Jerusalem’s Palestinian youth face bleak future

First published by the Arab Weekly on 30/7/2017

London – The results of the tawjihi — General Secondary Education Certificate Examination — were re­cently announced across the Palestinian territories to great cheers and celebration in some households and deep disappoint­ment in others.


The future isn’t what it used to be. Palestinian children chat outside a school in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Jabel Mukhaber. (Reuters)

Palestinians see education as a vital asset to their development both as individuals and as a society under occupation.

The next step for those who ex­celled in the tawjihi is to find a place at university. Medicine and engineering continue to be the most sought-after studies for those with a score of 90% or higher.

However, hope that a university education will help Palestinians se­cure a job and go on to build a fam­ily is a pipe dream for most. “Hope” is the operative word here, and is a commodity that is in short supply for Palestinians, particularly the young.

The number of unemployed Pal­estinians totalled 361,000 in 2016, the Palestinian Central Bureau for Statistics said, rising from 21.7% in 2007 to 26.9% in 2016.

The International Labour Organi­sation (ILO) said the unemploy­ment rate for Palestinian youth has reached 40%. The unemployment rate in Gaza is more than 40% and youth unemployment is more than 60% and 85% among young wom­en. Gaza, of course, has suffered from a 10-year siege that has exac­erbated the situation. The unem­ployment rate among men in East Jerusalem is reported to be 12.3% and 26.8% among women.

Palestinians recently marked Is­rael’s 50-year occupation of East Jerusalem, which means anyone born after 1967 has grown up un­der Israeli military rule. The occu­pation has not been a static affair. Israel annexed East Jerusalem shortly after its occupation, claim­ing it as its united eternal capital. It has also actively pursued the con­struction of illegal settlements in the Palestinian areas, for Jews only, in a deliberate attempt to change its demographic makeup or, as the Pal­estinians see it, to Judaise it.

Some 300,000 Palestinians live in East Jerusalem. Their official status is “resident.” They are nei­ther Israeli citizens nor holders of a Palestinian Authority passport. In 2014, the Israeli Ministry of Interior revoked the permanent residency status of 107 Palestinian residents of Jerusalem, including 56 women and 12 minors. Since 1967, the resi­dency status of 14,416 Palestinian residents of Jerusalem has been revoked. In practice, this prevents them from returning to live in their place of birth.

In 2012, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) reported that 78% of Palestinians, including 84% of children, in the district of Jeru­salem live below the poverty line. There are no official statistics col­lected by Israel as to the rate of un­employment among Palestinians. However, the Statistical Yearbook of Jerusalem, put out by the Jerusa­lem Institute for Israel Studies, said 40% of males and 85% of females do not participate in the workforce.

Only 41% of Palestinian children are enrolled in municipal schools. There is a shortage of 1,000 class­rooms in the official municipal education system; 194 classrooms were added in these schools from 2009-14 and an additional 211 are planned. More than 40% of class­rooms in the official municipal sys­tem are considered inadequate.

A particularly important statistic is that of school dropout rate. This stands at 26% in 11th grade and 33% in 12th grade; the national average stands at just a few percent. Those who drop out face a bleak future in terms of employment. Opportuni­ties for employment are extremely limited. The jobs that do exist are low-pay and in many cases short-term.

Where youngsters hope to join a family business, particularly in the old city, they see a short, strained attempt by Israel to force them out of business through excessive taxa­tion and other demands.

Many end up working part-time for low wages inside Israel with little hope of saving for a house, rent or to start a family. This forces many to continue living with their parents, resulting in overcrowded conditions.

Even if Palestinian families own land and have the means to ex­tend their homes to accommodate offspring, Israel generally denies building permits. Such permits are not denied for their Jewish neigh­bours. As a result, some Palestin­ians end up working in the West Bank, putting their residency status in Jerusalem at risk.

The occupation also affects their lives by subjecting young Palestin­ians to regular arrests, sometimes for being suspected of throwing stones or being involved in car­rying out what they see as acts of resistance. Cases of young Palestin­ians being mistreated in custody, such as being asked to sign confes­sions in Hebrew, which they do not speak, are well documented.

Young Palestinians have ex­pressed a general sense of humilia­tion and do not see their status quo changing for years to come.

