Jerusalem - Past and Present - iii

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(Continued from the previous issue)

Ever since its occupation in 1967, Israel has tried through a number of measures to integrate Eastern Jerusalem into Israel, occupy private Arab lands and properties, expel Arab citizens of Jerusalem and plant as many Jews as possible in the Holy City and its immediate environs in order to change its demography for good. Manachem Klein, adviser to the then Israeli foreign minister Shlomo Ben Ami during 2000-2001, said in his book which has been translated into Arabic as “Tahtim al-mahzour - al-ittisalat min ajl al-taswiyah al-da’imah fi’l-Quds 1994-2001” (quoted in the study cited above) that the Israeli acquisition and settlement policies in Jerusalem must lead to a demographic imbalance (70 percent Jews and 30 percent Arabs). To achieve this quickly, he recommended a more stringent approach to demolish Arab homes, build new Jewish settlements and throttle the growth of East Jerusalem. Mayor of Jerusalem, Yehud Olmert, who later succeeded Ariel Sharon as prime minister in 2006, said that the return of the Jewish people to Jerusalem after 2000 years has a symbolic value which should be judged with a historic perspective as it is a struggle which may continue for hundreds of years and, therefore, we must continue judising the city despite all obstacles ( study cited above). The Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netenyahu said, speaking to AIPAC on 22 March 2010, that “Jerusalem is not a colony but our capital.” He disclosed that around a quarter of a million of Jews now live in this area beyond the lines of the Armistice of 1949.

To achieve this, Israeli governments have followed the policies laid down by Teddy Kolek, mayor of Jerusalem during 1965-1992 which aim at cutting off Jerusalem from West Bank, especially through changing the demography. To achieve this, Israeli authorities have tried to neutralize Arab-owned properties by declaring them as evacuee/absentee or neglected properties which could be acquired on one hand or by denying Arabs permits to build or use their properties on the other. To achieve this, Israel revived the Land Acquisition Law issued by the British in 1943 which allows acquisition of private land “for public purpose. Using this “law,” Israel acquired 23500 dunam Palestinian land during 1967-1996 alone.

Israeli authorities have also evolved strange ways to confiscate Palestinian lands like reviving an old Ottoman law which said that ownership of an agricultural land will revert to the State if it was not tilled for a continuous three years while the fact is that it is the Israeli occupation force which does not allow Palestinian farmers access to their lands. The latest example is the apartheid wall erected by Israel in West Bank where vast chunks of lands fall to the west of the wall to which Palestinians have no access. These lands, eaten up by the wall, have been in effect acquired without paying any compensation in any way to their owners. The main purpose of the wall is to cut off East Jerusalem from its natural commercial and social interaction and continuity areas in the West Bank like the cities of Ramallah and Bethlehem as well as the Arab villages adjacent to East Jerusalem like Abu Dis, ‘Anata, Aliazria etc where around one hundred thousand Palestinian Arabs live. The wall disregards, rather dismantles, the social fabric which has evolved over hundreds of years in the area.

With pressure on life and space, tens of thousands of Arab Jerusalemites had moved to live in these adjacent villages. People from East Jerusalem frequently went to these villages to shop. As a result of the apartheid walls many shops in these villages have been closed down.

Israel also limits Arab presence in East Jerusalem through mass destruction of homes on a number of pretexts (punishment for resistance activity, administrative demolition and military requirements). Figures for 1994-2006 show that during this period alone Israel issued more than ten thousand demolition orders in East Jerusalem alone though not all of them were carried out for various reasons (figures for other occupied areas are more higher).  

According to a study of the PLO’s Negotiations Department in 2005, Israel confiscated 43.5 percent of the lands of East Jerusalem to build Jewish settlements on them, while Israel has designated 41 percent lands as “green land” where construction is illegal. In addition to this, Israel has earmarked 3.4 percent of East Jerusalem lands for the military and infrastructure purposes. The PLO study further said that these figures are still not final because the Israeli occupation authorities confiscated all Palestinian land records when they closed down the Orient House (Bait Al-Sharq) in August 2001 which was functioning as a de facto Palestinian administration in East Jerusalem.

UN Security Council through resolution number 298 of 25 September 1971, resolved that acquisition of land by force is illegal and it asked Israel to cancel all its actions in this regard. When in 1980, Israel declared Jerusalem as the “eternal capital of Israel,” in clear disregard of the international law and the Forth Geneva Convention, the UN Security Council condemned this act through resolution number 487 of 20 August 1980 declaring the Israeli declaration and all its consequences illegal but Israel has never bothered to adhere to international legality in such matters. It has tried to present its policies under legal garb, for example the Military Order Number 1650 which was ratified by the Israeli army on 13 October 2009 and became effective on 12 April 2010 says that any [Palestinian] found in the West Bank without proper or valid IDs will be considered an “infiltrator” and will be either expelled from the occupied territories or jailed for seven years with a fine of 7500 Israeli shekels. This means that if seriously implemented, tens of thousands of the inhabitants of Jerusalem and the West Bank will be expelled, especially those themselves, or whose one or both parents were born in Gaza Strip or who are married to foreigners. This Israeli “law” not only disregards international laws about occupied lands but also fails to take account of even the Oslo Accords Israel has signed with the Palestinians. Further more, such cases will be tried summarily within three days by military tribunals. The properties of such “infiltrators” too will be considered absentee properties and confiscated.

