Israel celebrates Jerusalem occupation
Israel continues to extend its control over Arab East Jerusalem, killing all chances of reviving the peace process, writes Khaled Amayreh
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A Palestinian protester uses a sling to hurl stones at Israeli troops during clashes outside Ofer prison near the West Bank city of Ramallah
With vows to keep Jerusalem "united", under Jewish domination, Israel this week marked the 45th anniversary of its occupation of Arab East Jerusalem.
The city is home to some of Islam and Christianity's holiest places. However, ever since the Israeli army seized the town from Jordan during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, Israel has been carrying out an unmitigated campaign of Judaisation and de- Arabisation that many observers say has profoundly altered the face and demographic makeup of the city.
The annexation of Arab East Jerusalem by Israel is not recognised by the international community, including Israel's guardian-ally, the United States, which refuses to transfer its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Earlier in the week, the Israeli government, perhaps the most rightwing in Israel's history, held a special meeting to celebrate "Jerusalem Day". During the celebratory meeting, the government decided to allocate $91 million to confiscating more Arab land in order to build parks and other facilities for the benefit of Jewish settlers.
Israel has transferred hundreds of thousands of Jews to live in East Jerusalem, mainly at the expense of the town's native Arab inhabitants. The bulk of the town's resources are also utilised to benefit Jewish settlers, not the town's inhabitants as a whole.
Nonetheless, Israel has failed achieve its goal of reducing Arabs in the city into a negligible minority. Today, Palestinians constitute between 40-42 per cent of Greater Jerusalem, which includes East and West Jerusalem as well as adjacent and contiguous suburbs and neighbourhoods, such as Abu Dis and Eizariya.
This failure frustrated successive Israeli governments, forcing them to take stringent and draconian measures aimed at besieging Arab communities in the hope of forcing more Arabs to leave the city.
Dubious Israeli figures put the population of Jerusalem, East and West, at 800,000, of which only 35 per cent are Arabs. However, these figures deliberately overlook tens of thousands of Jerusalemite Palestinians who live in the peripheries of the city or those whose residency status has been cancelled.
Several insidious tactics are used by Israel to achieve its goals, including the demolition of Arab homes, denying building permits to Arabs, confiscation of residency cards from Arab citizens and cutting off East Jerusalem from its natural economic and demographic space in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. For example, while non- Palestinian Arabs and Muslims can visit the city, Palestinians who only live a few blocks away from Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam's third holiest shrine, cannot even hope to be allowed to reach the shrine, even for a five-minute prayer there. Israel, nonetheless, continues to claim to provide religious freedom for adherents of all religions, a claim that looks absurd in light of objective facts.
Marking the event, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu defended continued Israeli occupation of the city. He reiterated the sound bites that successive Israeli and Zionist leaders repeat to justify the illegal Israeli seizure of the town. "Israel without Jerusalem is like a body without a heart," he said as thousands of religious Zionist youth marched through the Arab town, sparking off clashes with local Palestinian youths.
"I know there are people who say there will be peace if we only divide the city; I don't believe so, we will continue to build Jerusalem," Netanyahu said.
Palestinians scoffed at his remarks, ridiculing his claims that Jerusalem is Israel's heart. "He should seek his heart in Eastern Europe and Russia and Khazaria where he and the bulk of these lying Zionists came from to this Arab land as invaders," said Yousuf Al-Khatib, a local Jerusalemite leader.
"Netanyahu and ilk don't belong here, they belong to Warsaw, Carrow, Riga, Vilnius and the Khazarr region, among other places. Look at their faces, they are Europeans, they are not Semitic, they are simply not part of this region's anthropology. The fact that they have succeeded in seizing our land is a historical aberration that must be rectified sooner or later."
The same feelings were echoed by Ahmed Qurei, a former Palestinian Authority (PA) prime minister who lives in Jerusalem. He called on Arabs and Muslims everywhere to help the people of Jerusalem be steadfast and withstand Israel's sinister tactics to empty the city of its Arab inhabitants.
"Every day there is a confiscation drive; they simply don't want peace. They tell the world they want peace, but everything they do here on the ground proves beyond doubt that peace is the last thing on their agenda."
The former PA official said there could be no peace and stability in the region and beyond as long as Jerusalem remained in Zionist hands.
"Look, Jerusalem is not only a Palestinian issue. It is an Arab issue, a Muslim issue, and a Christian issue as well. We have to remember that hundreds of the Prophet Mohamed's companions are buried in Jerusalem. Yes, we may not be in a position to militarily recover the city now, but things will change, and 60 or 70 years are nothing in the annals of history."
Meanwhile, the deputy head of the Islamic Movement in Israel, Kamal Al-Khatib, has warned that Israel is planning to build a massive synagogue underneath Al-Aqsa Mosque, with its main entrance located near the Buraq Wall. A few weeks ago, the Israeli government organised a tour to the site for construction contractors to inspect the area where the $20 million structure is slated to be built.
Al-Khatib said Israeli plans would effectively end remaining efforts aimed at reviving the peace process. "I think it is futile and delusional to pin any hope on peace efforts. Israel simply doesn't want peace. Anyone doing what Israel is doing doesn't want peace."
In recent weeks, the PA expressed a certain willingness to resume peace negotiations with Israel if the Netanyahu government agreed to suspend settlement expansion activities. The Palestinian gesture, which came as a result of financial and political pressure from donor countries, especially the US, was rejected by Israel as the Israeli government insisted on continuing settlement expansion.
The unrelenting expansion of Jewish-only colonies is widely thought to have rendered the goal of establishing a viable and territorially contiguous Palestinian state unrealistic if not impossible.