Israel is sleepwalking towards tyranny not practising democracy

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 28/7/2017

Israeli forces injure Palestinians with tear gas as they gather to enter the Al-Aqsa Mosque following the removal of Israeli security measures in Jerusalem on 27 July 2017 [Mahmoud İbrahem/Anadolu Agency]

Israeli forces injure Palestinians with tear gas as they gather to enter the Al-Aqsa Mosque following the removal of Israeli security measures in Jerusalem on 27 July 2017 [Mahmoud İbrahem/Anadolu Agency]

Let me start by acknowledging that democracy is in short supply in the Middle East. However, only one state claims to be a democratic state. In fact, Israel claims to be “the only democracy in the Middle East,” with the “most moral army in the world”.

Increasingly, extremist Israeli governments with no respect for international law, international humanitarian law or international norms have been using the pretence of democracy to entrench Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine and to place the state’s Jewish identity above democracy. The Nation State Bill, making its way through the Knesset, seeks to do just that, despite claims a future draft would tone this down.

All is not well with democracy in Israel. Every so often former, senior Israeli politicians or retired security personnel warn that Israel is edging towards apartheid and even more recently towards tyranny.

Former prime ministers Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak have warned that Israel’s policies are leading towards naked apartheid; Barak said as recently as last month that Israel was on a “slippery slope towards apartheid”.

Former Israeli officials were blind to the impact of their policies while in office. After all, the settlement project saw a major expansion during Barak’s reign. How is it that he could not see the devastating effect of this on the prospects for peace? It is also true that when it comes to settlements, current Prime Minister Netanyahu needs no excuse to expand the enterprise but still uses this as punishment for perceived Palestinian indiscretions such as joining world bodies or conventions.

To many observers the label of apartheid is already justified. Anyone who has visited the occupied Palestinian town of Hebron can testify that they saw apartheid, felt it and smelt it.

In April former Shin Bet chiefs Ami Ayalon and Carmi Gillon warned that the country’s political system had sunk in the process of “incremental tyranny”. They were speaking ahead of a public meeting at a Jerusalem gallery that was threatened with closure after hosting a meeting organised by the military whistleblowing group Breaking the Silence, one of the main targets of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Ayalon explained that “incremental tyranny [is a process] which means you live in a democracy and suddenly you understand it is not a democracy anymore,” adding that “this is what we are seeing in Israel. The tragedy of this process is that you only know it when it is too late”.

Attacks on human rights organisations within Israel are nothing new. Breaking the Silence,B’TselemAl-Haq, Peace Now and Yesh Din have all been demonised and individuals issued with death threats. MK David Bitan called for the citizenship of B’Tselem Director Hagai El-Ad to be revoked simply because he criticised Israel’s occupation to the United Nations Security Council.

In 2017 Israel passed a law compelling NGOs to reveal their foreign funding which would allow the government to lobby those states that fund these critical NGOs. This scrutiny does not to extend to those that support and fund illegal settlements.

Israel’s targeting of the media is constant and is hardly a sign of democracy. It regularly raids offices of Palestinian radio and TV stations and confiscates equipment. The 2017 World Press Freedom Index placed Israel 91st out of 180 countries, way behind many Western-style democracies that it claims to emulate including Germany (16), France (39), UK (40) and the US (43). Palestine was ranked 135th.

During assaults on Gaza, Israel deliberately attacked buildings housing media channels, which caused damage and casualties. Israel’s most recent attack on the media came during the recent coverage of protests and Israeli army violence at Al-Aqsa. The Israeli Prime Minister threatened to close Al Jazeera’s offices accusing its journalists of “inciting violence,” a claim the Qatari owned network strongly rejects.

In recent months Israel has escalated its war on freedom of speech both at home and abroad, particularly in relation to proponents of the BDS movement. While it generally claims the movement is ineffective, it has appointed Gilad Erdan as minister for strategic affairs to combat individuals and organisations that pursue this tactic for pressuring Israel.

At the 2016 Yediot Achronot conference which attacked BDS, Israel’s transport minister Yisrael Katz called for the “civil targeted killing” of BDS leaders like Omar Barghouti. Thankfully, Barghouti is still alive but he was banned from travelling abroad for a period of time and was recently arrested on allegations of tax evasion, which he denied.

