Wednesday,21 March, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1373, (14 - 20 December 2017)
Wednesday,21 March, 2018
Issue 1373, (14 - 20 December 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Jerusalem, Trump and intifada

Jerusalem is far from a side issue in the Arab-Israeli conflict, as Donald Trump may well now discover, writes Mohamed Al-Sharqawi


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Jerusalem is the largest city in Palestine and the most important religiously and economically. Founded by the Arab Canaanites about 5,000 years ago, it is situated between the mountain ranges of Nablus to the north and Hebron to the south. It is 52 kilometres from the Mediterranean and 22 kilometres from the Dead Sea. The geographical location and the holy status of the city contributed to making it the central city in Palestine.

Jerusalem is a spiritual beacon for the three divinely revealed religions and it contains numerous holy sites, most notably Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

The British mandate era marked a major turning in the history of Jerusalem. Since Palestine fell into the hands of the British colonial power, it became a migration destiny for Jews who lived in Europe as a “people without a land.” In 1917, the Balfour Declaration conferred international legitimacy on the Jewish settlement drive in Palestine and Jerusalem.


UN PARTITION RESOLUTION: Since 1948, the question of Jerusalem stood at the heart of the Arab-Israeli conflict. On 29 November 1947, the UN General Assembly issued Resolution 181, subsequently referred to as the “Partition Resolution”. It ended the British mandate over Palestine and provided for the division of Palestine into three parts. One was designated for the establishment of an Arab state and another for the establishment of a Jewish state. The third, comprising Jerusalem, Bethlehem and their adjacent territories, was to be placed under international mandate.

The resolution, which observers and international law specialists described as “unjust to the Palestinians”, was never applied. On 14 May 1948, Zionist paramilitary gangs proclaimed the founding of the State of Israel and seized control of three-fourths of the whole of Palestine. Jordan retained control of the West Bank while Gaza was administered by Egypt.

Israel seized the western portion of Jerusalem in 1948. East Jerusalem, where Jordan continued to supervise the holy sites, remained a focal point of Arab-Israel dispute. In the 1967 June War, Israel occupied the West Bank, inclusive of East Jerusalem, Gaza, the Sinai and the Syrian Golan Heights.

Jerusalem had always been a rallying call for Arab peoples and governments. The fourth Arab summit convened in Khartoum from 29 August to 1 September 1967 in the wake of Israeli aggression. This was the summit that issued the famous “Three No’s”: “No peace with Israel, no negotiations with Israel and no recognition of Israel.”

The seventh Arab summit in Rabat, 26-29 October 1974, reiterated the call for the complete liberation of all Arab territories occupied in 1967 and the liberation of Jerusalem. The summit also recognised the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organisation) as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.

Within weeks after occupying East Jerusalem, Israel unilaterally expanded the municipal boundaries of the city, expanding the area tenfold. The new boundaries incorporated unused and uninhabited areas which, in the 1970s, it confiscated for the purpose of constructing settlements, in flagrant violation of international law.

The occupation authorities also extended Israeli laws and judicial authority over the areas it incorporated into the municipal boundaries, in a bid to impose de facto authority over East Jerusalem and other portions of the West Bank.

In addition to their attempts to seize control of land and property in Jerusalem, Zionist planners sought to Judaicise the city and efface its Arab and Islamic character. Towards these ends, the Zionist movement promoted the alleged existence of the “Temple of the Mount”, adopted the “star of David” as the official national emblem and disseminated selectively constructed interpretations of Old Testament and Talmudic texts. The movement also founded a number of Zionist groups to further its ends in the Holy City, such as the Temple of the Mount Faithful movement and the Movement to Seize Al-Aqsa. These extremist groups, assisted by successive Israeli governments, undertook excavations beneath Al-Aqsa Mosque and raids into the mosque precinct itself. The frequency of such attacks has increased in recent years.

The designs were epitomised by the arson attack on Al-Aqsa Mosque by the Jewish Australian Michael Dennis Rohan on 21 August 1969. The Israeli occupation power described him as insane in an attempt to deny its responsibility for the heinous crime.

