When Congress celebrates the illegal occupation of Jerusalem, it defiles and redefines US values

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 13/6/2017

US Congress in session [File photo]

The American people missed a major incident in the US Congress last week which should have worried them immensely. Their elected representatives celebrated an illegal act on their behalf. Yes, the US Congress celebrated the 50th anniversary of the illegal occupation of East Jerusalem by Israel, and its illegal annexation in 1968. On 7 June, the speaker of the House of Representatives, Paul Ryan, joined Yuli-Yoel Edelstein, the Speaker of Israel’s Parliament, the Knesset, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for a simultaneous celebration of the “unification” of the city that is holy to Jews, Christians and Muslims alike. Addressing the participants on Capitol Hill and the Knesset, Netanyahu declared that, “Jerusalem will never be divided again.” He contrasted the city before 1967 – when his mother told him “You can’t go right, you can only go left,” due to Jordanian snipers – and visiting the Western Wall immediately after the Six-Day War.

Formally, the international community does not recognise Israel’s sovereignty over East Jerusalem, which Israel took by armed force from Jordan in 1967. It further considers Israel’s building of settlements for Jews in the occupied Palestinian areas as illegal. Even the United States itself considers the settlements to be illegitimate. The ICJ advisory opinion on Israel’s separation wall reaffirmed the “applicability of the Fourth Geneva Convention as well as Additional Protocol 1 to the Geneva Conventions to the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem.”

In a recent resolution, UNESCO confirmed that East Jerusalem is “occupied” and that “all legislative and administrative measures and actions taken by Israel, the occupying Power, which have altered or purport to alter the character and status of the Holy City of Jerusalem, and in particular the ‘basic law’ on Jerusalem, are null and void and must be rescinded forthwith.” Only ten countries, including Israel and the US, voted against this resolution.

An international consensus exists which does not recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. On the ground, this is enacted through the location of all embassies in Tel Aviv, some 70 kilometres away on the coast. This includes the US Embassy. However, in 1995 the US Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act which recognises the city as Israel’s “capital”; the Act further called for the embassy to be relocated to Jerusalem by May 1999, at the latest.

The fact that the US Embassy has not moved to Jerusalem is down to successive US presidents who realised the ramifications of this move and chose to sign twice yearly waivers keeping the embassy in Tel Aviv, even though Clinton, George W Bush and Trump made unambiguous promises to move it during their election campaigns. In Trump’s case, the promises were so recent that there was an expectation around the world, and hope in Israel, that he would do it early in his term. However, he too baulked at the move once in office and, having just returned from the Middle East, decided to sign a waiver on 1 June to keep the embassy in Tel Aviv, much to the disappointment not only of Israel but also his own newly installed pro-Israel Ambassador, David Friedman. However, Trump and future presidents will continue to come under pressure from the pro-Israel Lobby through its stooges in Congress to push for the implementation of the Embassy Act.

#USEmbassy

It can therefore be argued that for Congress to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the “reunification” of Jerusalem is in keeping with a long tradition of supporting Israel, right or wrong. However, illegal acts are surely not something that Americans should sanction or celebrate.

Consider this, for example: if Saddam Hussain’s 1990 occupation of Kuwait — like the occupation of Jerusalem, it was also deemed illegal at the time — was still in place, would Congress this year be celebrating the 27th anniversary of its “reunification” with Iraq? I understand the difference between Israel, a US ally, and Iraq. However, from the perspective of international law, the occupations of Iraq and Jerusalem (and the other areas captured by Israel in 1967) are illegal and therefore celebrating either is to celebrate illegal acts. In fact, while the US assembled a coalition of states to eject Iraq from Kuwait by force, it has acquiesced to Israel’s illegal occupation of Arab lands by not even placing any pressure on successive Israeli governments to end it. The US has further provided Israel with half of its international aid budget for the foreseeable future to ensure its “security”, and continues to protect it politically and diplomatically through the wielding of its veto in the UN Security Council.

