli forces. The celebrations should have been held either at Al Aqsa Mosque courtyard during noon prayer while the place is full of worshipers, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, or Al-Khalil gate, which is usually crowded with foreign tourists. The Israeli occupation forces will be avoided using force to stop the celebration, while western tourists are around to witness the reality of what is happening in Jerusalem.
Others thought the celebration should be an opportunity to expose the Israeli occupation crimes against the Palestinian and Arab people, and to expose attempts to normalize Arab state’s diplomatic relations with Israel. Cultural aspects cannot be separated from the political, historical, and national aspects. The festive occasion should be dedicated to declare solidarity with Jerusalem and Palestine, given that 300,000 Palestinian Jerusalem residents cannot bring success to these events on their own if Palestinians from outside the city need permits to enter the city.
Some protested against holding the celebration, because millions of dollars will be spent on the celebration while Jerusalem, the capital of Arab Culture 2009, faces physical and moral negligence and its various institutions are under occupation, over-taxation and all other forms of pressure. The cities’ residents are in dire need of these funds to help them survive the daily attacks against them. In a sense, what is the benefit of celebrating in a ghost town as the capital of Arab culture while it is gradually cleared of its population and its citizens’ IDs withdrawn, while the officials are doing nothing more than issuing statements of condemnation?
Due to this, there is lack of cultural activity that already suffers from Israeli practices and lack of support. There are no indoor places in Jerusalem large enough to hold the expected large gatherings. The occupation bans assembly and rallies in public squares. The Palestinian citizens of Jerusalem are facing systematic attempts to delete their identity; they are living under tremendous restrictions on their educational and cultural activities. The Palestinian tourist destinations are also blocked. More than 920 demolition notices have been reported this year; it is projected to displace 17,000 Palestinians from Jerusalem. The conditions require an urgent help to Palestinians in Jerusalem through aid from Arab countries, to strengthen the resistance in the face of persistent Israeli violations of the Palestinians’ human rights.
It is difficult to understand why the global civil society is not doing anything in face of what is happening in Jerusalem; moreover, the parties who are supposed to be directly affected by the events in Jerusalem like the Arab and Muslim world, are not active in helping the people of East Jerusalem. The process of changing the city of Jerusalem by Israel is ongoing. The Arabs and the Palestinians generally did not rise up to the task of defending the city and its people. The Palestinians of Jerusalem are left alone to face stressful situations and human rights violations at all levels. What Israel is committing is building more obstacles to the peace process. Israel’s actions to derail the peace process speak louder than its rhetoric about pursuing peace with the Palestinians. Israel is undermining the peace talks by denying the Palestinian the right to have East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state. By this measure, the Israelis hope to control both West and East Jerusalem.
In light of such catastrophic situations in the Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem and in the Palestinian territories, the Palestinian citizens in Jerusalem are calling on political and human rights activists to support their steadfastness by starting a fund to help the evicted and displaced persons and provide them with shelters. They also call for establishing a special legal committee to fight the Israeli laws of construction, ownership, and alleged violations. This legal help is especially needed after the new Israeli foreign minister announced that Israel is not bound by the agreement reached in the Annapolis peace conference in November 2007 regarding establishing a Palestinian state. His excuse was that the "the Israeli government and the Knesset had never ratified the Annapolis agreement." The road map is then no more than a dead letter. The Road Map was laid down in the summer of 2003 by the international Quartet of the Middle East, which includes the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations, stipulating the establishment of the Palestinian state alongside Israel.
When Israel was holding ceremonial talks with the Palestinians, the United States was fighting settlement building with words not with deeds. Meanwhile, the United States is pressuring the Palestinian people and the Palestinian resistance to offer more concessions to Israel. The current US administration stayed silent after it was humiliated by an Israeli Minister declaring that Israel does not take orders from the United States and that "Israel is not the fifty-first state". The US acts powerless when the new Israeli prime minister, in contradiction to the US policy, rejects the two-state solution principle.
The right wing extremist Israeli government is not going to take the strategic decisions to end the occupation, dismantle the settlements, and recognize the right of return for Palestinian refugees. The question for Palestinian political powers remains: How long will the Palestinian division last? This division weakens the Palestinians’ ability to negotiate a lasting peace and to force Israel to offer more concessions.
The Israelis seek only a lull to the fighting. They falsely believe that full security can be achieved by imposing a humiliating peace on humiliated people. The Israelis are acting with impunity and with no accountability. The rotating Israeli leaders so far lack political wisdom and moral courage to acknowledge that their security will not be achieved as long as it is based on misery of those whose legitimate right for a state is violated. Israel is faced with only two options: either giving the Palestinians an Israeli citizenship, which would mean the end of the Jewish state, or holding an ethnic cleansing of Palestinians by displacing them to Jordan, which would mean a moral end of Israel.
The aggression on Gaza has undoubtedly returned the Palestinian cause to the global stage. Today, the Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) faces a very difficult challenge; one is the complacency of the Western officials, who are backpedaling on defending a solution that may secure the minimum rights for the Palestinian people, and the other is the need to impose an isolation on the Jewish state and those defending its actions. This isolation should increase by all means, and include boycotting.
The Arab governments should stop watching without acting and start providing material and moral support to the residents of Jerusalem to face settlement building and Judaization processes. The settlement building and Judaization are well-financed with billions of dollars and supported by the most ultra extremist Jewish movements. Any Arab material and moral support will have a positive impact on the international civil society, whose effectiveness is reduced because of the Israeli occupation measures, the western conniving, and the tyranny in the Arab world. The Arab governments are blocking any popular stance in support of the Palestinian resistance. The end of last colonial military occupation of the Palestinian land and the end of the apartheid system imposed by Israel on the Palestinians are the biggest challenges facing the peoples of the region and the rest of humanity around the world.