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Israel risks turning al-Aqsa into powder keg
24 OCTOBER 2014  by Jonathan Cook

Abbas appears powerless as Jewish extremists seek to gain greater foothold at al-Aqsa Mosque

Middle East Eye – 24 October 2014

With East Jerusalem already smouldering, it emerged this week that the Israeli parliament is to consider a bill that could set the region ablaze. The measure would lift limitations on Jews visiting the al-Aqsa mosque compound, the most sensitive site in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Details of the measure have yet to be published. But one possibility is that it will overturn a prohibition in Israeli law on Jews praying at the site, ending also a long-standing rabbinical injunction against such activities.

Other reports, however, suggested the bill would extend visiting times for Jews, possibly by forcing the Islamic authorities to divide the site and create a dedicated area for Jewish visitors.

For several weeks clashes have been raging at the site, known as the Haram al-Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary, to Muslims and Temple Mount to Jews. If passed, the legislation would likely trigger a much-anticipated third Palestinian intifada, or uprising, and set off protests across the Muslim world.

The bill, which apparently has the backing of the deputy religious services minister, Rabbi Eli Ben Dahan, would probably create arrangements similar to those already in place in Hebron, where Israel has imposed stringent security procedures and restrictions on times of worship at the Ibrahimi mosque.

The mosque has been split in two, with the Jewish half – the Tomb of the Patriarchs – becoming a major attraction for Israelis. Jewish settlers have also created a series of enclaves protected by the Israeli army in and around the Palestinian city.

Settlers pose as tourists
Although Israel describes the Jews who visit the Haram al-Sharif simply as “tourists”, most are extremist settlers, including many who wish to destroy al-Aqsa and replace it with a Jewish temple.

They have been visiting in ever larger numbers. During the week-long Jewish holiday of Sukkot this month, hundreds of such Jewish “tourists” were escorted by armed police on to the esplanade, triggering a furious response from Muslim worshippers.

Jordan, which is officially responsible for the site, protested to Israel this week. The Jordanian ambassador to Palestine, Khalid al-Shawabka, told Maan TV that “the al-Aqsa mosque and Jerusalem are red lines”.

The Fatah movement of the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, sounded the alarm too. Its Revolutionary Council issued a statement that any move to divide the mosque “is invalid under international law and is a step that will blow up the whole region”.

Apparently fearful of the wider repercussions, the United Nations secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, was uncharacteristically outspoken during his visit to the region last week. “I am deeply concerned by repeated provocations at the holy sites in Jerusalem,” he said. “These only inflame tensions and must stop.”

Officials for the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, tried to placate Jordan, saying Jews would not be allowed to pray at the site, and there was “no intention of changing the status quo”.

Although Netanyahu is probably too wary to light the powder keg that is al-Aqsa by allowing the measure to pass, claims that Israel has not changed the status quo at al-Aqsa are far off the mark.

Erosion of status quo
Over the past few weeks al-Aqsa has been the scene of repeated clashes between Israeli police and Palestinians incensed by Israel’s continuing erosion of arrangements that are supposed to leave Islamic clerics, known as the Waqf, in charge.

Netanyahu’s repeated claims that Israel guarantees freedom of worship for all faiths in Jerusalem are misleading.

During this month’s lengthy high Jewish holidays, Israel intensified already severe restrictions on Muslim prayer at al-Aqsa, apparently to accommodate demands from Jewish extremists for greater access to the site.

Since the signing of the Oslo accords two decades ago, Muslim worshippers have faced ever-tighter limitations on their freedoms at the compound.

Israel, which treats East Jerusalem as an integral part of its territory, has refused the great majority of Palestinians – those in the West Bank and Gaza – the right to visit and pray at al-Aqsa. Israel has further limited prayer rights by imposing a minimum age for Muslim men, including those in Jerusalem and Israel.

During the recent holidays, Israel barred Muslim men under the age of 50 from entering al-Aqsa. Meanwhile, Jewish “tourists” were escorted by armed police on to the esplanade.

The ensuing clashes led Israel’s police minister, Yitzhak Aharonovich, to temporarily close the site to non-Muslims. However, Aharonovich indicated that he was considering further changes to the status quo: “I am examining the possibility that if the mount is closed to Jews it will be closed to Muslims too.”