In an astonishing move to shield Israel from criticism, all 100 US Senators signed a letter to the UN Secretary General in April demanding that it is “treated neither better nor worse than any other UN member in good standing.” The implication is that Israel’s defiance of dozens of UN Security Council resolutions, its 50-year occupation and repeated military offensives — and alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity — against Gaza puts it in “good standing”.

America’s continued and unconditional military aid to Israel was heavily criticised by religious leaders in 2012. The signatories urged “an immediate investigation” into possible violations by Israel of the US Foreign Assistance Act and the US Arms Export Control Act, which respectively prohibit assistance to any country which engages in a consistent pattern of human rights violations and limit the use of US weapons to “internal security” or “legitimate self-defence”. However, Congress has never investigated whether Israel violates US law or not.

America’s much-vaunted democratic values include liberty, justice and equality. When it comes to Palestinians, though, the US — through its elected representatives — acts regularly to deny them these same values. America does not seek equality for all Israeli citizens, 20 per cent of whom are Palestinians against whom state-sanctioned discrimination is rife. Nor has the US acted to deliver liberty for Palestinians in the same way that it did for the Kuwaitis; instead, America denies the illegal occupation and colonisation of Palestinian land. Moreover, when it comes to the Jerusalem Act and the celebration of its illegal occupation, the US Congress certainly does not deliver justice to the Palestinians. In all of this, Congress defiles and redefines the values it claims to uphold for its own citizens. This is total hypocrisy.

Debate: Why the status of Jerusalem is not the crux of the matter

First published by the Arab Weekly on 5/2/2017

Since his inauguration, Trump seems to have rolled back on his embassy com­mitment, much to the surprise of many.


Road signs are seen in front of the Israeli settlement of Maale Adumim in the occupied West Bank, on January 17th. (Reuters)

The question of whether the Trump administra­tion would quickly honour the pledge to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem has exercised the minds of Palestinians, Israelis and the wider world.

In 1995, the US Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act, which recognised Jerusalem as the capi­tal of Israel and required a change in the embassy’s location by May 1999.

However, this was effectively re­sisted by every US president since then despite occasionally promises to carry it out as the United States continued to seek a peace deal between Israel and Palestinians.

During his election campaign, Donald Trump was explicit in his promise to move the embassy when he addressed the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference in March 2016 and said: “We will move the US embassy to the eternal capital of the Jewish people, Jerusalem.”

Trump’s choice for US ambas­sador to Israel, David Friedman, seemed to be a means of facilitat­ing this move. Friedman vowed to “strengthen the bond between our two countries and advance the cause of peace within the region and look forward to doing this from the US embassy in Israel’s eternal capital, Jerusalem”.

Friedman also let it be known that he would live in a private apartment in Jerusalem and would work out of Jerusalem rather than Tel Aviv.

Since his inauguration, however, Trump seems to have rolled back on his embassy com­mitment, much to the surprise of many. His spokesman, Sean Spicer, said recently: “We are at the very beginning stages of even discussing this subject.”

Spicer dodged a question from a Sky News corre­spondent who asked: “What is the strategic interest for the US in the embassy move?”

The reality is that there is no strategic benefit for the United States in moving its embassy. The mere speculation that the move could happen raised alarms across the world.

The Palestinians warned of dire consequences with Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) officials threatening to revoke rec­ognition of Israel. The Palestinian president and the king of Jordan met in Amman in late January and agreed to “take steps” if the move happened.

Undoubtedly Trump knows that the United States’ strategic interest would be in securing a peace deal between Israel and Palestinians rather than unleash a backlash that he cannot predict or control by moving the US embassy.

The status of Jerusalem would be part of what would be a historic peace deal that he said he wanted to negotiate. Trump’s own experi­ence of negotiating should tell him to avoid measures that antagonise either party to a negotiation.

Some have argued that the em­bassy move would be so damag­ing to US strategic interests that a peace deal would be pushed well beyond Trump’s term in office.

In moving its embassy to West Jerusalem, the United States would be recognising Israel’s sovereignty over West and East Jerusalem, which no other country does. It would further be violat­ing international law. UN Security Council Resolution 478 rejected Israel’s declaration that Jerusalem (East and West) “complete and united” is its capital.

