Exactly 25 years ago, the Berlin Wall came down. John F. Kennedy’s famous speech ‘I am a Berliner’ made that wall the very symbol the West had chosen to embody the ‘other’ against which it pitted itself for decades, justifying countless wars, support for dictatorships, torture across the world and internal repression. November 9, 1989 marked the end of the Cold War era and the beginning of the era of the ‘clash of civilizations’. Returning to the old orientalist scheme the Arab and Muslim populations became the new enemy.
In 2002 came the construction of a new wall, much longer, much higher and a tool of large scale confiscation of land and resources. The Israeli apartheid Wall, built on occupied Palestinian land, effectively creates Bantustans for the Palestinian people. It separates the farmers from their farmland, families from their relatives, children from their schools. This wall is another physical manifestation of Israel’s ethnic cleansing campaign against Palestinians. It proclaims the impossibility of a Palestinian state or self-determination. Sadly, at this time in history, the Israeli Apartheid Wall is the very symbol of the ‘free’ world’s own paradigm: Under the cover of ‘security’ and ‘self-defense’ everything Israel does is excused and accepted.
The impact of the apartheid Wall in Jerusalem is especially dramatic. There, the Wall is creating new city limits and isolating Palestinian neighborhoods with the aim of annihilating Palestinian existence in Jerusalem and crushing the Palestinian’s claim to Jerusalem as their capital.
Today, another capital, Jerusalem, turns into a symbolic battle field. This time there are no US airlifts or grandiose speeches but the daily resistance of the people for their rights, dignity and very existence in the city. This past Friday, almost exactly a quarter of a century after the fall of the Berlin Wall, all across occupied East Jerusalem Palestinians engaged in clashes with the Israeli forces occupying their capital. In Shu’fat refugee camp alone, 70 people were injured, another 250 suffered suffocation from the tear gas of the Israeli border police. In Bir Nabala, the popular committee tore down a piece of the apartheid Wall. Palestinians in Jerusalem take their fate in their own hands. They cannot afford to keep waiting for the international community to comply with their obligations to ensure Israel ends its violations of international law and to tear down the Wall, reaffirmed by the International Court of Justice in its 2004 verdict on the Wall. Today is the moment people across the world should stand up in solidarity and, against the connivance of their political leadership and state ‘I am a Jerusalemite’.
The ‘Jerusalem Intifada’
Since the beginning, Jerusalem has been a critical point in Israeli strategies. During the Israeli ethnic cleansing campaigns in 1948, the most cruel and emblematic massacre of Palestinian civilians occurred in Deir Yasin, at the outskirts of Jerusalem. Since the occupation of the eastern part of the city in 1967, Israel’s efforts to de-facto annex Jerusalem and to erase Palestinian presence in their capital has been relentless. The last several months, however, have seen an exponential rise in Israeli aggression in the city.
The settlement expansion in Jerusalem has been continuous and a systematic provocation as Israel grabs more and more Palestinian land for Jewish settlers. In the last two months alone, Israel announced 2,600 new settlement housing units in Givat Hamatos, 640 units in Ramat Shlomo and 400 units in Har Homa. In the Palestinian neighbourhood of Silwan, illegal settlers took over 25 Palestinian apartments.
Adding to this, Israel intentionally sparks the ire not only of the Palestinian people but the entire Muslim world by attacking the Al Aqsa mosque and the surrounding Noble Sanctuary compound. Over the last six months, Israeli settlers have almost daily invaded the area under the protection of the Israeli army and in violation of Israeli law and international agreements. Israeli political leaders regularly join the settlers making it clear this is not a fringe movement but part of a government strategy. It has become routine for Israel to attempt to close the Noble Sanctuary to Palestinians in the hours between the morning and the midday prayers. As Palestinians hide out in their holy places, clashes erupt almost daily. For the first time since Salahuddin liberated Jerusalem from the crusaders, Israeli occupation forces completely closed down the Noble Sanctuary compound and even prohibited the call to prayer twice in the past few weeks.
Lately, the clashes to defend access to Muslim holy places were largely lead by women given that Israel has prohibited all Palestinian men under 50 from entering the Al Aqsa mosque for the last two years. As a result, Israel is now barring as well women under 40 from entering the holy places. Additionally, occupation forces now ask Palestinians who enter the mosque to leave their ID cards at the entrance gates and many of them are obliged to present themselves for interrogation with the Israeli police when they want to leave the mosque compound.
However, the real trigger for the current uprising of people in Jerusalem against the occupation has been the cruel assassination of 16-year old Jerusalemite Mohammed Abu Khdair. The young boy was abducted and then burned alive by a group of Israeli settlers on June 2. This sparked the prelude to the ‘Jerusalem Intifada’ with clashes erupting all across the city. Mobilization quickly spread to the cities and neighbourhoods of the Palestinian citizens of Israel in the Galilee and to the West Bank. This wave of protests only ebbed down as a result of Israel’s terrifying attack on Gaza, a massacre partially aimed to divert attention and break the dynamics of mobilization unfolding in the rest of Palestine. Yet, immediately after the end of that massacre, Israel announced more settlement units and the confiscation of 4000 dunums of Palestinian land in occupied Jerusalem. Protest in the city started again.