Israel has also turned its attention to critics abroad. In March 2017 the Knesset passed a law that would empower the immigration authorities to deny proponents of the BDS movement abroad entry to Israel. Commenting on the new law Erdan said “the rules of the game have changed,” and that organisations seeking to harm Israel’s “national security” through boycotts would be denied entry to the country.

A few days after the law was passed Chair of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC), Hugh Lanning, was denied entry to Israel. A few days later I was travelling with my wife and son to visit family in East Jerusalem when I was also denied entry. This was particularly ironic given it is the year Britain plans to celebrate the centenary of the Balfour Declaration.

The first question I was asked during my interrogation was whether I had heard of the new BDS law. I believed that I was denied entry because of my role in PSC where I am a member of the executive committee, and our promotion of BDS. I did wonder at the time whether the law would be applied equally to Jews holding foreign passports and residing abroad who supported BDS or a more limited boycott of the illegal settlements.

When campaign director for Code Pink, Ariel Gold, made it into Israel recently I noted that a Jewish supporter of Palestinian rights and of BDS had been allowed in. However, she was ‘outed’ in the press and accused of “tricking” her way into the country, which she denied. She is now worried about being denied entry in the future.

At least Gold made it to Tel Aviv. On the 23 July Jewish Rabbi Alissa Wise and two other faith leaders were not allowed to board a flight to Tel Aviv by Lufthansa on the orders of Israel. Wise is from Jewish Voice for Peace. It’s important to remember that Israel has a Law of Return for Jews but denies the right of return to Palestinians.

Israel’s borders extend as far as it wants them to and in Alissa’s case they extended all the way to Washington and will be coming to an airport near you if critics of Israel decide to visit. Israel has developed criterion for entry denial and will demand that airlines deny boarding to individuals in their country of departure.

The implications for critics of Israel and organisations that promote BDS are clearly significant in term of accessing the country to show solidarity with Palestinians. However, they are unlikely to be perturbed about campaigning for the rights of Palestinians and promoting BDS, unless Israel’s lobby in key countries succeeds in wrongly criminalising BDS as the US is currently attempting to do.

In reaction to recent events around Al-Aqsa, Minister of Regional Cooperation Tzachi Hanegbi – a key Netanyahu ally – threatened Palestinians with a “third Nakba”. The reference here is to the Arabic term for catastrophe or the mass expulsions of Palestinians from their homeland in 1948 and then 1967. How democratic is that?

It seems to me that Israel has found it difficult to reconcile its role of delivering the Zionist project and acting as a democracy. It has to deal with non-Jews that it wishes had all been ethnically cleansed in 1948. Their sheer existence is a demographic threat and as we saw recently in Jerusalem, if they had all gone the ‘third Temple’ would have been built by now in place of Al-Aqsa Mosque in a state only for Jews.

Israel claims to be Jewish and democratic but the reality is that it is a settler, colonialist and apartheid state with a stockpile of nuclear weapons to boot.  It seems that if democracy does not deliver its colonialist aims then – as some of its own senior citizens fear – it will head towards tyranny. I acknowledge that Israel is not there yet but the direction of travel worries me as a Palestinian and should worry Israelis who want to make peace with their neighbours.

Those that support Israel in the West should also worry. Will they heed the fears of former Shin Bet chiefs Ami Ayalon and Carmi Gillon, or will they only know it when it is too late.

برنامج وراء الحدث: جمعة الغضب نصرة للأقصى

مشاركتي يوم ٢١/٧/٢٠١٧ ببرنامج وراء الحدث على قناة الغد

https://youtu.be/0v7TbpBmGRE

Attaque d’al-Aqsa : les Palestiniens quasiment abandonnés

18/7/2017 Middle East Eye FR

La défense de la mosquée al-Aqsa, chérie par 1,6 milliard de musulmans de par le monde, a été laissée aux 300 000 Palestiniens de Jérusalem, qui font face à un occupant particulièrement brutal et impitoyable

 

Les implications de l’incident mortel de vendredi dernier à Al-Aqsa vont bien au-delà du droit à la prière.