An embassy move could com­plicate matters if other countries followed suit. British support for a move of the US embassy came from former secretary of State for Justice Michael Gove. He wrote in the Times of London that “Israel is the only state where we don’t locate our embassy in the nation’s capital and the only ally the For­eign Office has refused to let the queen visit”.

He added: “So let’s celebrate the centenary of the Balfour declara­tion by moving our embassy to Jerusalem next year and inviting [Queen Elizabeth II] to open it. What are we afraid of?”

A Foreign Office spokesman quickly dismissed the idea, stat­ing: “The UK has an embassy in Tel Aviv and a consulate-general in Jerusalem. We have no plans to change the location of our diplo­matic presence in either Israel or the occupied Palestinian territo­ries.”

Observers note, however, that although a possible embassy move seems to have stirred the Pales­tinian leadership into action, the continuation of the status quo is more damaging to the prospects of signing a peace agreement. Palestinians point to the contin­ued judaisation of Jerusalem, the expansion of illegal settlements on occupied Palestinian land, which may be annexed by Israel at a later stage.

Critics argue that unless a major effort is put into combating the settlement project, there will be no Jerusalem left for the Palestin­ians to claim as their capital or a contiguous plot of land in the West Bank to claim as their free inde­pendent state.

They say that the move of the US embassy to Jerusalem is highly sensitive but is not the crux of the matter: The end of the occupation without annexing Palestinian ter­ritories and the right of return are.

To see article on the Arab Weekly website click here

Expecting more of the same for Palestinians

First published by the Arab Weekly on 25/12/2016

London – Palestinian Christians and Palestinian Muslims are looking back with deep concern at a year in which they saw their struggle for freedom and independence bat­tered.

The Palestinians end the year with no sign of reconciliation be­tween the main political factions Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, and Fatah, which governs the West Bank. Gaza’s siege continues unabated, Jewish settlements are expanding and Israeli settler in­cursions into Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque grow in number and fre­quency.

Fatah’s seventh congress includ­ed a marathon 3-hour speech by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that simply confirmed com­mitment to the established direc­tion of travel. Abbas was re-elected party chairman and he, in turn, re­affirmed his commitment to nego­tiations with Israel for the ultimate goal of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders with minor land swaps and with East Jerusalem as its capital and a fair resolution of the refugee problem.

The Palestinians find their cause, which once took centre stage, com­peting with Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen for international attention. Israel has benefited from the di­version of attention away from its continued illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories and its daily oppressive practices.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu repeatedly reminds his allies that Israel faces major threats in a tough neighbourhood. He claims that this is the wrong time for Israel to concede territory to the Palestinians, which may al­low either Hamas or the Islamic State (ISIS) to establish a foothold in the West Bank, threatening Tel Aviv and Ben Gurion International Airport.

The status quo is that Israel effec­tively controls the whole of historic Palestine, further colonises Pales­tinian land, judaises Jerusalem and blockades Gaza. The Palestinian Authority provides it with security cooperation that Abbas considers sacred. Israel is therefore comfort­able, despite occasional uprisings.

Add to that a deal with the out­going US administration to deliver $38 billion in military aid over the next ten years and a promise to protect it from any criticism or im­position of a peace deal at the UN Security Council and 2016 can be considered to have been an excel­lent year for the 68-year old state.

However, that is not the end of the good news for Israel. The 2016 Republican Party platform for the first time rejected the description of Israel as “an occupier”, omitted any mention of a two-state solu­tion and conflated settlements with Israel itself.

During the campaign, US Presi­dent-elect Donald Trump first de­clared his intention to be “neutral” on the Palestinians and Israel so as to broker a deal but he changed his tune when he spoke at the con­ference of the main Israel lobby group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. He not only de­clared his unwavering support for Israel but promised to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusa­lem, a position his advisers reiter­ated after his election.

If implemented, this would break long-standing US policy and is guaranteed to generate unprec­edented anger among Palestinians and their supporters around the world.

US President Barack Obama has, it seems, given up on any last-minute moves to reignite the peace process or to impose some pres­sure on Israel through the Secu­rity Council. However, he remains committed to the two-state solu­tion, despite some senior Israeli of­ficials’ calls for it to be abandoned.