The arson attack triggered outrage throughout the Arab and Islamic worlds. The following day, thousands of worshippers gathered for Friday prayers in the mosque’s outer courtyard, after which demonstrations surged across the Holy City. Also in response, the first Islamic summit conference was convened in Rabat on 21 September 1969, giving rise to the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (later renamed the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation) representing 57 nations and more than 1.6 billion people. In 1975, this organisation created the Jerusalem Committee, headed by the King of Morocco, dedicated to countering Israeli attempts to Judaicise the city.

The reactions triggered by the arson attack reached the UN Security Council which, on 15 September 1969, issued Resolution 271 that condemned Israel for its responsibility for the arson attack and called on it to abide by the provisions of the Geneva Conventions and international law governing military occupation.


ANNEXATION OF JERUSALEM: In July 1980, the Israeli Knesset adopted the “Basic Law” that claimed Jerusalem as the “indivisible and united capital of Israel”. The following month, the occupation power issued a decree to annex East Jerusalem, in flagrant defiance of all Security Council resolutions on the matter.

The UN and the whole of the international community objected. On 20 August 1980, the UN Security Council issued Resolution 478 which, “Censures in the strongest terms the enactment by Israel of the “basic law” on Jerusalem and the refusal to comply with relevant Security Council resolutions; Affirms that the enactment of the “basic law” by Israel constitutes a violation of international law and does not affect the continued application of the Geneva Convention relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, of 12 August 1949, in the Palestinian and other Arab territories occupied since June 1967, including Jerusalem; Determines 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 recent “basic law” on Jerusalem, are null and void and must be rescinded forthwith; Affirms also that this action constitutes a serious obstruction to achieving a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East; 5. Decides not to recognise the “basic law” and such other actions by Israel that, as a result of this law, seek to alter the character and status of Jerusalem…”

In the late 1970s, some countries moved their embassies in Israel to West Jerusalem while still refusing to officially recognise Jerusalem — or even a portion of it— as the Israeli capital. In 1980, there were 13 embassies in Jerusalem, belonging to The Netherlands, Bolivia, Chile, Columbia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Salvador, Ecuador, Guatemala, Haiti, Panama, Uruguay and Venezuela. The US, UK and Greece were among the countries that had consulates in Jerusalem before this time and these remained independent from their embassies in Tel Aviv. Resolution 748 called on countries with diplomatic missions in Jerusalem to withdraw their embassies from that city.

The UN and international community still regard East Jerusalem as an occupied territory.


OSLO AND JERUSALEM: The Oslo Accords, signed between the PLO and Israel in 1993, deferred the question of Jerusalem to “final status negotiations”. This made it possible for the Israeli occupation to persist in its drive to alter the character of the city and impose de facto realities that would be difficult to overcome in a future negotiated settlement.

Palestinian politicians and analysts describe the impact of the Oslo Accords on Jerusalem as disastrous. The practical effect was to bind the hands of the Palestinian Authority (PA) and to free the hands of the occupation power as it persisted, unchecked, in its policy of Judaicising the city.


THE CONGRESSIONAL ACT: The most serious development in the Oslo period, as concerns the status of Jerusalem, was passage of a Congressional bill to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem on the grounds that it was the “indivisible capital” of Israel. The law, passed in October 1995, gave the US president the right to defer implementation, on option all successive administrations opted for, despite Israeli pressure. That is, until President Trump came along 22 years later and officially recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.


THE TUNNEL UPRISING: On 25 September 1996, the occupation power opened a 450-metre long tunnel below Al-Aqsa Mosque and neighbouring property, triggering a wave of anger, both at the level of the PA leadership, then headed by president Yasser Arafat, and at the popular level in mass demonstrations throughout the territories.

In spite of the peaceful nature of the demonstrations, occupation forces responded with violence, using both rubber bullets and live ammunition, as well as helicopters and tanks. Jewish settlers, also using guns, joined in the attacks against the unarmed civilians which resulted in 63 dead and 1,600 wounded.


CAMP DAVID: The talks in Camp David in 2000 and in Taba in 2001 over final status issues failed to reach an agreement. However, with regard to Jerusalem, they established what became known as the Bill Clinton formula: what is Jewish goes to Israel and what is Arab goes to Palestine.