Cinq citoyens israéliens ont été tués lors de cette attaque perpétrée à la porte des Lions qui donne accès au complexe d’al-Aqsa, le troisième site le plus sacré de l’islam et également le site le plus sacré du judaïsme, connu sous le nom de mont du Temple.

Les assaillants, trois cousins ​​de la famille Jabareen, étaient originaires de la ville arabe israélienne d’Um al-Fahm, qui se trouve juste à l’intérieur de la Ligne verte. Ils étaient dans le collimateur des forces de sécurité israéliennes qui les considéraient comme des menaces potentielles.

Les deux policiers israéliens tués lors de l’incident provenaient de la communauté druze minoritaire d’Israël. L’un venait de la ville essentiellement druze mais aussi arabe de Maghar et l’autre du village druze de Hurfeish.

Les corps des policiers ont été remis rapidement à leurs familles et ont été enterrés le jour même, alors que ceux des assaillants sont encore détenus par les autorités israéliennes.

La famille Jabareen a monté trois tentes consacrées au deuil à Um al-Fahm, lesquelles ont été rapidement démantelées suite aux ordres du Premier ministre israélien, Benyamin Netanyahou. Lundi, le ministre israélien de la Sécurité publique, Gilad Erdan, a suggéré que les maisons des attaquants étaient susceptibles d’être démolies.

En raison de cette attaque, on pourrait observer dans les jours à venir une augmentation des tensions entre les communautés palestinienne et druze d’Israël. L’enrôlement des druzes dans l’armée israélienne n’est pas apprécié par les citoyens palestiniens d’Israël et par les résidents de Jérusalem, et des confrontations ont souvent lieu aux entrées d’al-Aqsa.

La première fois depuis 1969

Immédiatement après l’attaque, les autorités israéliennes ont évacué le lieu saint, expulsant toutes les personnes qui étaient venues y prier, ainsi que les responsables religieux et les employés du Waqf, l’entité qui administre le site, avant de le fermer. Les prières du vendredi ont été annulées et l’appel à la prière n’a plus été entendu.

Cela ne s’était pas produit depuis qu’un Australien avait mis le feu à la mosquée en août 1969, deux ans après l’occupation de Jérusalem-Est par Israël durant la guerre des Six jours.

Les forces israéliennes surveillent une rue menant à l’entrée principale d’al-Aqsa ce lundi. Les rues et les magasins de la vieille ville étaient vides alors que les Palestiniens protestaient contre les nouvelles mesures de sécurité imposées par Israël (M

Le président de l’Autorité palestinienne, Mahmoud Abbas, a téléphoné à Netanyahou et « a exprimé sa forte condamnation de la fusillade mortelle de Jérusalem et de la fermeture du lieu saint musulman de la mosquée al-Aqsa par Israël », selon l’agence de presse palestinienne WAFA.

Abbas a exprimé son « rejet de tout incident violent de toute part, en particulier dans les lieux de culte », et appelé Netanyahou à « mettre fin à la fermeture imposée du site sacré, mettant en garde contre les conséquences de ces mesures ».

Netanyahou a assuré à Abbas que le « statu quo » en vigueur dans le complexe ne changerait pas et a appelé toutes les parties au calme. Les Palestiniens n’ont pas apprécié la condamnation d’Abbas et sa cote de popularité est susceptible de baisser davantage, faisant de lui un partenaire pour la paix encore plus faible.

Comment en sommes-nous arrivés là ?

Selon le « statu quo » établi suite à l’occupation par Israël de Jérusalem-Est, y compris de la vieille ville, le Waqf jordanien administre le sanctuaire, les musulmans ont le droit d’y prier et les non-musulmans, y compris les juifs, peuvent le visiter mais ne peuvent y prier ou y pratiquer tout autre rituel religieux.

Le rôle spécial de la Jordanie à Jérusalem a été reconnu dans le traité de paix de 1994 entre Israël et la Jordanie, qui stipule qu’Israël « respecte le rôle spécial du royaume hachémite de Jordanie dans les sanctuaires musulmans à Jérusalem ».

Mais le traité ne va pas jusqu’à donner à la Jordanie une autorité juridique, politique ou religieuse sur les sanctuaires islamiques de Jérusalem.