Speaking at the Saban Forum, an annual gathering of senior Israeli and US policymakers, US Secretary of State John Kerry concluded that “more than 50% of the ministers in the current Israeli government have publicly stated they are op­posed to a Palestinian state and that there will be no Palestinian state”.

He said Israeli settlement con­struction is a deliberate obstacle to peace and warned that such expansion was undermining any hope of a two-state solution. Kerry was speaking as the Knesset was about to move forward on a bill that would legalise illegal settle­ment outposts in the West Bank, despite the world being united in considering all settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem il­legal.

Efforts by France to have a peace conference before the end of the year also failed. French President François Hollande could not even convince Netanyahu to attend a pre-Christmas meeting with Abbas in Paris. Netanyahu would only ac­cept such an invitation if France gave up on its peace initiative, ren­dering the meeting useless.

Perhaps the real reason for Netanyahu declining the French invitation is that on January 20th Trump moves into the White House. Why engage with France or anyone else when Trump and his administration are making the right noises as far as Israel is concerned?

Trump’s election has further em­boldened Israeli leaders including Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett, who declared “Trump’s victory is an opportunity for Israel to immediately retract the notion of a Palestinian state in the centre of the country, which would hurt our security and just cause”. This conclusion by Bennett is a reflec­tion of Israeli thinking at the high­est level.

While many have been argu­ing for some time that Israel has been making a two-state solution impossible through changing the situation on the ground, it is now being declared dead by its main backer, the United States.

It is therefore likely that as the centenary of Balfour Declaration is marked in 2017, together with the 50th anniversary of the Israeli oc­cupation, we will be no nearer to a resolution to the conflict. With this the Palestinian leadership is likely to turn to international institu­tions, including the International Criminal Court, to pursue actions against Israel to at the very least remind the international commu­nity of the need to find a solution.

As for ordinary citizens around the world, it seems that support­ing the Palestinians through the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement (BDS) is the main form of effective solidarity they can exercise to help the Palestinians reach their legitimate goals of free­dom, equality and independence.

Empty condemnation of Israeli settlements doesn’t work: We need action

Firs published by the Middle East Eye on 10/11/2016

Instead of finding creative language of condemnation, the international community should declare that settlements are illegal and prohibit trade

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Israel is the only state in the world that believes that it can continue to build settlements only for Jews in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Syrian Golan Heights until such a time that their fate is decided through negotiations. Its most important ally, the United States, currently considers them “illegitimate” and an “obstacle to peace”, though its position has changed over the years.

The United Kingdom frequently “condemns” settlements as it considers them “illegal under international law” adding that new announcements “take us further away from a two-state solution and raises serious questions about the Israeli government’s commitment to achieving the shared vision of Israel living side-by-side a viable, independent, and contiguous Palestine state”.

In the past, the British government has also used terms in reference to settlement building such as “concerned”, “deeply concerned”, “extremely concerned”, “profoundly concerned”, “deplores”, “very disappointed”, “deeply disappointed”, “extremely disappointing and unhelpful”, “provocative actions”, “provocative and deeply counter-productive” and “extremely worrying”.

Israeli settlers start to build a new illegal outpost north of the West Bank Palestinian village of Ain al-Baida in October 2016 (AFP)

In fact, a quick check of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office website shows that various officials made seven announcements using a mixture of the above language since June of this year.

The European Union says settlements are “illegal under international law, constitute an obstacle to peace and threaten to make a two-state solution impossible”.

The position of the Canadian government is that the “Israeli settlements in the occupied territories are a violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. The settlements also constitute a serious obstacle to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace”.

Lowest common denominator

The Australian government’s approach to settlements is more problematic from a Palestinian point of view and is, in fact, out of step with most others.

In 2014, Canberra’s stance on the settlements moved significantly as then Prime Minister Tony Abbott ruled out using the term “occupied” when describing Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem. The attorney general, George Brandis, speaking on behalf of the minister for foreign affairs, Julie Bishop, said it was “unhelpful” to refer to historic events when describing these areas, given the ongoing Middle East peace process.