Israel uses these protests as pretext to impose an ever tighter siege on Jerusalem. The existing police force has been joined by an additional one thousand border police personnel patrolling Palestinian areas. In the streets, heavily armed police stop Palestinians on a whim and, if nothing else, intimidate and impose spurious administrative fines. Israel aims to get Palestinians off the streets this way.
These measures to clamp down on Palestinian resistance serve Israeli internal discourse. Politicians call for using excessive and overpowering force against Palestinians as a way to rehabilitate their self-perception of an invincible power after the de facto military defeat this summer against the people in Gaza. However, instead of easily subduing the Palestinians, these attacks are, predictably, doing the opposite. People in Jerusalem continue to take to the streets and protests are spreading again to the West Bank and to the Galilee. Prime Minister Netanyahu was even forced to ask the settlers to temporarily stop their invasions of the Al Aqsa mosque in an attempt to de-escalate the situation.
Bantustans in the making
Israel’s insistence to subdue Palestinian resistance in Jerusalem goes beyond the inherent symbolism of complete dominance over the Palestinian capital and the holy places. Severing the West Bank into a southern and a northern part by creating a settlement corridor from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea is a geo-strategic necessity of the project of Bantustanization of the West Bank.
Along with the attacks on Jerusalem itself comes Israel’s acceleration of the ethnic cleansing of 46 Palestinian Bedouin communities living in the hills that stretch from the city until the Jordan Valley at the eastern edge of the West Bank. The occupation authorities are planning three ‘relocation areas’ for these communities resembling the townships created during South Africa’s version of apartheid.
Simultaneously, the infrastructure projects are underway to open a tunnel from al Aizariya to Anata while closing the historic roads connecting the southern West Bank with the north and the Jordan Valley. During June the so-called Container checkpoint north of Bethlehem was temporarily closed for all those without a necessary permit to give a first test run to the eventual isolation of the southern West Bank from the northern part.
The violent crushing of Palestinian resistance in Jerusalem and the severing of the West Bank in two isolated parts would be an enormous step towards the implementation of the Bantustanization of Palestine. It would be a further phase in the implementation of Ariel Sharon’s disengagement plan – a plan to ‘disengage’ from all those Palestinian ghettoes trapped behind the apartheid Wall while contemporarily annexing the rest of the land and making any Palestinian self-determination impossible.
‘Come on West Bank, for God’s sake!’
With all this in mind, it is no wonder that one of the widespread slogans in the protests in Jerusalem is the call “Come on West Bank, for God’s sake!” While there are dozens of protests in the West Bank heating up, a full scale third intifada is still not erupting despite the accelerated settlement building, violence toward Palestinian civilians, and destruction of entire communities.
One reason for this is that Palestinian protesters in the West Bank face Israeli repression and, additionally, the police forces of the Palestinian National Authority that as part of the ‘security coordination’ with Israel prohibit protests and gatherings in the areas under their control. Without a doubt, Palestinian police forces would not withstand a true outbreak of an intifada but they are successful at discouraging some protests through the use of violence and a demoralizing factor.
The people’s determination is also rather stymied by the lack of a united political leadership. The president of the PNA, Mahmoud Abbas, has repeatedly gone on record that he will not allow a third intifada. The Palestinian political parties so far have not shown the sufficient responsiveness to build on the struggle of the people and to develop a national strategy of resistance that can capitalize politically on the results of an intifada. After the experience of the First Intifada that resulted in the Oslo Accords and the Second Intifada, which lead to a strengthening of the neoliberal and pro-US currents in the Palestinian National Authority, Palestinians are rightly skeptical over the possible political outcomes of another intifada without the necessary leadership.
The most strategic calls of the Palestinian struggle today are coming from the streets. First and foremost is the call to support the resistance and the rights of the Palestinian people in Jerusalem. The second demand that reverberates in the streets and in the protests is the call for an immediate end to the co-called ‘security cooperation’ between the Palestinian National Authority and Israel. As the Israeli military continues to commit war crimes and other abuses, the ongoing exchange of information and logistic coordination between PNA and the occupation forces is nothing less than an affront to the dignity, sacrifice and struggle of the Palestinian people. Instead of collusion with the very forces that attack the Palestinian people for the last seven decades, those responsible for the war crimes and crimes against humanity have to be held criminally accountable. The third demand is for the Palestinian leadership to sign accession to the Rome Statute and the International Criminal Court and bring Israeli war criminals to trial.
This simple three point agenda being developed in the streets of Palestine seems to have more potential to break the current stalemate of repression and build a solid basis for the inevitable outbreak of a third intifada than the diplomatic projects of the Palestinian and the world’s leadership.
It’s time for all of us, in Palestine and across the globe, to assert “We are all Jerusalemites”.
(short version published in AlJazeera.com)