“He who rules the mountain, rules the land,” said nationalist Israeli poet Uri Zvi Greenberg. And the East Jerusalemites said: He who rules Al-Aqsa, rules Jerusalem. There is no other place in Israel that is as clearly Palestinian as East Jerusalem. The Arabs in Israel have undergone a process of Israelization and institutionalization, the Palestinians in the West Bank are under military rule and in Gaza they live in a prison.
In effect, the only Palestinians who are free of “Israeliness” in all its forms are the East Jerusalemites. Not only in terms of awareness but in reality, in their everyday lives, since their lives have remained connected in almost every way to the West Bank more than to Gush Dan, the Tel Aviv metropolitan area.
Within the walls of the Old City the East Jerusalemites feel like the landlords or at least like their own masters. There, perhaps due to the status quo, or due to the explosiveness of the place, or due to international public opinion, or due to the absence of governance – mark the correct answer – the Palestinians manage somehow to be free of the shackles of Israeli rule. That’s why they’re not willing to be robbed of the basic customs of their communal, religious and national identity, in their home, in their city and in their mosque.
Recently I have heard quite a few people – not necessarily those whose top priority is to encourage going up to the Temple Mount (but actually just the opposite) – who say that although they understand that Ramadan is a particularly holy month, and despite their support for the idea that the government must prevent Jews from going up to Al-Aqsa during this holy month, they don’t understand why there’s a problem with Jews also going up to pray on the Temple Mount. Quietly, on the eastern side of the compound.
After all, according to them, it’s a holy place for both sides. It’s not that the Palestinians have to give up anything, and it’s not that the Jews are really going “to destroy the Al-Aqsa mosque” or “to build the Temple there,” so what’s the problem with allowing others to express their religious connection too? What’s the problem with praying together?
If we’re already talking about a connection, here’s a question: Why shouldn’t Israel allow all the Palestinians to implement their connections? After all, the Palestinians also have a strong connection to every place in this country, so why prevent them from living in it? Why do we need a racist citizenship law that prevents them from starting a family and living in Haifa or Be’er Sheva?
Why? Because of the context. It’s always “the context.” Or in other words: the occupation and the Palestinians’ national struggle. That’s what Israel is afraid of, and that’s the source of the restrictions and the prevention. In the same way, and as though in response to that, Al-Aqsa has in recent years become a Palestinian national symbol.
- With Jerusalem Ablaze, Hamas' Double-dealings Are in Plain Sight
- Al-Aqsa Won’t Become a Synagogue. There Are Real Reasons to Fight the Occupation
- Israel Police Required Al-Aqsa Worshippers to Hand Over IDs, in Violation of Law
It’s no longer just an ordinary mosque and the connection to it is no longer only religious. It serves as a symbol of Palestinian national victory over Jewish ultranationalism. This victory is achieved thanks to the fact that the area of Al-Aqsa is the only place that Israel refrains from controlling fully, and that situation is enshrined in law. Even for an occupying and oppressive regime like the Israeli one the complexity there is too great. The Muslim world looks on and threatens to intervene.
The determination of the East Jerusalemites, and their battle against the clubs and gas grenades of the police forces, have become a symbol of effective resistance as well as conveying a clear message: “We won’t allow you to control Al-Aqsa, because it is the last piece remaining under Palestinian control, and no Palestinian will give it up.”
And since in the month of Ramadan Palestinians come to the site from a variety of places, and include devoutly religious people as well as those who don’t pray, Muslims and even Christians (yes, even they) – both Ramadan and Al-Aqsa are already not only religious symbols, but national symbols as well. Next year in rebuilt Palestine.