À maintes reprises, Israël a poussé les limites du « statu quo », en particulier en permettant des visites plus fréquentes et nombreuses de colons, de responsables religieux et d’hommes politiques juifs sur le site, ce que les Palestiniens et le Waqf considèrent comme des incursions dans la mesure où elles ne sont pas coordonnées avec ce dernier. Cela a provoqué de fréquentes tensions entre Israël et la Jordanie et fait craindre aux Palestiniens qu’Israël ne cherche à imposer sa souveraineté sur le site.

En 2003, craignant qu’Israël change le statu quo à Jérusalem, Abbas a signé un accord avec le roi Abdallah de Jordanie pour solidifier la responsabilité de ce dernier vis-à-vis des lieux saints musulmans et chrétiens de Jérusalem.

Dans un communiqué, le palais royal jordanien avait alors déclaré : « Dans cet accord historique, Mahmoud Abbas a réitéré que le roi est le gardien des lieux saints à Jérusalem et qu’il a le droit de déployer tous les efforts juridiques nécessaires pour les préserver, en particulier la mosquée al-Aqsa ».

L’accord a également souligné « les principes historiques convenus par la Jordanie et la Palestine en vue d’exercer des efforts conjoints visant à protéger la ville et les lieux saints des tentatives israéliennes de judaïsation ».

Une réaction régionale mitigée

Alors qu’en 2014, la Jordanie a rappelé son ambassadeur pour protester contre les pratiques israéliennes sur le site, sa réaction à l’incident de vendredi dernier et à la fermeture de la mosquée a été plutôt discrète.

Le roi Abdallah a condamné l’attaque lors d’une conversation téléphonique avec Netanyahou et a vivement critiqué la fermeture de la mosquée décidée par Israël, exigeant sa réouverture.

Samedi soir, avant de partir pour sa visite d’État en France, Netanyahu a déclaré : « J’ai demandé à ce que des détecteurs de métaux soient placés aux portes d’entrée du mont du Temple. Nous installerons également des caméras de sécurité sur des poteaux situés en dehors du mont du Temple, mais qui donnent un contrôle presque total sur ce qu’il s’y passe.

« J’ai décidé que dès dimanche, dans le cadre de notre politique de maintien du statu quo, nous ouvrirons progressivement le mont du Temple, mais avec des mesures de sécurité renforcées. »

La déclaration de Netanyahou est contradictoire en soi car les mesures qu’il évoque ne font pas partie du statu quo. La Jordanie, pour sa part, n’a émis aucune autre réaction, ce qui est préoccupant pour les Palestiniens, qui s’attendaient à une action plus forte du roi.

Les Palestiniens sont également consternés par ce qu’ils considèrent comme une réaction discrète du monde arabe et musulman dans son ensemble à la fermeture de la mosquée – à l’exception du Qatar, dont le ministre des Affaires étrangères a déclaré que la fermeture d’al-Aqsa constituait « une grave violation des sites sacrés islamiques et une provocation pour des millions de musulmans à travers le monde ».

La Ligue arabe a demandé qu’al-Aqsa soit rouvert immédiatement et que cesse tout changement du statu quo. L’Égypte et la Turquie ont émis des déclarations plutôt clémentes. La Turquie a exprimé son regret pour l’incident, insisté sur la nécessité que le site reste ouvert et que sa fermeture par Israël soit immédiatement annulée.

Les inquiétudes concernant le troisième site le plus saint de l’islam déclenchent généralement des manifestations dans de nombreux pays arabes et musulmans, durant lesquelles l’on peut entendre les manifestants scander : « Nous sacrifierions notre vie et notre sang pour toi, al-Aqsa ». Ce slogan a été entendu à Jérusalem et en Jordanie, mais nulle part ailleurs.

En fait, la réponse globale du monde arabe et musulman est parmi les plus faibles jamais observées. Cela peut résulter de l’évolution du paysage politique au Moyen-Orient, qui a été provoquée par la récente visite du président américain Donald Trump dans la région et l’accent mis sur le terrorisme durant cette visite.

Après Riyad

Alors que les Palestiniens pourraient faire valoir que pour un peuple subissant une occupation illégale depuis 50 ans, les attaques contre « les forces d’occupation » constituent une forme légitime de résistance et non du terrorisme, le climat qui règne après la conférence de Riyad est moins favorable à cette idée.

