5 May 2010
On Jerusalem Day - the ultimate symbol of the Palestinian dispossession of their home, land, livelihood and heritage - the international community ought to be reminded of the resounding words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu: 'if you are neutral in a situation of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor', notes Ruth Tenne.
Jerusalem Day was declared as a national holiday by the State of Israel (12 May 1968) in celebration of the "Liberation" of East Jerusalem, and the unification of the city in the aftermath of the 1967 Six-Day War. The Muslim medieval Quarter near the Jewish Wailing Wall was demolished soon after, and its Palestinian inhabitants were evicted in order to make way for an open space for Jewish worshipers (1).
To celebrate this occasion the victorious hymn "Jerusalem of Gold" was written in glorification of the annexation and unification of East Jerusalem and the reclaiming of the Western Wailing Wall.
In 1980 the Israeli Knesset passed the Basic Law: Jerusalem, Capital of Israel, confirming Jerusalem's status as the nation's "eternal and indivisible capital”. UN Resolution 478 of the UN Security Council stated thereafter that Jerusalem Law was "null and void and must be rescinded forthwith" (2).
The Resolution instructed UN member-states to withdraw their diplomatic representation from the city - refusing to confer an official status on Israel's illegal act of annexation of East Jerusalem and the unification of the city.
UN position, however, did not deter Israel from its continued attempts to cleanse East Jerusalem of its Palestinian inhabitants by the use of force and military orders. The so-called "City of Gold" turned into a ghettoised place with rubble from demolished Palestinian houses, razed Palestinian neighbourhoods , desecrated old Muslim graveyards ,and dispossessed homeless families who serve as testimony to Israel's underlying aim of "purifying " the city of its indigenous Palestinian population. According to the Head of the Israeli Committee Against house Demolitions - Jeff Halper - only 11 percent of East Jerusalem land is available for Palestinian housing as result of Israel's discriminatory policies which means that Jerusalemite Palestinians are virtually barred from 93 percent of the municipality of Jerusalem. The overall goal is to confine Palestinians to small enclaves in East Jerusalem, or to remove them from the city altogether - an action referred to by Israel as the "quiet transfer".
The policy of ethnic cleansing is further intensified by the ongoing construction of an 8- meter -high Segregation Wall complete with watch towers, electronic sensors, and military patrols. The Wall encircles East Jerusalem, rips through villages and neighbourhoods, divides families - leaving about 35,000 West Bank Palestinians enclosed between the Wall and the Green line in a "no man's land" (3).
The International Court of Justice's ruling (9 July 2004) declared the Israeli Wall as an illegal entity that had to be removed stating that financial compensation must be paid to affected Palestinians. the ruling of the was endorsed by a consequent UN resolution (20 July 2004) (4).
Yet , Israel continues to press ahead with the construction of the Wall flouting UN resolutions with impunity and leading to a situation whereby "Jerusalem is being transformed from a city into a region dominating the entire central position of the West Bank" (Jeff Halper, An Israeli in Palestine , Pluto press 2008).
The recent confrontation in the neighbourhood of Sheikh over the expanding Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem makes it increasingly unlikely that East Jerusalem could ever serve as the designated capital of a Palestinian state. The Israeli police is given free hand to harasses evicted families and arrest demonstrators who are committed to a non-violent, popular resistance against Israel's expansionist policy in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem (5).
In spite of international outcry from members of civil society around the world, the ultra-right government under the leadership of Netanyahu brazenly continues its relentless purge of Palestinians from East Jerusalem and the West Bank. In recent decision the Israeli Government publically declared of its advanced plan to construct 1600 new housing units in East Jerusalem. The announcement was especially timed to obstruct the evident good will by the Palestinian Authority for resuming the halted negotiations with Israel. It attracted a strong public condemnation by US Vice President -Joseph Biden - who referred to Israel's action as "precisely the kind of step that undermines that very trust , the trust we need right now in order to begin profitable negotiations" (6).