A Palestinian woman searches through her belongings after her family home in East Jerusalem was demolished by Jerusalem municipality workers near the Israeli settlement of Ramat Shlomo (in the background) in October 2016 (AFP)

He went on to tell a Senate hearing that “the description of East Jerusalem as ‘occupied’ East Jerusalem is a term freighted with pejorative implications which is neither appropriate nor useful”.

“It should not and will not be the practice of the Australian government to describe areas of negotiation in such judgmental language,” he added.

The different kind of language used to express individual governments’ views on Israeli settlements clearly has an impact on statements made by the main international body that attempts to speak with one voice on the issue. The reader may expect this to be the United Nations, but in fact it is the Middle East Quartet which specifically articulates this view and, in doing so, seems to be choosing the language of the lowest common denominator.

Quartet’s feeble words

The Quartet is made up of the UN, the US, the EU and Russia. In its a recent report, the focus of the language used when it came to settlements was not one of calling them “illegal” or “illegitimate”, but to describe their impact on the prospect of the two-state solution. It talked of how settlement construction is one of the trends “undermining hopes for peace”.

It noted that “the continuing policy of settlement construction and expansion, designation of land for exclusive Israeli use, and denial of Palestinian development is steadily eroding the viability of the two-state solution”. It suggested that “this raises legitimate questions about Israel’s long-term intentions, which are compounded by the statements of some Israeli ministers that there should never be a Palestinian state.

In fact, the transfer of greater powers and responsibilities to Palestinian civil authority in Area C contemplated by commitments in prior agreements has effectively been stopped, and in some ways reversed, and should be resumed to advance the two-state solution and prevent a one-state reality from taking hold”.

The report’s only recommendation on this matter was that “Israel should cease the policy of settlement construction and expansion, designating land for exclusive Israeli use, and denying Palestinian development”.

Then serving as Middle East Quartet envoy, Tony Blair visits a UN-run school in Gaza City in 2015 (AFP)

This seems to be an extremely weak recommendation which Israel can simply file, ignore and breathe a sigh of relief that it will not face any action for continuing with its settlement expansion.

Perhaps the most interesting statement on settlements came recently from the US. Reacting to Israel’s announcement that it would build a new settlement, it “strongly condemned the announcement”. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said that the new settlement would be “another step towards cementing a reality of perpetual occupation” that would “further call into question Israel’s commitment to achieving a negotiated peace”.

Interestingly, he linked the announcement to America’s decision to gift Israel with a 10-year $38bn military aid package. It was “deeply troubling”, said Toner, that Israel would make its announcement so soon after the conclusion of the aid package.

“I guess, when we’re talking about how good friends treat one another, that is a source of serious concern as well,” he said.

Failed strategy

It seems clear to me that the long established convention of simply issuing statements following each announcement either of an expansion of settlements or the establishment of new ones has failed. Clearly, no amount of creative language to censure settlements has worked.

Every time Israel makes a new announcement, I suspect that countries which feel they must respond only face the dilemma of which exact words to use. I have made this point repeatedly at meetings with the Foreign & Commonwealth Office in the UK and the look on the faces of the officials we have met almost confirmed this.

Israel knows that it can ride out any criticism and build. It is certain there will be no real repercussions. In fact, Israeli politicians feel so emboldened that Education Minister Naftali Bennett recently called for Israel to build more settlements in response to any UN criticism.

In September 2015, Israeli soldiers evacuate Palestinian land owners trying to farm on their land near Karmi Tsour, a settlement near Hebron (AFP)

If the UN Security Council adopts a resolution on settlements, Bennett said, Israel would “need to have an appropriate Zionist response, immediate sovereignty over Judea and Samaria, including Maaleh Adumim, Gush Etzion, Ariel, Ofra and Beit El”.

By 2017, the “temporary” occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza and the Golan Heights will have lasted 50 years. Talks between the Palestinians and the Israelis about ending it and signing a peace deal will have gone on for 24 years. The number of illegal settlers will be pushing towards the one million mark. All efforts to cajole Israel into ending the occupation have failed.

