[News] In Jerusalem, “Religious War” Is Used to Cloak Colonialism

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Fri Sep 18 15:58:53 EDT 2015

*In Jerusalem, “Religious War” Is Used to Cloak Colonialism*



Sept. 18, 2015

By: Nur Arafeh

Nur Arafeh is the Policy Fellow of Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy 
Network, and is a consultant at the Ibrahim Abu-Lughod Institute of 
International Studies at Birzeit University.

Al-Shabaka is an independent non-profit organization whose mission is to 
educate and foster public debate on Palestinian human rights and 
self-determination within the framework of international law.

The escalating clashes between Israeli settlers and Jerusalemite 
Palestinians are the harbingers of a major eruption with incalculable 
consequences. Immediately billed as a “religious war” by the media and 
Israeli right wingers, they are in fact the outcome of longstanding 
Israeli plans to Judaize the city and empty it of its Palestinian 

Nur Arafeh analyzes the major changes that Israel has illegally imposed 
on Jerusalem and addresses the Palestine Liberation Organization 
(PLO)/Palestinian Authority’s (PA) effective abandonment of the 
population to fend for itself. She concludes with policy recommendations 
to the PLO/PA, Palestinian academics and analysts, and the international 
solidarity movement.

The Myth of Religious War

Jerusalem has been thrust into the spotlight due to the recent clashes 
between Israeli settlers and Palestinians at the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Also 
referred to as Al-Haram al-Sharif or the Noble Sanctuary, the compound 
contains Al-Aqsa itself, Islam’s third holiest site, and the Dome of the 
Rock, where Prophet Muhammad is said to have ascended to heaven. Jews 
revere the site in the belief that it was once the location of two 
ancient Jewish temples.

A number of ultra-Orthodox Jews have been repeatedly violating the 
status quo that has been in place since 1967 by making incursions inside 
the Al-Aqsa compound and calling for Israel to build a third temple on 
what they term the Temple Mount. A video posted recently on YouTube by 
the Temple Institute, which is part of the so-called Temple Mount and 
Land of Israel Faithful Movement, depicts a third temple replacing 
Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock.

The recent clashes between Palestinians and Israeli settlers and police 
in Jerusalem were punctuated by horrific attacks like the kidnapping and 
murder of the Palestinian youth, Mohammed Abu-Khdeir in July 2014. After 
Yehuda Glick, a key figure in the Temple Institute and a strong advocate 
of its messianic scheme, was allegedly shot by a Palestinian, members of 
the Temple Mount Movement made further incursions into Al-Aqsa, and on 
30 October 2014 Israel banned prayers in the compound for the first time 
since 1967. Tensions in Jerusalem reached boiling point after an attack 
by two Palestinians on an ultra-Orthodox synagogue on 18 November 2014 
left four Jews and a Druze police officer dead. The New Year began with 
a warning by the Mufti of Jerusalem of an Israeli organization’s plans 
to register Al-Aqsa Mosque as Israeli property.

But can this really be described as the start of a religious war? Has 
the political conflict indeed been transformed into a war of beliefs? 
According to The Guardian: “This is what a religious war looks like.” A 
Palestinian Al-Hiwar commentator agreed. Deputy Knesset Member Moshe 
Feiglin went even further and described it as a global fight “against 
the evil forces of the most extreme Islam.” Worse, the Temple Mount 
Movement stands reality on its head by proclaiming that one of its 
long-term objectives is to “liberate the Temple Mount from Arab 
[Islamic] occupation,” thus portraying the colonizers as the colonized.

Yet the framing of these events as a religious war not only ignores the 
reality of the power imbalance between the colonizer and the colonized, 
but also fails to address the history and context in which the recent 
events have unfolded.

Israel’s Longstanding Targeting of Al-Aqsa Mosque

Jewish religious law prohibits Jews from praying in the Al-Aqsa 
compound; Jews are only expected to revere the site, but not to visit or 
own it for fear of profaning the inner sanctum of the alleged Temple, 
and are to pray at Al-Buraq Wall (renamed the Western Wall). 
Nevertheless, extremists have early on targeted Al-Aqsa Mosque with a 
view to rebuilding the Temple. In 1982, Meir Kahane, leader of the 
far-right Kach party, marched on the compound holding plans of the 
Temple to be built on the ruins of Al-Aqsa. In 1990, 21 Palestinians 
were killed and 150 were injured in clashes with members of the Temple 
Mount Movement who attempted to enter Al-Aqsa and place the foundation 
stone for the Temple. In 1996, Israeli excavations and the digging of 
tunnels near Al-Aqsa sparked violence that resulted in the killing of 70 
Palestinians and 15 Israeli soldiers.