ESCALATING STEPS OF ETHNIC CLEANSING
The Israeli Government's response to US call and the expressed concerns of human rights activists (including Israeli human rights groups) is a further escalation of its ethnic cleansing strategies. A new military order came into force in April this year which will enable the deportation of hundreds of Palestinian from the West Bank, indicting on charges that will be carrying prison terms of up to seven years. The new order defines as "infiltrator "anyone who enters the West Bank illegally and does not hold a permit (7).
This new military order is the latest step by the Israeli government to limit the freedom of movement and residency of the Palestinians by administering a pass and permit system reminiscent of Apartheid South Africa.
In order to stifle any criticism of the state's undemocratic actions, members of the Israeli parliament tabled a bill this May which. If became a law would prevent any human rights organisations from being registered. It would close down existing groups if they were found to be passing information "to foreign entities" or were involved in legal proceedings abroad against war crimes of senior Israeli government officials and officers. In a joint statement, Israeli human rights groups declared that the bill would "trample democratic values." Instead of defending democracy, the sponsors of this bill prefer to reduce it to ashes.” They claimed that the bill is the "direct result of irresponsible leadership that is doing all it can to undermine democratic values and the institutions that are the backbone of a democracy: the Supreme Court, a free press and human rights organisations"(8).
"Brand Israel" is the new multi- million propaganda project which aims to legitimize Israel’s policies and make them acceptable to people abroad (9).
In its effort to legitimize the illegal annexation of East Jerusalem the Zionist Federation are hosting a Jerusalem Day celebration in a Hendon synagogue where the Guest Speaker is Benny Begin- an Ultra-right member of the Israeli parliament. The website refers to Benny Begin as Minister of Netanyahu's inner cabinet who is “a vigorous defendant of Jerusalem as the undivided capital of the Jewish nation and for the rights of Jewish settlement in Yisrael" (the land of Israel). Ironically Jerusalem is the very same city where a Jewish terrorist group headed by Begin (Benny's father) planted a bomb at the King David hotel in the Western part of Jerusalem (1946) - destroying a great part of the hotel and killing 91 people, mainly British Mandate's officials (10).
SILENT AND INACTION IS NOT AN OPTION
Jerusalem Day is a day of reckoning rather than of celebration. Solidarity groups across the world are committed to non-violent actions in order to remind the international community of the continued plight of the Palestinians. The movement of Boycotting Divestment and Sanction (BDS) appeals to the members of civil society to boycott Israel in all its forms, including consumer goods and produce, and state-sponsored appearance of politicians, military staff and public figures from the world of arts, science, and academia along with divestment from companies which trade and profit from Israel's illegal occupation of Palestinian territories.
The BDS movement and its protest actions is gaining momentum in the West where members of all walks of life along with trade union, faith organisations, charities, human rights organisations, political parties, civil and municipal bodies and major commercial companies show their commitment to boycott and divest from Israel. However, it has to be said that in order to achieve its ultimate aims the BDS movement has to expand across the globe and get a further active support from Arab and Muslim nations who should use their potential impact in term of oil production and distribution, petrol dollar , and trade and commerce. Arab leaders have to be approached and challenged by their own people and by pro- Palestinian groups in the same manner that Western leaders are being confronted by the BDS movement. Arab regimes, under the umbrella of the Arab League, need to play a greater role in achieving a just resolution to the Palestinian cause rather than remaining disengaged, or implicitly (and explicitly) cooperating with Israel and the US. Disengagement by Arab and Muslim leaders seems to imply support for the status quo.
On Jerusalem Day - the ultimate symbol of the Palestinian dispossession of their home, land, livelihood and heritage - the international community ought to be reminded of the resounding words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu: "if you are neutral in a situation of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor."
Ruth Tenne's personal appeal on Jerusalem Day was written in commemoration of a city in which she spent the early 60s as a student - being unaware of the plight of the Palestinians and remaining blind to the many expropriated Palestinian homes which were taken over by Israeli residents in the aftermath of the 1948 war . Ruth confronted her ingrained Zionist heritage in the aftermath of the 1967 "six days war" and became an active supporter of the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign, the BDS movement and Jews for Justice for Palestinians.