The international community should spend less time searching for acceptable language to indicate their displeasure with Israel and take firm action instead, particularly on settlements. They should be declared illegal and any trade with them should be prohibited. That would be a start in shifting the dynamics of the conflict.

– Kamel Hawwash is a British-Palestinian engineering professor based at the University of Birmingham and a longstanding campaigner for justice, especially for the Palestinian people. He is vice chair of the Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) and appears regularly in the media as commentator on Middle East issues. He runs a blog at www.kamelhawwash.com. He writes here in a personal capacity.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Photo: Palestinian youths wanting to play football in the Maale Adumim settlement in the Israeli occupied West Bank (seen in the background) are blocked by Israeli security forces as they try to enter the settlement in October 2016 (AFP)

Israel’s ban on the Muslim call to prayer in Jerusalem is the tip of the iceberg

First published by the Middle East Monitor on 7/11/2016


Al-Aqsa mosque

Something is in the air in Jerusalem and if Israel has its way it soon won’t be; the Muslim call to prayer — the adhaan — is under threat. The state which is built upon the ethnic cleansing of the majority of the indigenous Palestinian people is inching its way towards banning the call for prayer, which was probably first heard in Jerusalem in 637 AD. That was the year in which Caliph Umar Ibn Al-Khattab travelled to Palestine to accept its surrender from Patriach Sophronius, bringing a six-month siege of the Holy City to a peaceful end.

The required respect for people of other faiths was exemplified by one of Caliph Umar’s first acts upon entering Jerusalem. He understood the sensitivity surrounding religious sites and the potential danger of changing the status quo. He thus declined an invitation from Sophronius to pray in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre lest Muslims turn it into a mosque. Instead, he stepped outside the Church to perform the midday prayer; a mosque named after him was later built on the site and exists to this day. This is in sharp contrast to the establishment of Israel in 1948, when 750,000 Palestinians were driven from their homeland at gunpoint. Villages and towns were ethnically cleansed and wiped from the face of the earth, and their mosques were also destroyed or turned into synagogues or museums; at least two became cafes and one became a cowshed.

Israel captured East Jerusalem in 1967 and one of Israel’s first acts as the occupying power was to raze the 770-year old Moroccan Quarter of East Jerusalem in order to improve access to Al-Buraq Wall, which Jews call the Western (“Wailing”) Wall, in order to facilitate their prayers there. Just a year after issuing the Balfour Declaration in 1917, Britain had actually dismissed attempts by Chaim Weizmann to vacate the Moroccan Quarter and to place the Western Wall under Jewish ownership. Fifty years later, Israel had no qualms about bulldozing the Shaikh Eid Mosque which had stood since the time of Saladin.

Christian sites

Churches continue to come under attack by the Israelis. Benzi Gopstein, the leader of extreme right-wing Jewish group Lehava, voiced support for arson attacks against Christian churches in 2015; he has also called Christians “blood sucking vampires” who should be expelled from Israel.

Jewish extremists have on a number of occasions targeted churches in what are called “price tag” attacks. There was a particular rise in these in the lead-up to Pope Francis’s visit to the Holy Land in 2014. A top Catholic official received death threats and Hebrew graffiti appeared on the wall of the Notre Dame of Jerusalem Centre, the local headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church: “Death to Arabs and Christians and to everyone who hates Israel”.

At the end of last month, the Israeli flag was raised at the Eastern entrance to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, enraging the Christian community and raising serious concerns about Israel’s commitment to protecting Christian sites. The Church fought a two-year battle with its water supplier which threatened to cut the supply due to unpaid bills, which was settled in 2012. Add to this Israel’s restrictions on visits by Christians to the holy sites in Jerusalem, and on Christians from Gaza visiting either Jerusalem or Bethlehem, and the difficulties faced by Palestinian Christians becomes clear.

Muslim sites

The situation for key Muslim sites in the occupied Palestinian territories is even more precarious than those of Christians. When East Jerusalem was occupied in 1967, the Israeli flag flew for a short time over the holiest site, Al-Aqsa Mosque. The mosque was set alight in 1969, reportedly by an Australian tourist; the damage included the complete destruction of a 1,000-year old pulpit.