La question du terrorisme, bien qu’aucune définition claire n’en ait émergé, est au cœur de l’impasse sans précédent entre le Qatar et quatre autres États arabes, y compris l’Égypte et l’Arabie saoudite.

L’ingérence d’Israël dans le droit des Palestiniens à bénéficier d’un accès sans entrave à al-Aqsa, accès qu’Israël pourrait rétablir progressivement, quoique selon des conditions sécuritaires plus strictes, a suscité leur colère, mais la situation ne retournera pas à ce qu’elle était avant l’attaque sans une action décisive de la Jordanie.

Alors que le monde arabe privilégie l’approche israélienne et américaine d’une paix régionale axée sur la normalisation, les autorités jordaniennes ont peut-être le sentiment qu’elles ne disposent pas du soutien de leurs frères arabes pour assurer le retour au statu quo.

La conclusion, pour le peuple palestinien, et en particulier pour les habitants de Jérusalem, est qu’ils ont été abandonnés.

Non seulement ils ont perdu le soutien de leurs frères et sœurs arabes et musulmans dans leur quête pour la libération, l’indépendance et la liberté, mais la défense d’al-Aqsa, chérie par 1,6 milliard de musulmans de par le monde, a été laissée aux 300 000 Palestiniens de Jérusalem, qui font face à un occupant particulièrement brutal et impitoyable.

Les ministres israéliens pourront se faciliter d’avoir su tirer profit de l’occasion de prendre le contrôle de ce site islamique vénéré, mais l’histoire montre qu’humilier les Palestiniens et écraser leurs espérances ne mènent qu’à davantage de violences.

 

Al-Aqsa attack: Palestinians all but abandoned

First published by the Middle East Eye on 17/7/2017

With a weak response from Arab and Muslim countries to unprecedented restrictions at the Al-Aqsa mosque, Palestinians are left alone to defend the holy site from Israel’s incursions


The implications of the deadly incident last Friday at Al-Aqsa go way beyond the right to prayer.

Five Israeli citizens were killed during the attack at the Lion’s Gate entrance to the Al-Aqsa compound, Islam’s third holiest site, which is the most sacred site in Judaism and is known as the Temple Mount. 

The three attackers, cousins from the Jabareen family, hail from the Arab Israeli city of Um Al-Fahm, which sits just inside the Green Line, and were on the security forces’ radar as a potential threat.

The two Israeli police officers killed in the incident were from Israel’s minority Druze community. One came from the mostly Druze but also Arab town of Maghar and the other from the Druze village of Hurfeish.

The bodies of the police officers were handed over quickly to the families and were buried on the same day, while Israeli officials are still holding those of the attackers.

The Jabareen family established three mourning tents in Um Al-Fahm which were quickly taken down on the orders of Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. On Monday, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan suggested the attackers homes may be demolished.

The coming days may see a rise in tensions between the Palestinian and Druze communities in Israel following the attack. Druze participation in the Israeli security forces is resented by Palestinian citizens of Israel and by Jerusalem residents who often face them at Al-Aqsa’s entrances. 

Not since 1969

Immediately after the attack, the Israeli authorities cleared the Holy Sanctuary of all who had come to pray, religious leaders and the employees of the Waqf, the body which administers the site, and then closed it. The Friday prayers scheduled to take place were cancelled and the call for prayers were silenced.

That had not happened since an Australian set the mosque on fire in August 1969, two years after Israel occupied East Jerusalem during the Six Day War.


Israeli forces guard a road leading to the main entrance of Al-Aqsa on Monday. Streets and shops were empty as Palestinians protested the new security measures (MEE)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas phoned Netanyahu and “expressed his strong condemnation over the fatal Jerusalem shootout and the Israeli closure of the holy Islamic site of al-Aqsa mosque,” according to the Palestinian press agency WAFA.

Abbas stated his “rejection of any violent incidents from any side, especially in places of worship” and called on Netanyahu to “end the closure imposed on the holy site, warning of the consequences of such measures”. 

