Believing in Jerusalem
Last week, Israel barred a UNESCO fact-finding mission from entering the country, charging that the Palestinians had ‘politicized’ the mission before it had even arrived. The mission was tasked with looking into conditions of historical sites in the Old City of Jerusalem, something Israel apparently found to be very threatening.
Looking at the state of Jerusalem’s eastern sector today, it is understandable why Israel would not want UNESCO or anyone else walking around the Old City, especially the Palestinian-populated parts of it. Because anyone who does, will see the devastation that Israel and its settlers have wreaked on one of the oldest and most beautiful cities in the world.
Excavation works are being conducted in and around the Aqsa Mosque to make way for more Jewish construction at the place where Waqf authorities say Ottoman and Abbasid artifacts have long been tucked away. A Muslim graveyard is being dug up just outside the Old City’s Jaffa Gate, to build – ironically – a museum of tolerance. Today, two stores were forcefully taken over by Jewish settlers in Al Hakari, one of the neighborhoods in the Muslim quarter and every day, it seems that more and more homes are either being demolished by Israeli municipality authorities or being taken over by Jewish settlers.
The “Judiazation” of Jerusalem is a term many Palestinians and Arabs use for what Israel is doing in the city. In a nutshell, it is the long-term plan Israel is gradually carrying out to change the Arab Palestinian character of Jerusalem. This means demolishing old and historical structures, displacing Palestinians, handing over their homes to settlers and trying to erase the Palestinian or Arab history of the city.
The sad truth is that, on the surface, Israel has succeeded in this to a large extent. Pockets of Jewish settlers now live in the heart of Muslim quarters and aim to take over more and more. Sheikh Jarrah, one of the more affluent Palestinian neighborhoods of Jerusalem, is now pierced with Jewish flags waving from homes that have been wrestled from their Palestinian owners, and Israel’s light rail train cuts right down through Palestinian neighborhoods outside of the city center. The train, of course, is not meant to service the Palestinian population but rather to connect Jewish neighborhoods and settlements in the city, but the area confiscated from Shufat and Beit Hanina for its construction simply fell into the plan.
What the UNESCO mission would not have seen even if they made it into the Old City is the overall humiliation that the Palestinian population of Jerusalem must endure on a daily basis because of Israel’s military occupation. Trips to the Israeli ministry of interior must be made just to prove that one lives in the city for fear that their residency rights may be revoked; young Palestinian men are stopped randomly by Israeli soldiers to check their ID cards or just to harass them, and settlers are always given the luxury of maximum security whenever they walk the streets. If settlers want to march through the city, the Palestinians are told to close their shops, are barred for hours from reaching their homes if they run along the path of the march and are always the ones blamed if any kind of confrontation between the two sides breaks out.
Jerusalem is being squeezed by these measures more and more each day. But there is always that glimmer of hope, that strength that shines through proving that all is not lost. On Shavuot, Israeli settlers and extremists poured into the Old City, singing loudly, banging on the shop doors and waving huge Israeli flags. The sight was disconcerting to say the least. However, the afternoon of that same day, at Damascus Gate, passersby were met with a completely different scene. Palestinian flags waved in determined Palestinian hands under the threatening eye of heavily armed Israeli police and soldiers. The youths were fearless, demanding freedom, with strong, unrelenting voices.
The sight of the Palestinian flag waving at the entrance to Damascus Gate was a breath of fresh air. All is not lost and never will be because hope is eternal and determination and strength come from a never-ending spring.
That day at Damascus Gate is what all Palestinians must keep in their minds’ eye in spite of the daily oppression of the occupation. No matter how many missions Israel bars from entering or how many houses it takes over, there will always be those brave souls who, despite the risks, will always raise Palestine’s flag.
Joharah Baker is a Writer for the Media and Information Department at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.