Such closures might provide useful leverage for Israel, which could tie a reopening of the site to an agreement from the Waqf to provide better terms for Jewish visits.

Jewish enclaves
But the encroachments on al-Aqsa are not limited to the growing presence in the compound of Jewish extremists who want either to split the al-Aqsa site or to destroy the mosque.

Israel has also been extensively altering the geography around the esplanade, including by helping settler groups create enclaves in Palestinian communities close to al-Aqsa, as a way to encircle the site.

The focus of such activities has been Silwan, which is just outside the Old City walls and only a stone’s throw from the mosque itself.

For the past two decades Silwan has been home to a settler-run archaeological theme park called the City of David, supported by the Israeli authorities. Attracting hundreds of thousands of Jewish visitors each year, the park claims to prove that the area right next to al-Aqsa was the capital of the Biblical King David.

But it has also given the settlers a foothold from which they are slowly taking over ever more of the Palestinian neighbourhood.

Tensions in Silwan heightened dramatically this month as dozens of settlers moved under cover of night into Palestinian homes, doubling their presence in the neighbourhood almost overnight. Their armed compounds have won Netanyahu’s blessing.

Local residents have responded with predictable outrage. In recent days there has been an almost constant stream of reports of stone-throwing and fire-bomb attacks on settlers’ cars and homes. The violence has spread to many other neighbourhoods being infiltrated by settlers.

The Palestinian driver who careered into passengers disembarking from the city’s light rail system on Wednesday night – in an incident being treated by Israel as a “terror attack” – was a 20-year-old resident of Silwan. A three-year-old baby was killed and eight people injured.

Unifying symbol
Palestinians have strong grounds for fearing that all this activity is designed to gain greater control over the al-Aqsa compound.

Since East Jerusalem was occupied in 1967, Israeli politicians and religious leaders have viewed the site as a powerful symbol, one capable of unifying religious and secular Israelis. The esplanade, adjacent to the Western Wall, is assumed to stand over two Jewish temples, the last one destroyed nearly 2,000 years ago. For this reason, Israelis refer to the site as the Temple Mount.

Israel has been trying to whittle away the Waqf’s control for decades. In all peace talks since Camp David in 2000, Israel has demanded that it be given a much greater say in affairs at the site.

It was a visit in 2000 to the esplanade by Ariel Sharon, then Israel’s opposition leader, that triggered the second intifada. Backed by 1,000 armed guards, he went to the site with the express intention of demonstrating Israeli sovereignty.

As East Jerusalem teetered on the brink of intensified clashes this week, Netanyahu went on the attack. Vowing to “restore quiet and security” in the city, he accused Abbas of inciting the violence and aiding terrorism.

“We are encountering weakness from the international community against these actions from the Palestinian Authority president,” said Netanyahu. “They are not willing to say two words, or even one word of criticism against him.”

Netanyahu’s accusation echoed that against Abbas’ predecessor, Yasser Arafat, 14 years ago, when Israel blamed him for engineering the outbreak of the second intifada.

PA role eradicated
Then as now, the claims are grounded in little more than fantasy.

As Israeli intelligence experts conceded later, Arafat had no control over the outpouring of Palestinian anger that swept across the occupied territories in 2000, in the wake of the failed Camp David peace talks. Instead he did his best to ride the popular wave of fury.

Abbas is even further removed from the action than Arafat, and can do little more than watch events unfold in East Jerusalem from the sidelines. In fact, it is his very impotence in Jerusalem that is fuelling much of the current tension.

At Israel’s insistence, Mahmoud Abbas and his Palestinian Authority, the supposed Palestinian government in waiting, have had no discernible presence in Jerusalem for years.

Since the second intifada erupted in late 2000, Israel has worked strenuously to eradicate any role for the PA in the lives of East Jerusalem’s residents.

The extent of that success was highlighted this month when Israeli police broke up a meeting attended by foreign diplomats at which PLO representatives were – paradoxically – to have explained how Israel had shut down all Palestinian institutions in Jerusalem.

The Israeli government’s stance has backing from the Israeli public. A poll this week showed three-quarters of Israeli Jews were opposed to a Palestinian state if it meant conceding control over East Jerusalem.

