Otherwise Occupied

Jerusalem Has Many Reasons for Unrest, Not Just Al-Aqsa

A religious war? This explanation for the clashes and attacks in the capital ignores the facts that make Palestinian life there unbearable.

AFP

For years we have been crying wolf, and the wolves have never arrived. There have been wolf cubs, but the security forces have “contained” them, as the security lingo puts it.

No wonder that the cries of wolf have been received in Israel with scorn and contempt, or are simply ignored. Could it be that the recent warnings that a religious war is approaching are a desperate alarm in itself?

The other day a religious acquaintance of mine from Jerusalem’s Beit Hanina neighborhood called and said that last week’s murder of worshippers at a synagogue contradicted his feelings and faith. He also cried wolf: “Don’t the Israelis understand that the residents of Jabal Mukkaber are Bedouin. Their tribal loyalty is very strong. If the Israeli authorities demolish one home there, this will not lead to quiet.”

I noted that the newspapers were writing that some security officials opposed the demolitions, but the politicians won out. And we are afraid.

“We” — this is everyone who doesn’t understand how the Israelis can think they can continue to rule over 4.5 million people against their will and abuse them day by day, minute by minute. And how the Israelis can ignore the existence of another 5 million of their brothers living in the diasporas, and treat 1.6 million of Israel’s citizens as if they were on probation.

“We” are those who know that the details of this abusive rule are so numerous you can’t count or process them.

“We” also know that the great majority of Jewish Israelis aren’t interested in the details, and even those who know them against their will aren’t interested.

For a long time already “we” have been forced to abandon the humanist thought that people don’t want to be ignorant. And why should Israelis care that the state since the times of Levi Eshkol and Teddy Kollek has trampled and destroyed the Palestinians in Jerusalem so the Jews can have “light and gladness, and joy.”

“Wolf” is the big eruption we expect to happen because an entire people cannot suffer abuse forever. We cry wolf in the hope that the reasons for the wolf’s appearance will disappear.

When the Palestinians in Jerusalem were quiet, we were told: “You see, they have it good. They have national insurance and health services, there are no restrictions on their movement, they can work as porters and cleaners in the malls in the western part of the city, and shop in the malls.”

And when they aren’t quiet, there are protests, clashes with the police, hit-and-run terror attacks, murder in a synagogue and then more protests and clashes.

Then we are told: “They are ingrates. They make trouble, they are murderers by nature. What, because of the neglect of their infrastructure they murder with butcher knives? Because of construction bans they run people over and kill them? Because of the revocation of their residency status and expulsion from the country they shoot fireworks at the police?”

They ask: “What, they do this because of the very severe poverty, the provocative settlements in their neglected neighborhoods, the overcrowding in the houses, the demolition of houses built without building permits, the sewage sprayed by police on neighborhoods [‘containment’], the ban on political activity, the evictions from their homes because before 1948 the land was registered in the name of Jews? (Like the land and houses in the neighborhoods of Talbieh, Baka, Musrara, Ein Karem and so on belonged to Palestinians but are not returned to them?)

“What, they do this because of the paving of a highway in the middle of their neighborhood in order to shorten Gush Etzion settlers’ travel time to Jerusalem. They throw stones at light-rail trains because they are cut off by a wall and fences and new laws from the rest of the West Bank?”

Fragmented society

One of the most successful methods of containment Israel has enacted to keep these wolves at bay is of course the fragmentation of Palestinian society under Israeli rule since 1967. That’s why we are forced to speak about Jerusalem separately. Gradually, since 1993, Israel has cut off East Jerusalem from the general Palestinian population in the West Bank and Gaza. The proponents of the “containment” policy calculated that East Jerusalem, separated and disconnected, would not be able to resist.

My religious acquaintance from Beit Hanina also said: “This is the second Friday that there is no age limit on entry to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, and suddenly Knesset members and all sorts of your right-wing problem-mongers aren’t going up to the holy Muslim compound. And guess what, there aren’t any of what the police call ‘disturbances’ before or after prayers. Don’t the Israelis understand that the demonstrations were the response to the ban and provocations?”

Unfortunately, I had to tell him that the issue wasn’t whether Israelis understood; King Abdullah of Jordan intervened. And he said: “What religious war are they talking about in Israel? If you’re already talking about it, then the Israelis are stirring it. All the protests and tension and fury — it’s because we’re so sick of this evil regime. ” In other words, removing the restrictions on entry to Al-Aqsa isn’t enough.

Another acquaintance, an avowed atheist from the Shoafat neighborhood, also expressed doubts about the “religious war” description. He reminded me that Ghassan and Uday Abu Jamal, who murdered four Jewish worshippers and a policeman in the synagogue, are from a family linked to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine — a nonreligious organization.

He assumes they went there to take revenge. For everything. Also for Gaza. And he says: “And for all the protesters in the neighborhoods over the past few months. What, they say it’s because of Al-Aqsa? Half of the people arrested don’t pray at all.”