Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Jerusalem Day: A celebration of unity—for some

By J.J. Rhies - June 10, 2019
Section: [Main News] [IN PICTURES] [Features]
Tags: [Jerusalem]

Tens of thousands of Israeli Zionists stormed through the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City, which is predominantly Palestinian, during the annual Jerusalem Day flag march on 2 June.

While Palestinian residents celebrated the Islamic holy month of Ramadan during the event, some Muslim worshipers cancelled their plans with friends or family in order to avoid bellicose mobs of marchers, who sang and danced to beating drums as they celebrated the “unification” of Jerusalem, waving Israeli flags in the faces of Palestinian shopkeepers and passers-by.

Mustafa Jabar, a Palestinian activist, rapper and actor who lives near the Western Wall in the Old City, told Palestine Monitor that Jerusalem Day precludes Palestinian Jerusalemites from exercising their right to self-autonomy.

The celebration “makes me feel like I’m in a prison for a couple of hours,” he said in a phone interview. “I cannot do nothing; I just sit in the house.”

Today, more than 400,000 Palestinian residents still live in the territory, and Palestinians have long claimed East Jerusalem as their future capital. Israel wrested East Jerusalem from Jordanian control in 1967, declaring the entire holy city as its “eternal, indivisible” capital, but international humanitarian law deems Israel’s decades-long occupation of East Jerusalem illegal.


The precarious lives of Palestinian Jerusalemites

Although East Jerusalem is ancestral Palestinian land, Jabar feels deeply unsafe in the Old City during Jerusalem Day.

“Sometimes it’s scary for me, being afraid and angry at the march because I cannot do anything,” he said. “I hope and wish that I can do something, but I can’t.

Israeli police, he added, “threaten to put you in prison just because they have the flag march. They are doing demonstrations everywhere in the Old City and breaking the shops, having fights with people who are walking through the streets.”

Jerusalem’s entrenched divisions along religious and political lines do not merely lead Palestinians to fear for their safety, but also bring them under a yoke of systematic discrimination by the Israeli state. For instance, non-Jews who did not live in Israel between 1948 and 1952 cannot claim Israeli citizenship—nor can their descendants.

Thus, “approximately 5.7 million Palestinians [are] ineligible for citizenship” and thereby “stateless,” according to BADIL, an advocacy organisation. If a Palestinian Jerusalemite does not have Israeli citizenship or permanent residency, they cannot access social services or work legally.


Israel also routinely demolishes Palestinian property in East Jerusalem. It tore down 111 Palestinian structures in the first four months of 2019, according to the United Nations humanitarian affairs office in the occupied Palestinian territories.

Israel’s destruction of Palestinian property in Jerusalem appears to be on the rise. Indeed, the state razed 31 Palestinian structures in 24 hours earlier this year—the highest number of demolitions in a single day since the UN began collecting data ten years ago. The Municipality of Jerusalem, which oversees the demolitions, did not respond to a request for comment.


'Another day’ of resistance

Some 30 Israeli anti-occupation activists embedded among the fervent Jerusalem Day crowds to oppose what they describe as a “nationalistic,” “fascist” celebration—and to show solidarity with Palestinians threatened by the event. Israeli police snipers scanned Old City entrances from rooftops and a surveillance chopper flew overhead as the activists tried to blend in with their political opposites.

According to Shira Harpaz, a Jewish Israeli anti-occupation activist at the event, it is critical that pro-Palestinian Israelis advocate for Palestinian rights on Jerusalem Day.

“I was born in this city,” Harpaz said. The Jerusalem Day celebrations “cannot be the only face of it that is shown. I want [Palestinians] to know that we see them, that some people see them and care.”

“It’s as much their city as it is mine, and even more,” she added.


By late afternoon, Israeli marchers flooded the Old City’s Muslim Quarter, turning its narrow streets into a sea of blue and white. Palestinian shopkeepers looked on from their cafés and kiosks as crowds chanted in Hebrew: “We won’t give away this land, it is ours forever!” and “Muhammed [the Prophet] is dead!”

The anti-occupation activists staged their demonstration as the march raged on, holding signs above their heads that read “Solidarity” in Arabic and Hebrew. Within seconds of revealing their placards, police pushed them into the gutters and cordoned them off from the march. Dozens of Israeli Zionists began screaming “Go home!” to the activists in Hebrew; others cursed and yelled slurs at them.

Hailey Mann, a Jewish American activist who immigrated to Israel, recalled marchers yelling “Fuck you, bitch” and “Fuck you, cunt” as she demonstrated peacefully against Jerusalem Day. The Muslim Quarter flag march was mainly comprised of boys and young men, since the event is separated by sex.

Mann explained that the abuse she endured during the action helped reveal why she was demonstrating in the first place. “I was protesting the violent and racist, fascist, toxically masculine nationalism that was clearly, intentionally, unnecessarily agitating the Palestinian community in Jerusalem and particularly in the Old City,” she said.

The activists’ peaceful action lasted only 15 minutes, by which time Israeli police forcibly expelled them from the scene. Some of the activists—and at least one journalist—were pushed into alleyways and thrown on the ground, and ordered to leave. No one was injured or arrested.


Uri Agnon, another Jewish Israeli activist involved in the protest, said that although Israel may be “moving more and more toward a nationalistic place,” the political ideology fuelling celebrations like Jerusalem Day is hardly new.

“The most important things in Israeli politics are staying the same,” Agnon explained. “Even if 15, 20, or 30 years ago [Israel] wouldn’t have looked the same, the reason people were marching yesterday was still happening. The fact that millions of Palestinians do not have basic human rights and basic political rights in this land is something much older.”

“We will resist the occupation every day, including in a day that is considered a holiday, a day of celebration,” he added.

“This is just another day where we have to resist the occupation.”


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