The participants in the Camp David Summit, which lasted two weeks, discussed a proposal whereby most of Jerusalem would come under Israeli sovereignty except for some parts that would come under the sovereignty of the envisioned Palestinian state. Al-Aqsa compound was listed under the Israeli part in the proposal on the grounds that the Temple of the Mount was situated beneath it. The proposal added that Muslims would be given the right to visit the mosque. Naturally, Arafat rejected the proposal out of hand.


AL-AQSA INTIFADA: Soon after Camp David, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon thrust his way into Al-Aqsa under heavy military and police protection. As he strutted through the compound, he proclaimed the holy sanctuary would be an Israeli area. Clashes erupted between Palestinian worshippers and Israeli soldiers in which seven Palestinians were killed, 25 wounded and 13 Israeli soldiers injured.

That incident, on 28 September 2000, ignited the second Intifada. It lasted five years, during which 4,412 Palestinians were killed and 48,322 were wounded, compared to 1,069 Israelis killed and 4,500 wounded.

Sharon’s offence against the Muslim shrine and the Intifada it triggered precipitated the extraordinary Arab summit in Cairo, 21-22 October 2000. It was attended by the heads of state of all Arab countries apart from Libya. The summit participants established a $200 million “Jerusalem Intifada fund” to aid the families of the victims and to assist in the rehabilitation of the wounded. They also created an $800 million “Al-Aqsa Fund” to support the Palestinian economy and to enable Palestinians to import goods without quantitative or qualitative restrictions.

The following year, the 13th Arab summit convened in Jordan, 27-28 March 2001. The participants in that summit affirmed their commitment to severing relations with any country that moved its embassy to Jerusalem or that recognised it as Israel’s capital. The Amman summit condemned the ongoing Israeli aggression against the Palestinian people and systematic Israeli abuses of their human rights. It also condemned the US’s use of its veto in the Security Council to block a resolution calling for protection of the Palestinian people in the territories and the creation of a UN observer force.

The following year, Beirut hosted the 14th Arab summit, 27-28 March 2002. The participants reiterated their commitment to the realisation of peace in the framework of international law which, in turn, required a commitment by Israel. This was the most important summit in the history of Arab summits in that it adopted the initiative of the late Saudi monarch King Abdullah bin Abdel- Aziz calling for normalisation of Arab-Israeli relations on condition that Israel withdraw to the boundaries of 4 June 1967. The proposal has since become known as the Arab Peace Initiative.


JERUSALEM UPRISING 2015: The Israeli occupation authority’s relentless illegal settlement expansion and ongoing incursions by Israeli settlers and extremists into Al-Aqsa compound triggered another explosion of anger that succeeded in thwarting Israeli designs to partition the sanctuary.

The events began in October 2015 with marches that erupted in Jerusalem and other West Bank cities and then spread to Gaza. The tactics of intifada took a new turn, this time, when young men and women engaged in stabbing attacks against Israelis in the West Bank and Jerusalem.

In the first year of the Jerusalem uprising, 238 Palestinians were killed by Israeli bullets according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health.

On 14 July, three Palestinians from inside the Green Line stabbed three Israeli soldiers in Al-Aqsa sanctuary, killing two and wounding one before they, themselves, were shot. Israeli authorities immediately took measures to tighten security, closing the mosque for two days and installing electronic security gates. These measures triggered another wave of demonstrations and clashes with Israeli security forces, leading to more Palestinian deaths.

Worshippers, refusing to be intimidated by these measures, performed prayers near the doors of the compound and outside the walls of the old city. The more the occupation power persisted in its security measures, the more it stoked Palestinian anger. Protests continued to flare, leading to the death of another four demonstrators in clashes with the Israeli army.

Eventually, Netanyahu was forced to cave in to Palestinian popular resistance against the security measures. Following a meeting with his political affairs and security ministers, he announced that the electronic security gates would be removed and replaced by surveillance cameras. But Palestinians refused to accept even that. Through their persistence they compelled the Israeli occupation authorities to remove all fixtures they had put in place.

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