The Israeli government has also been supporting efforts to ensure Jewish 
control over the compound. Almost half of Likud party members support 
the Temple Mount Movement, which has recently won funding from the 
government. Between 2008 and 2011, the Temple Institute received an 
annual donation of $107,000 from the Ministry of Education and the 
Ministry of Culture, Science, and Sports. In 2012, an educational unit 
in the Temple Institute was offered an additional $50,000 from the 
Ministry of Education.

However, the actions of specific groups to take control of Al-Aqsa 
should not be seen as isolated incidents, but rather as part of a larger 
Zionist project to Judaize Jerusalem and ensure Jewish supremacy over 
the city.

Creation of a New Reality in Jerusalem

Since the occupation began in 1967, Israel has been committed to 
transforming a multi-religious and multi-cultural city into a 
“reunified” Jewish city under the exclusive control and sovereignty of 
Israel. It has fast-tracked the Judaization of the city via policies 
that impact on the geographical and physical space and are designed to 
circumvent the “demographic threat” posed by Palestinians.

 From the outset in 1967, Israel illegally annexed 70 square kilometers 
of West Bank territory, including East Jerusalem (6.5 square 
kilometers), such that it maximized the area of land expropriated while 
minimizing the number of Palestinians. It also razed the Arab 
neighborhoods of Bab al-Magharbeh and Harat al-Sharaf to build the 
Jewish Quarter, Al-Buraq Wall plaza, houses for settlers, and Jewish 
synagogues. Israel also reshaped the physical landscape of Jerusalem by 
constructing a ring of settlements around the city, linked to bypass 
roads to ensure geographic continuity with other Israeli settlements in 
the West Bank.

The ensuing physical and political fragmentation of Jerusalem went hand 
in hand with its economic isolation long before Israel embarked on the 
construction of the Apartheid Wall in 2002, which redrew the borders 
away from the pre-1967 armistice line. The construction of the Wall was 
deliberately designed to cut inside the city and exclude areas populated 
by Palestinians as a means to ensure a Jewish majority.

To deal with the “demographic threat” posed by Palestinians, Israel 
designated Palestinians living in Jerusalem as “permanent residents” – a 
civil status usually reserved for foreign citizens and which does not 
guarantee residency rights. On this basis, resident IDs are often 
revoked. Between 1967 and 2013, Israel revoked the ID cards of more than 
14,309 Palestinian residents. According to the 2003 Temporary Amendment 
to the Citizenship and Entry into Israel Law (amended in 2005 and 2007), 
West Bank Palestinians married to Jerusalem residents do not qualify for 
residency status and are only granted temporary permits in exceptional 
circumstances. In contrast, Jews who immigrate to live in Jerusalem are 
granted immediate citizenship, reflecting the apartheid nature of the 
Israeli regime.

While strengthening the Jewish presence in Jerusalem, Israel has sought 
to contain the urban and demographic expansion of Palestinians via 
discriminatory urban and zoning policies consistent with ethnic 
cleansing. More than one third of land in Palestinian neighborhoods has 
been classified as “open landscape areas” where building is prohibited, 
constricting Palestinian building to only 14 percent of the land of East 
Jerusalem and causing an acute housing crisis. Moreover, since 1967, 
Israel has destroyed 1,673 housing units, affecting around 8,000 people 
between 1967 and 2013. With the implementation of all these policies, 
Israel is aiming to achieve a ratio of 30 percent “Arabs” and 70 percent 
Jews within the Jerusalem municipality.

Discriminatory Israeli policies are also apparent in the discrepancies 
in service provision between Palestinian and Jewish neighborhoods. Less 
than 10 percent of the municipal budget is allocated to Palestinian 
districts despite Palestinians paying the same amount of arnona 
(property) tax as Jewish citizens.

Judaization has been accompanied by “de-Palestinianization” to eradicate 
the Palestinian identity in Jerusalem. For example, Sultan Suleiman 
al-Qanuni Street (a sultan of the Ottoman Empire) was renamed King 
Solomon Street, and the Wadi Hilweh district of Silwan was renamed “the 
city of David.” Furthermore, unnamed streets in Palestinian areas were 
recently given Arabic names that are devoid of political and national 
connotations. This renaming process is linked to the re-writing of 
history in line with Zionist dicta, a process in which archaeology and 
excavations are exploited to create a fictitious Jewish history of the 
city, while the heritage of other eras is ignored.

Israeli control over the historical narrative extends to the educational 
system. Since March 2011, Israel has attempted to force Palestinian 
schools that receive budget allocations from the Israeli authorities to 
use textbooks prepared by the Jerusalem Education Administration (so 
far, five have done so). These books present Palestinian students with a 
one-sided history and censor any topic related to Palestinian identity 
and heritage.