An agreement between the Israelis and the Jordanian custodians of the holy sites, which covers the whole of the area on which Al-Aqsa Mosque stands, stated that the Jordanian Waqf would administer the compound and that Jews would be able to visit but not pray. The status quo has largely stood the test of time but in recent years has come under great strain, particularly since Ariel Sharon’s “visit” to the Noble Sanctuary of Al-Aqsa in 2000, which triggered the Second Intifada. The visit seems to have given Jewish extremists the green light not only to dream about praying on what they call the “Temple Mount” but also to plan to build a Jewish temple thereon; the plans include the destruction of Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock Mosque.

Recent years have seen an upsurge in the frequency and extent of incursions by extremists during which the use of the sanctuary by Muslim worshippers is restricted. This practice has increased tensions and prompted fears of a change to the “status quo”, moving the Jordanian government to act by withdrawing its ambassador from Tel Aviv in protest. Clashes have erupted frequently between Israeli security forces and Palestinians devoted to protecting their mosque. Israeli forces have also harassed worshippers, banning some from entering the Noble Sanctuary or withholding their Jerusalem ID cards, without which they struggle to move around the territories. Such practices were a major contributory factor to the ongoing year-long uprising in which individual Palestinians have attacked mainly security forces but in some instances Israeli civilians in what has been termed the “knife intifada”.

Another city that has suffered disproportionately, probably due to its religious significance, is Al-Khalil (Hebron). The city is home to 120,000 Palestinians whose lives are blighted by the planting of 700 particularly extreme Israeli settlers in the centre of the city; they are protected by hundreds of Israeli soldiers and a system of closed military zones and checkpoints. The city is home to the Ibrahimi Mosque which Jews call the Cave of the Patriarchs. The mosque was the scene of a terrorist attack in 1994 by a Jewish American-Israeli named Baruch Goldstein who killed 29 Muslim worshippers while they were praying; although the murderous attack was condemned by the Israeli government it was — and is — applauded by some Israelis, particularly the extreme right-wing settlers. Israel’s response was — perversely — to impose greater restrictions on Palestinians and to divide the Ibrahimi Mosque physically, as well as to open it up exclusively to Jews for ten days of the year and to Muslims for another ten days.

Restricting the call to prayer

Israel’s restrictions on access to the holy sites in Jerusalem and Hebron have recently been complemented with bans on the daily call to prayer. In Hebron, the practice has been ongoing for a number of years and included the call being silenced 49 times in January 2014, 52 times in December 2015 and 83 times last month.

The practice seems to be spreading to Jerusalem. Israel recently banned three mosques in Abu Dis from broadcasting the morning call. Lawyer Bassam Bahr, head of a local committee in Abu Dis, condemned the “unjustified ban”, saying that “Israel attacks Palestinians in all aspects of their lives.” It seems that the ban was a response to complaints from illegal settlers in nearby Pisgat Zeev who complained to Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat about the “noise pollution” coming from local mosques. Both Barkat and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are clearly set on applying the “unbearable noise” law to the call for prayer.

The mayor and prime minister know the importance of the call to prayer to the Muslim community; their plan to eradicate it from the air of Jerusalem to appease illegal settlers shows that neither has the wisdom of Caliph Umar. Their plan has not only enraged Palestinians, but also damaged yet further attempts to create a climate that will lead to peace; it is most definitely part of Israel’s attempts to Judaise Jerusalem and empty the Holy City of its Islamic and Christian heritage. The ban is, in fact, just the tip of the Judaisation iceberg.

As for the settlers objecting to the Muslim call to prayer are concerned, there is an easy solution. They could leave the houses that they have built — illegally — on land stolen from its Palestinian owners and either go back to where they came from in North America or Europe or live within the internationally recognised borders of the state whose citizenship they carry. That would be the most moral of solutions, although it is doubtful if they know what morality is.

TV Interview: Israel Suspends UNESCO Ties

I contributed to the Press TV programme ‘On the news line’ about the UNESCO resolution confirming that East Jerusalem including the religious sites is illegally occupied. This was broadcast on 20/10/2016.