Israeli efforts to change the demography of Eastern Jerusalem may be gauged from the fact that 172,248 Jewish settlers had been planted in East Jerusalem and their numbers rose to 189,708 by the year 2007 (Statistical Book for Jerusalem 2002-2007).

Not only expulsion, Israeli policies have also neutralized the remaining Arabs in Jerusalem in other ways. As most of them reject Israeli occupation, they refrain from taking part in the Israeli and Jerusalem municipality elections which in effect means that one thirds of the holy city population is unrepresented and voiceless.

Israel believes and practices as if only Jews have historical and present rights in Jerusalem while the fact is the Islamic and Christian rights and physical presence in Jerusalem are much stronger than the Jewish claim which rests solely on military occupation whether of West Jerusalem in 1948 or East Jerusalem in 1967 the legal results of which have been consistently rejected by the international community through the United Nations and various other international and regional forums including the World Court of Justice.

While Islamic and Christian facts dot every inch of the holy city, Jews have only one physical historical evidence to support their case and it’s the so-called “Wailing Wall” better known as the Western Wall of the Aqsa Mosque or the Buraq Wall. An international commission appointed by the League of Nations in 1929 had categorically affirmed that the Western Wall is a part of the Aqsa Mosque and a property of Muslims alone and that Jews have only the right of access to this wall without any right whatsoever to introduce anything new at the site. The issue was referred to the international commission following violent disturbances in 1929 when Jews tried to bring in benches and blow their traditional horns (shofer) at the place. But Jews have flagrantly violated the status quo since June 1967 in the wake of the military occupation of East Jerusalem when suddenly with the notice of a few minutes hundreds of homes of the Moroccan Quarter were bulldozed to create a large ground in front of the Western Wall and ever since more and more physical changes are introduced in the area including the building of an iron bridge which allows Jews to reach the Aqsa compound bypassing the traditional gates where Muslim guards try to frustrate their occasional attempts to sneak into the compound and offer Jewish prayers there, especially since June 2003.

Christian sites too have suffered Jewish intrusion and occupation though on a smaller scale and this has occasionally led to tension between Israel and various Christian Churches. One such big dispute arose between Israel and the Vatican towards the end of 2009 about Christian sites in Jerusalem and West Bank especially the Room of the Last Supper on Mount Zion which Jews claim to be the grave of King David and reject to hand it over to the Vatican.  

But the greatest change has been done underground. Soon after occupation in 1967, Israelis started extensive excavations under the Aqsa Mosque complex starting from the western side to the north and east towards the Dome of the Rock. They have also done extensive diggings elsewhere in East Jerusalem and other parts of the West Bank searching for archaeological artefacts to support their claim on the holy city in general and the holy site of the Aqsa in particular. Occasional reports have confirmed that Israelis have built extensive tunnels and a number of underground synagogues beneath the Aqsa mosque and it is feared that due to these diggings the Aqsa foundations have been compromised and any earthquake or bomb blast will be enough to pull down the whole huge structure.

According to the Strategic Report of the Quds Foundation published in March 2010, Israelis are trying in the near future, 1) to enforce a partition of the Al-Aqsa compound to secure a place for Jewish prayers there and the iron bridge already erected at the Wailing Wall for direct access to the compound bypassing the gates will be used for this purpose. Ariel Sharon after he became prime minister for the second time, told rabbis of the West Bank settlements in 2006 that he will allow Jews to pray on the Aqsa compound at “the right time”. Micky Levy, the police chief of Jerusalem at the time had said that this will be done after the American war in Iraq is over.   2) complete the project of the “Sacred Jewish City” underneath and around the Aqsa compound and for this a number of tunnels will be opened for Jewish visitors; 3) Build more Jewish landmarks in East Jerusalem after the “Hurva” Synogogue, built on the ruins of a mosque, was inaugurated on 15 March, 2010 at a stones throw distance from the Aqsa compound. Another synagogue, Quds Al-Nur, mentioned in the 2008 Israeli plan for Jerusalem, will come up at the site of the Islamic Court adjacent to the Western Wall of the Aqsa. With these additions, the number of Jewish synagogues built in East Jerusalem since 1967 will cross a dozen.

The most important attempt to destroy the Aqsa Mosque was made in August 1969 when an Australian Zionist tried to burn the Aqsa inflicting grave damage to the building and its furniture. This agitated the whole world of Islam and led to the establishment of the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) shortly thereafter. There are around 20 Jewish and rightist Christian organizations working for the establishment of the Jewish Temple on the Aqsa site which obviously will take place after removing the Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock from the compound. This policy is supported by all in Israeli polity from right to centre to the left. A replica of the proposed temple is already at display near the Western Wall and a number of Jewish religious schools are preparing clerics and teaching them the rituals and prayers to be conducted in the Temple once it is ready.

It is a fact of history and current situation on the ground that Muslims have a solid presence on the ground. Under Muslim rule rights of both Jews and Christians were guaranteed and protected while both Muslims and Jews were massacred and severely persecuted during the brief occupation by the Crusaders and again by the British during 1917-1948 when the foundations of the Jewish state were firmly laid through unhindered immigration and other facilities including a liberal grant of government lands to the Jews despite persistent Arab protests. And now the Jews during their occupation since 1948 and especially since 1967 have demonstrated that they have very scant regard for the interests of non-Jews in the holy land or the international opinion expressed through the UN and other forums.      

This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 1-15 May 2011 on page no. 24

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