Palestinian institutions in Jerusalem have also been targeted to erode 
Palestinian activism in the city. Since 2001, Israel has closed at least 
31 Palestinian institutions, including the Orient House, the former 
headquarters of the PLO, and the Chamber of Commerce and Industry. This 
climate of repression led many institutions to relocate from Jerusalem 
and caused a huge institutional vacuum, accompanied by an absence of 

Other steps to de-Palestinianize Jerusalem include the latest five-year 
socio-economic “development” plan for Palestinian areas approved in June 
2014 by the Israeli cabinet. This plan focuses on gaps in 
infrastructure, education, social welfare, and employment between 
Palestinian and Jewish neighborhoods in an apparent attempt to encourage 
the integration of Palestinians within Israel and bolster security by 
thwarting “violence” and “stone throwing.”

In other words, development is a tool to strengthen Israeli control over 
Jerusalem and suppress Palestinian steadfastness and resistance to the 
Israeli occupation. Thus, the plan cannot be seen as an initiative to 
address the deteriorating socio-economic conditions of Palestinians in 
Jerusalem in terms of the extremely high poverty rate (75 percent of 
Palestinian residents live below the Israeli definition of the poverty 
line); collapsing trade and tourism sectors; lack of investment; 
depleted health and educational services; high unemployment rates (16.7 
percent in 2014); and high costs of living.

In this context, Palestinian clashes with Israeli Jews should be seen as 
acts of resistance and desperation within the larger historical struggle 
of Palestinians against occupation, apartheid, ethnic cleansing, land 
theft, dispossession, forced displacement, and economic marginalization. 
The recent intensification of incursions at Al-Aqsa and calls to build a 
third temple simply ignited the flames of these smoldering emotions. To 
focus on the religious dimensions of the recent unrest while overlooking 
its root causes would only lead to further violent clashes and eruptions 
of unprecedented magnitude. Religion is being exploited to serve Israeli 
political and national goals as it entrenches its colonial apartheid 

The Leadership Vacuum Leaves Palestinians Powerless

The recent unrest in Jerusalem, in which Palestinians have resorted to 
new forms of resistance such as using vehicles and fireworks, should be 
seen within the broader context of a city that lacks political 
leadership. The PA has demonstrated a lack of genuine investment in 
Jerusalem since signing the 1993 Oslo Declaration of Principles, of 
which the PA was itself a product. This was already evident when the PLO 
accepted to defer the issue of Jerusalem to the negotiations on the 
final status of the Occupied Palestinian Territory (OPT). While the 
PLO/PA clings tightly to the farcical peace process, Israel has 
entrenched its occupation and control over Jerusalem.

In a clear divergence from its rhetoric of support, the PA allocates a 
negligible budget to the city. The total budget allocated to the 
Ministry of Jerusalem Affairs and to the Jerusalem Governorate was 
around $15 million in 2014, representing 0.4% of the total PA budget 
expenditure for that year. Compare this shameful and insignificant 
budget allocation to the supposed capital of the Palestinian state with 
27 percent of the budget allocated to the security sector in the same 
year. Moreover, most of the budget is disbursed in the areas of 
Jerusalem that fall under Palestinian administration and outside the 
Wall. Locations such as Shu’fat and Beit Hanina that lie within the 
Israeli municipal boundaries of Jerusalem rarely receive any funds. 3

This meager budget is the main reason that prompted Hatem Abdel-Qader to 
resign 40 days after his appointment as the first minister for Jerusalem 
Affairs in 2009. He noted that the Palestinian “government fails to 
uphold its commitments to the city, which is undergoing a difficult 
period.” Another Palestinian intellectual, who served as a PA 
representative in Jerusalem, also argued that, “The PA’s behavior was 
never in line with its stated goals. It has continuously failed to 
implement the numerous studies and plans made for the city.” 4

While Israel is turning its vision for Jerusalem into reality via 
numerous policies and master plans (2020, 2030, and 2050), a coherent 
strategy for the future of the city by the Palestinian leadership 
remains absent. This was apparent in the omission of a development plan 
for Jerusalem in the National Development Plan 2014-2016. Although it is 
true that the document refers back to the Strategic Multi-Sector 
Development Plan for East Jerusalem (SMDP) 2011-2013 issued by the 
Jerusalem Unit at the President’s Office, the SMDP was published in 2010 
and requires updating. Moreover, the Jerusalem Unit itself, which was 
previously allocated most of the funds for Jerusalem, was closed in 2010. 5

More significantly, the development approach used in the SMDP 
disconnects development from political and colonial realities; it 
reduces Palestinian struggle to that of “survival” instead of freedom 
and takes the Israeli occupation as given rather than seeking to end it. 
As the introductory section of the SMDP put it: “How can the PLO assist 
Jerusalemites to survive and thrive within the existing context in order 
to have a solid foundation for the capital of the future Palestinian 
state?” (Emphasis added).