Netanyahu assured Abbas that the “status quo” would not change at the compound, calling for all sides to stay calm. Palestinians did not appreciate Abbas’ condemnation and his standing is likely to reduce further, making him an ever weaker partner for peace.

How we got to here

The “status quo” which was established after Israel occupied East Jerusalem, including the Old City, was that the Jordanian Waqf would administer the Holy Sanctuary, Muslims had a right to pray while non-Muslims, including Jews, could visit the site but not pray or perform other religious rituals there.

Jordan’s special role in Jerusalem was acknowledged in the 1994 peace treaty between Israel and Jordan which stated that Israel “respects the special role of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in Muslim Holy shrines in Jerusalem”.

But the treaty stops short of giving Jordan any legal, political or religious authority over Islamic holy shrines in Jerusalem.

Israel has repeatedly pushed the limits of the “status quo”, particularly through larger and more frequent visits by Jewish settlers, religious leaders and politicians to the sites which Palestinians and the Waqf see as incursions, because they are not coordinated with the Waqf. This has caused repeated tensions between Israel and Jordan, leading to concerns among Palestinians that Israel is working to impose its sovereignty over the site.

In 2003, fearing that Israel was changing the status quo in Jerusalem, Abbas signed an agreement with Jordan’s King Abdullah which solidified Jordan’s custodianship of Muslim and Christian places in the holy city.

A statement from the Jordanian palace said: “In this historic agreement, Abbas reiterated that the king is the custodian of holy sites in Jerusalem and that he has the right to exert all legal efforts to preserve them, especially Al-Aqsa mosque.”

The agreement also emphasised “the historical principles agreed by Jordan and Palestine to exert joint efforts to protect the city and holy sites from Israeli Judaisation attempts.”

Lukewarm regional reaction

While Jordan recalled its ambassador in 2014 in protest of Israeli practices at the site, its reaction to last Friday’s incident and the closure of the mosque has been rather low key.

King Abdullah condemned the attack in a telephone conversation with Netanyahu, but slammed Israel’s two-day closure of the mosque and demanded it be reopened.

On Saturday evening, before he left for his state visit to France, Netanyahu said: “I instructed that metal detectors be placed at the entrance gates to the Temple Mount. We will also install security cameras on poles outside the Temple Mount but which give almost complete control over what goes on there.

“I decided that as of Sunday in the framework of our policy of maintaining the status quo, we will gradually open the Temple Mount, but with increased security measures.”

Netanyahu’s statement, in itself, is contradictory because the measures he detailed are not part of the status quo. However, there has been no further reaction from Jordan, which is of concern to Palestinians who had expected stronger action from the king.

However, Palestinians are also dismayed at what they see as a broader, low key reaction to the closure of the mosque from the Arab and Muslim world with the exception of Qatar whose minister of foreign affairs said the closure was “a severe violation of holy Islamic sites and a provocation to millions of Muslims around the world”.

The Arab League called for Al-Aqsa to be opened immediately and for any change in the status quo to be stopped. Egypt and Turkey put out rather mild statements. Turkey expressed its regret over the incident, insisted the site must stay open and Israel’s closure immediately cancelled.

Concern for the third holiest site to Muslims usually triggers demonstrations in many Arab and Muslim countries in which protestors chant, “We would sacrifice our lives and our blood for you Al-Aqsa”. That chant was heard in Jerusalem and Jordan, but nowhere else.

In fact, the overall response from the Arab and Muslim world ranks amongst the weakest ever recorded. This may be an outcome of the changing political landscape in the Middle East, which was brought about by US President Donald Trump’s recent visit to the region and the focus during that visit on terror. 

After Riyadh

While Palestinians will argue that for a people under a 50-year illegal occupation, attacks against “the occupation forces” are legitimate forms of resistance and therefore not terror, the prevailing climate following the Riyadh conference is less supportive.

The issue of terror, though no clear definition has emerged of what it is, is at the heart of the unprecedented standoff between Qatar and four other Arab states including Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

While the Palestinians are angered by Israel’s interference in their right to unimpeded access to Al-Aqsa, which Israel may gradually reinstate, albeit under stricter security arrangements, the situation will not return to what it was prior to the attack unless Jordan acts decisively.

With an the Arab world which favours Israel and America’s normalisation-led approach to regional peace, Jordan may feel it lacks the support of its Arab brothers to secure a return to the status quo.