Empty words
But the absence of a Palestinian leadership has fed a growing sense among East Jerusalem residents of their isolation and vulnerability.

With Jerusalem now effectively severed from the rest of the West Bank by walls and checkpoints, its residents are slowly being stripped of their place at the heart of a future Palestinian state. And as a result, the potential threats to the al-Aqsa mosque seem to them only magnified.

Tough talk by Abbas over the past week has only underscored to them his powerlessness.

At a press conference in Ramallah last Saturday, he urged Palestinians to use “any means” to stop what he described as a “fierce onslaught” by Jewish extremists trying to gain greater access to the al-Aqsa compound.

A short time later Abbas announced he had changed the penalty for Palestinian collaborators who sell properties to settlers, such as has occurred in Silwan. They will now face imprisonment with “hard labour for life”. His Fatah party also declared such acts “high treason”.

But the truth is that Abbas’ words are empty. He has no ability to enforce Palestinian law on collaborators in Jerusalem, which is why they have become such a problem. And his call on ordinary Palestinians to protect al-Aqsa simply highlights the fact that his security forces are in no position to do so.

See more at:

Jerusalem, the capital of apartheid, awaits the uprising
Mass arrests, violent settlers, expulsion, and dispossession: With that as the lot of Jerusalem's Palestinians, no one should have been surprised with Wednesday's terror attack.
By Gideon Levy     | 23 October, 2014  Haaretz          

Police detain a Palestinian protester during clashes at the Temple Mount, October 16, 2014. Photo by Reuters

The terror attack in Jerusalem on Wednesday night should not have surprised anyone. After all, two nations live in the Pretoria of the State of Israel. Unlike the other occupied areas, there is supposed to be a certain equality between the two peoples: blue ID cards available for everybody, freedom of movement, property tax payable to the municipality, national insurance — Israelis all. But Jerusalem is engulfed by lies. It has become the Israeli capital of apartheid.

With the exception of Hebron, no place has such a blatant and brazen separation regime. And now the Israeli boot is coming down even harder in the capital, so the resistance in the ghetto-in-the-making is intensifying: battered and oppressed, neglected and poor, filled with feelings of hatred and an appetite for revenge.

The uprising is on the way. When the next wave of terror emerges from the alleys of East Jerusalem, Israelis will pretend to be astonished and furious. But the truth must be told: Despite Wednesday's shocking incident, the Palestinians are turning out to be one of the most tolerant nations in history. Mass arrests, violent settlers, deprivation, expulsion, neglect, dispossession — and they remain silent, except for the recent protest of the stones.

There is no self-deception from which the city doesn’t suffer. The capital is a capital only in its own eyes; the united city is one of the most divided in the universe. The alleged equality is a joke and justice is trampled on. Free access to the holy sites is for Jews only (and yes, for elderly Muslims). And the right of return is reserved for Jews.

A Palestinian resident of Jerusalem is now in far greater danger of being lynched than a Jew in Paris. But here there’s nobody to raise hell. Unlike the Parisian Jew, the Palestinian can be expelled from Jerusalem. He can also be arrested with terrifying ease. After 16-year-old Mohammed Abu Khdeir was burned to death, sparking a wave of protest, Israel arrested 760 Palestinians in the city, 260 of them children.

As always, the answer to every problem is a heavier hand. The prime minister has already ordered security forces to be bolstered, using the only language the people in his government know. And when the resistance, naturally, becomes more violent, they throw up their hands and say: “Look how they’re destroying the light rail system that we built for them.”

Jerusalem could have been different. Had Israel exercised justice and equality there, it could have become a model city; the people who annexed it should have strived for that. In the worst days of the intifada, relatively little terror originated in the city, even though its residents could travel freely.

The Palestinians are the same Palestinians, but the closure, the curfew and the siege are different. The result is that there was less terror in Jerusalem, disproving the theory that a siege prevents terror. Why? Because many residents of the capital actually long to become Israelis, but Israel is preventing them from doing so. United, united — but without Arabs.

The mass arrests in Jerusalem that aroused no interest in Israel, the settlers’ invasion of Arab neighborhoods with the support of the government and courts, the criminal neglect for which the city is responsible — all this will have a price.

How long will they see their children afraid to leave their homes for fear of being attacked by hooligans in the street? How long will they see their children arrested for every flying stone? How long will they watch the neglect in their neighborhoods?

