Friday, January 19, 2018

Old City of Jerusalem under attack


By Felix Black - March 16, 2013
TAGS:
Section: [Main News] [Features]
Tags: [Jerusalem] [Settlers attacks]

Israeli march through Jerusalem's Old City, including the Muslim Quarter (here at the Damascus Gate), on "Jerusalem Day". Photo by Lazar Simeonov.

The past two weeks has seen a dramatic escalation in attacks and violations in the Old City of Jerusalem by Israeli settlers and soldiers.   

The recent catalogue of assaults began on March 4 when Israeli soldiers attacked two female students inside the Al-Aqsa compound and kicked the Qur’an one of the students had dropped

A few days later on Wednesday, eight soldiers accompanying a group of settlers raided the al-Aqsa Mosque compound and clashed with worshippers. In the ensuing violence, a soldier removed the hijab of a woman who was resisting having her photo taken by a settler.

On Friday March 8, a mass group of settlers and soldiers stormed the compound. According to Israeli police spokesperson Micky Rosenfeld the assault was in response to Palestinians throwing stones and Molotov cocktails.

One Palestinian boy was arrested in his home and soldiers searched all his possessions for remnants of cocktail-making equipment before interrogating him for information and subsequently releasing him.

Between these events, settlers have repeatedly gathered at the al-Aqsa compound in large groups, with Israeli soldiers enforcing a de facto curfew in the Islamic Quarter of the Old City.

Yassir Quos, a member of the Old City African Community stated, “They do this every time there is a festival, or a meeting, or even if a large group of settlers just wants to stand in the al-Aqsa courtyard.”

Quos explains how the three-week escalation is part of a general increase in Israeli attacks on the Old City. He describes how Israel is building up to a “finalization” of the “al-Aqsa mosque issue”.

“Since the Israeli declaration [in 2002] that there is no 'west’ and 'east’ Jerusalem, but only a united Jewish Holy city, the aim has been to remove the Palestinian areas of the Old City, and other neighbourhoods,” he said, ““They intend to create a Jewish-only Jerusalem by 2025. They also aim to take the courtyard and make the third Temple.”

Whether or not the latest attacks constitute a definitive finalization of Israeli policy towards the Old City, there are definite reasons to believe the recent assaults are very much part of this strategy.

Israeli policy towards the Old City

For Yassir Quos and many other Palestinians, the current Israeli policy towards the Old City utilizes the international confusion over the al-Aqsa and Dome of the Rock mosques. 

Since the Israeli declaration [in 2002] that there is no 'west’ and 'east’ Jerusalem, but only a united Jewish Holy city, the aim has been to remove the Palestinian areas of the Old City, and other neighbourhoods

The golden roofed-mosque, a central feature in images of Jerusalem and an intrinsic part of the city skyline, is the Dome of the Rock mosque. The al-Aqsa mosque, considered the third Holiest site in Islam, has a dark domed-roof and is situated roughly a few meters away across the courtyard. 

Under the pretext of searching for Solomon’s Temple, Israeli authorities have continually dug tunnels beneath the compound destabilizing the foundations of al-Aqsa mosque. The excavations have received relatively little international attention, despite the partial collapse of a street, several houses and a school inside and around the compound area.

Among many Old City inhabitants, it is believed Israel is slowly destroying the mosque and therefore the Islamic heritage of the compound and thus the city. As Yassir Quos explains, “As long as the Dome of the Rock is left standing, the international community will not realize what is happening to al-Aqsa.” 

The religious reasoning behind creating a Jewish establishment in the zone must be recognized as part of other policies to remove Palestinians from the land and enforce ethnocratic rule in the area.  Attempts to ruin the mosque and the attacks on the Palestinians of the Old City can be construed as a normalizing effort upon the courtyard to create this Jewish-Israeli presence. 

However, for Fayrouz Sharqawi, an active member of the Grassroots Jerusalem network that works to create a platform for activists and organizations in the city, “People should not view what is happening in the Old City as [something] worse or more urgent than what is happening in all neighbourhoods of East Jerusalem. House evictions, demolitions, and settler attacks form part of life in Jerusalem as a whole and the international community needs to recognize this.”

Resistance against the threat of eviction and usurpation from the Old City forms part of everyday life for the inhabitants. 

Of the handful of shopkeepers interviewed by the Palestine Monitor, not one showed a willingness to talk openly about the on-going assaults. One can attribute this partially to the presence of soldiers, but also to the mindset of Old City inhabitants that external help can often exacerbate situations, provoke arrests, and lead to detriment of the co-operative networks.

“The best thing we can do is to stay here,” Quos said. “We have small communities which are part of larger communities, that are actually part of the entire Palestinian community of the Old City. I myself am part of the Old City African Community, and we work for each other and for everyone else. If somebody is struggling, people come to help. We receive basically nothing from outside, but our networks of support create a union that cannot be un-done by the Israelis.”

Quos concludes with his overall judgement of the city: “Jerusalem is perceived as a peaceful, quite, tourist city. But underneath this facade, it is a volcano.”




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