The conclusion for the Palestinian people, especially the residents of Jerusalem, is that they have been abandoned.

Not only have they lost the backing of their Arab and Muslim brothers and sisters in their pursuit of liberation, independence and freedom, the defence of Al-Aqsa, cherished by 1.6 billion Muslims all over the world, has been left to the 300,000 Palestinian residents of Jerusalem who face a most brutal and merciless occupier.

Israeli ministers will be exchanging high fives for making the most of an opportunity to take over the revered site, but history shows that humiliating Palestinians and leaving them with little hope will lead to more violence.
Photo: Israeli border guards detain a Palestinian youth during a demonstration outside the Lions Gate, a main entrance to Al-Aqsa mosque compound, due to newly-implemented security measures by Israeli authorities which include metal detectors and cameras, in Jerusalem’s Old City on 17 July 2017 (AFP)

Israel’s double standards about boycotts do not advance peace

First published by the Arab Weekly on 16/7/2017

It is quite hypocritical for Israel to reject BDS while boycotting others for taking legal and moral positions in support of the Palestinians.


 Peaceful expression. An Egyptian man shouts anti-Israeli slogans in front of banners with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) logo at the Journalists’ Syndicate in Cairo. (AP)

The movement to pressure Israel to end its occupation of Arab land, to treat all its citizens equally regardless of race, religion or creed and to imple­ment UN Resolution 194 allowing the Palestinian refugees to return home is 12 years old.

It was called by more than 150 Palestinian civil society organisa­tions to achieve these demands using a campaign of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) targeting Israel.

The movement, its website states, “works to end interna­tional support for Israel’s oppres­sion of Palestinians and pressure Israel to comply with interna­tional law.” Its call for freedom, justice and equality is moral and legal. The movement drew on the lessons learnt from the effort to boycott South Africa until it dismantled its apartheid regime.

Since its launch in 2005, the BDS movement has raised awareness about the plight of the Palestinians and placed pressure on companies and individuals to review their relationship with Israel as an occupying power and to question their role either in its continuation or smoothing its image.

The BDS movement can point to major successes. European companies Veolia, Orange and CRH have withdrawn from Israel.

Significant artists, including Elvis Costello, Gil Scott-Heron, Lauryn Hill, Faithless, Marianah, U2, Bjork, Zakir Hussain, Jean- Luc Godard, Snoop Dogg, Cat Power and Vanessa Paradis, cancelled performances in Israel or declined to perform there.

Institutional investors includ­ing the Presbyterian Church USA and the United Methodist Church, the Dutch pension fund manager PGGM and the Norwe­gian, Luxembourg and New Zealand governments have divested from companies over their role in Israeli violations of international law.

Initially, Israel dismissed BDS as a failure and labelled its effects as insignificant but that approach recently changed. It appointed a minister and ministry to combat those effects and supported the effort to the tune of $50 million. It labelled the movement an anti-Semitic movement and its supporters in the West, particu­larly in the United States, have sought to legislate against companies or organisations that participated in the campaign. Israel recently passed a law that bans supporters of the BDS movement from entering the country, even if their effort is directed at the illegal settle­ments.

Israel’s vigorous opposition to boycotts as a means of achieving political change could be under­stood if it was consistent in this view when it came to exerting political pressure on others. That is not the case, however. Israel regularly imposes sanctions by withholding funds due to the Palestinian Authority (PA) from taxes Israel collects on the PA’s behalf to signal disapproval of actions such as joining UN agencies, including UNESCO.

The minister responsible for combating the BDS movement, Gilad Erdan, boycotted a visiting German delegation because its members refused to meet him in occupied East Jerusalem. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netan­yahu boycotted the German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel for meeting with Israeli NGOs he disapproves of. Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom has been boycotted for her views on Israeli policies.

It is quite hypocritical for Israel to reject BDS as a peaceful means of exerting pressure on it to end its illegal policies while boycott­ing others for taking legal and moral positions in support of the Palestinians and the pursuit of peace. As the saying goes: “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.”

If Israel put as much energy and effort into meeting the moral and legal demands of the BDS move­ment as it does opposing it, peace would be much closer than it is now.