How long will they consent to their tacit expulsion from the city? Between 1967 and 2013, Israel revoked the residency status of 14,309 Palestinians in Jerusalem, with strange claims that don’t apply to any of its Jewish residents. Isn’t that apartheid?

And then terror will erupt. In response, drones will ply the skies of the Shoafat refugee camp, there will be killings in the streets of Azariyeh and targeted assassinations in Beit Hanina, and another separation barrier will be built between the two parts of the city, just to be on the safe side. With a nationalist mayor, a violent police force and a government headed by Benjamin Netanyahu, nothing is more certain.

Jerusalem intifada could spark West Bank fire
After Wednesday's terrorist attack that killed a 3-month old baby, the public may finally pay attention to the violence bubbling in Jerusalem for months.
By Amos Harel     | Oct. 23, 2014 | 1:00 AM   Haaretz
Israeli police officers inspect a car at the scene of an attack in Jerusalem,  Wednesday, Oct. 22, 2014. Photo by AP
The violence in Jerusalem has been bubbling just under the surface
for several months now. But only after Wednesday's terrorist attack, which resulted in the death of a 3-month-old baby, will the public focus its full attention on what has been happening in the city.

What there seems no choice but to call a municipal intifada has effectively been raging in Jerusalem since this summer. While the fighting in the south has ceased completely since the late-August cease-fire with Hamas and calm has also been restored to other areas, like the West Bank and Israeli Arab communities, the violence in Jerusalem never stopped for a moment.

It goes far beyond the murder of 16-year-old Mohammed Abu Khdeir by Jewish terrorists in July. During the summer’s war in Gaza, a Palestinian terrorist ran over an Israeli with a construction excavator in downtown Jerusalem. More recently, the security situation in Jewish neighborhoods in the city’s east and north has deteriorated sharply. In addition, tensions are gradually rising over Jewish visits to the Temple Mount and efforts to settle Jews in Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem.

Over the past several years, Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat has made an impressive effort to restore a sense of personal security to Jerusalem residents and bring domestic and foreign tourists back to the city after the dark days of the second intifada, from 2000 to 2005. But one of the most ambitious moves of his term as mayor — the light rail project — has now become the focus of a violent Palestinian popular struggle.

Immediately after Abu Khdeir’s murder, masked men were filmed wrecking light rail stations in Arab neighbourhoods of East Jerusalem. Since then, Palestinians have stoned the trains passing through these neighbourhoods on an almost daily basis, while Wednesday’s terror attack occurred at a light rail station on Ammunition Hill. The rail lines that run through Arab neighbourhoods of the city are seen by Palestinians as a symbol of Israeli rule that must be challenged — and also as an easy and convenient target for attacks.

Israel must finally address East Jerusalem’s problems
The Arab side of the city has suffered nearly 50 years of disinheritance and annexation, reflected by the young people’s despair.
Haaretz Editorial     | Sep. 21, 2014 | 3:00 AM | 1
Palestinians hurl stones during clashes with Israeli police in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Wadi Joz, September 7, 2014. Photo by Reuters

Since early July, 260 minors have been arrested in
East Jerusalem on suspicion of involvement in disturbances and violent acts. A significant number of those arrested are 15 or younger, and in the jails one can find children as young as 13.

The treatment of these minors by the authorities, including the police, the prosecution and the courts, raises tough questions. A Palestinian child suspected of throwing a single stone at an armored jeep has a very slim chance of being released to house arrest, compared to a Jewish child suspected of the same offense or a much more serious one.

Eleven of the 12 Jews charged with the brutal assault of two young Palestinian men in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Neveh Ya’akov in late July were released to house arrest. This happened even though most of the defendants were adults, stood accused of serious crimes, and at least one had a criminal record involving a similar offense.

It doesn’t end there. Remarks by the parents and lawyers of some of the suspects suggest that the police take liberties with juvenile law when it comes to Palestinian minors. For example, Palestinian teenagers and even children are arrested late at night and questioned for hours, sometimes without their parents present.

It’s hard not to conclude that the justice system has decided to deal harshly with these young suspects at the expense of their rehabilitation, in the hope that this will  help calm the situation. But this is likely to have the opposite effect. As parents and educators in East Jerusalem have indicated, the chance of recidivism is very high for a child who has been incarcerated for even a few days.