The lack of genuine official interest in the city, the emergence of 
Ramallah as the de facto capital, and the absence of Palestinian 
political leadership in Jerusalem leave Palestinians feeling abandoned 
and resentful towards the PLO/PA. PA President Mahmoud Abbas is still 
paying lip service to Palestinians in Jerusalem, while refusing to end 
security collaboration with Israel or to support non-violent means of 
resistance, such as the boycott of all Israeli goods.

Meanwhile, Israel has responded to leaderless Palestinian protests and 
resistance with characteristic force that includes land confiscation, 
house demolitions, and collective punishment, such as raids on homes, 
spraying neighborhoods with putrid water, and mass arrests. For example, 
between June and September 2014, approximately 700 Palestinians were 
arrested in Jerusalem, the majority of them children, according to 
Al-Dameer Association for Human Rights. 6 Israeli settlers who commit 
brutal crimes against Palestinians undergo no such punishment. In fact, 
the Israeli government has eased gun restrictions and increased funding 
to protect settlers in Jerusalem – additional evidence of the 
institutionalized discrimination to which Palestinians are subjected.

Protecting Jerusalem and Its Palestinians

The current turmoil in Jerusalem is the result of colonial subjugation, 
institutionalized discrimination, dispossession, and Israel’s 
establishment of facts on the ground to ensure it maintains Jewish 
supremacy over the city. Israel’s plans should thus be resisted locally 
and internationally, primarily by increasing their cost to Israel. The 
apartheid system in South Africa only began to unravel once the costs of 
preserving white supremacy became too high to bear.

First and foremost, Palestinians need proactive leadership that will 
propel the status of Jerusalem to the forefront of government commitment 
and to the heart of the national struggle as a matter of urgency. It is 
vital that Palestinians project a clear vision of Jerusalem to counter 
the prevailing Israeli vision. Information and communication are key 
tools to counter Israel’s re-writing of history and silencing of the 
Palestinian narrative.

In particular, Palestinian leadership should confront Israeli attempts 
to frame its colonial policies in religious terms and should remind the 
world that the core issues are those of occupation, dispossession, and 
land theft. It is imperative to challenge the power of the Israeli 
discourse by exposing its shameful record of oppression in Jerusalem and 
the rest of the occupied territory. The PLO/PA should also further 
capitalize on the hard won status in international organizations such as 
UNESCO to take legal steps to protect Al-Aqsa and the Old City in Jerusalem.

Secondly, academics and policy analysts can play a crucial role in 
putting Jerusalem in the vanguard. To date, Palestinian intellectuals 
have been biased towards the analysis of socio-economic development in 
the West Bank, and, to some extent, the Gaza Strip, to the detriment of 
discussion about Jerusalem. Palestinians must emphasize Jerusalem in 
their discourse and move beyond mere diagnosis of problems to devise 
solutions. The concept of development under occupation itself needs to 
be revised and redefined as a form of economic, political, and social 
resistance embedded in the larger historical struggle of Palestinians 
for self-determination, freedom, and justice.

Finally, the local boycott of Israeli goods and services is a vital 
means of resisting the Israeli occupation. Not only is it a moral duty 
for every Palestinian but also the boycott of Israeli products increases 
the cost of Israel’s apartheid system and enhances the productive 
capacity of the Palestinian economy. In parallel, thought must be given 
to ways to develop a Palestinian economy capable of resisting 
integration and dependence on the Israeli economy and that can pave the 
foundations for a solid political base from which an emancipated and 
self-determining society may emerge.

At the international level, the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment, and 
Sanctions (BDS) movement and the pressure this imposes on Israel 
worldwide should be maintained and intensified. Arab countries need to 
engage in a significant way to isolate Israel for its designs on 
Jerusalem and its multiple human rights violations.

Without concerted efforts by Palestinians with Arab and international 
support to uphold Palestinian rights in Jerusalem, the present small 
fires in the city could turn into a conflagration with permanent damage 
to Palestinian and Arab heritage in the city and to the Palestinian 
Jerusalemite presence in the city of their ancestors.

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
-------------- next part --------------
An HTML attachment was scrubbed...
URL: <http://freedomarchives.org/pipermail/news_freedomarchives.org/attachments/20150918/15e45a1d/attachment.html>

More information about the News mailing list