Above all, children’s involvement in violence exposes the fecklessness of Israeli policy in East Jerusalem. After nearly 50 years of occupation, disinheritance, annexation and settlement — and years after the separation barrier was put up, cutting off East Jerusalem from the West Bank — young people in the Arab neighborhoods are willing to gamble with their future and express anger and frustration with their living conditions.

It’s too early to predict whether the events that began in Jerusalem early this summer will develop into an intifada. But the involvement of so many children suggests that this is not a planned uprising directed from above. Rather, it’s an expression of anger rooted in despair.

The city and national governments’ continued failure to address the problems of the eastern part of the city, under the slogan of “Jerusalem United forever,” certainly won’t calm the situation.

Ashrawi: "Israel is Transforming Jerusalem into Jewish City"
 Tuesday October 21, 2014 18:38 by IMEMC News & Agencies
If UN resolution fails, Palestine to join int'l organizations, says Erekat
PLO Executive Committee Member Dr. Hanan Ashrawi says that Israel’s illegal steps in Jerusalem are “transforming it into an exclusively Jewish city” where Palestinian Christians and Muslims have now become temporary residents in their own homeland.

PLO Executive Committee member Dr. Hanan Ashrawi (AFP archive photo

“Israel is annexing Jerusalem and destroying the authenticity and character of the occupied city with its oppressive and severe laws,” said Ashrawi during a speech delivered on October 18th, in Washington DC.

According to WAFA Palestinian News & Info Agency, the speech, entitled “Framing the Current Issues in Palestine”, discussed the recent escalation of Israeli violations of international law and Palestinian human rights, and the status of Jerusalem, with its Muslim and Christian Palestinian population.

Ashrawi stated that “without Jerusalem as our capital, there can be no Palestinian state or chances for peace or stability”, adding:

“With its illegal measures of demolishing Palestinian houses, evicting Palestinians from their ancestral homes, revoking Palestinian IDs and constructing settlements and apartheid walls, Israel is transforming Jerusalem into an exclusively Jewish city where Palestinian Christians and Muslims have become temporary residents in their own homeland.”

Dr. Ashrawi further discussed current facts on the ground, future Palestinian political initiatives -- including the Palestinian bid at the United Nations -- the domestic reconciliation process and future prospects for elections, as well as the tragic situation of the Palestinians and Israel’s most recent campaign of terror and aggression in the Gaza Strip.

She additionally accepted the 16th Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation (HCEF) 2014 Path of Peace award, which she described as a “humbling and empowering honor.”

In related Palestinian politics, Chief PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat said, Tuesday, that if the US chose to veto the Palestinian UN resolution for a timetable to end the Israeli occupation, Palestine would apply for membership to 522 international organizations and statutes.

Mr. Erekat recently issued a statement which asserted that Palestine should also seek recognition by EU countries, especially after the new Swedish prime minister's announcement that his country would recognize Palestine and the British parliament's symbolic vote to do the same.

"We have nothing to lose except loss itself," the statement asserted, while pointing out the cruciality of seeking such recognition, in the wake of this summer's assault on Gaza by Israel, which he said was conducted in order to "destroy" the two-state solution.

Therefore, Palestinian leadership must act now, Erekat said.

"Palestinians refuse to turn the Palestinian Authority, which was created to take them from being under occupation to independence, to a national authority to pay for salaries and security coordination (with Israel)," he additionally stated.

Erekat's comments also expressed his opinion that, in order for Palestinian elections to be held, the Hamas and Islamic Jihad movements should hold executive committee elections.

Defacto Palestinian President and Fateh member Mahmoud Abbas has said in recent weeks that he will submit a resolution to the UN Security Council to end the Israeli occupation of the West Bank within three years.

Should the US veto this resolution, as is expected, Abbas is to give his personal endorsement for "the war of international boycott of Israel" and hold it accountable at the International Criminal Court, according to officials.

See: Abbas: “We Will Join ICC Should Our Sec. Council Bid Fa

Critics of the PA, however, have their doubts, Ma'an reports, noting Abbas's disavowal of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement and repeated threats to join the ICC without following through.