For years, governing powers in the Middle East have worked hard at decimating the leadership structure of any opposing group. Experts credit the success of various revolts and protests during the past three years to a leaderless revolution that governments were unable to predict or to stop.
In a strange way, this is what is happening in Jerusalem today.
The city’s 300,000 Palestinian Arabs are political orphans and totally leaderless. Israel physically separated the Palestinians of East Jerusalem from their natural connections to their brothers and sisters in outlying areas, in Ramallah and Bethlehem and throughout the West Bank and Gaza.
Political leaderships have been regularly annihilated and any connection to the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah has been outlawed. This is often seen by the ridiculous Israeli decisions to ban a children’s puppet festival or the launch of a film on the problems of drug use in the Old City simply because it received funding from or through the Palestinian government in Ramallah.
The Palestinians of Jerusalem are totally stateless. Unlike the rest of Palestinians in the occupied territories, they are prevented from holding a Palestinian passport. Most carry a Jordanian passport without having Jordanian citizenship.
Some have opted to apply for Israeli citizenship, an option available to them after Israel’s unilateral annexation of the city in 1967, but even this option is not automatic.
Palestinian institutions like the Orient House and the chamber of commerce have been ordered closed by the emergency regulations.
Except for Faisal Husseini, who seemingly died from a heart attack in 2001, no other Palestinian leader has been allowed to emerge to represent this orphaned Palestinian population.
The few Palestinians holding any sort of symbolic leadership position, such as members of the Palestinian Legislative Council, or religious leaders are regularly hauled to the Israeli police station for questions, short-term arrests and are sometimes forbidden to enter Islam’s third holiest mosque, Al-Aqsa Mosque.
As a result of this systematic Israeli effort to deny Palestinians any form of recognized local leadership, various forms of alternative, often unknown, groups have sprouted to fill the vacuum left because of the absence of genuine leaders, often along tribal or family structures.
Jerusalemites from Hebron form one of the largest single tribal category of sorts.
Thugs and hooligans
At times, thugs and hooligans reign in certain areas earned often by these gangs through physical turf wars in which switchblades and sheer physicality decide who wins.
The attacks on Al-Aqsa have also encouraged newly unrecognized leaders of sorts. The Tahrir Party is now one of the strongest in terms of sheer presence in the mosque.
Another group that has drawn the attention and anger of the Israelis is the Islamic movement from the north of Israel, which is headed by Sheikh Raed Salah. He is often imprisoned or denied for months entry or even proximity to the Old City of Jerusalem.
A new phenomenon has been successful to a certain extent in defending the mosque from attempts by Jewish radicals to claim sovereignty in it: The Women of Al-Aqsa.
Their success has been vividly illustrated in a documentary by Sawsan Qaoud titled “The Women of Al-Aqsa.”
These women, referred to as “murabitat,” hold daily teachings in the mosque’s courtyard and shout out religious hymns or slogans if the infiltrating Jewish radicals attempt to pray on the grounds of Al-Aqsa, which is a clear violation of the status quo.
In Silwan and other locations, local groups have sprouted attempting to organize their own community in defense of the Israeli onslaught that attempts to move them out of their homes, neighborhoods and city with the goal of making Jerusalem an even more Jewish city.
While Israel regularly denies it, these Judaization attempts are synchronized by the Israeli government, police, courts, Jewish settlers, radical groups and Knesset members, with each group doing its part.
The carrot and the stick are used to buy people’s houses through suspicious deals, the lives of those who refuse to sell are made hell and settlers and their supporters are constantly protected.
Housing permits are routinely denied because they are not part of a zoning plan. Arab East Jerusalem neighborhoods have purposely not been planned, leaving the local communities to build illegally and then to suffer regular house demolitions for violating city laws.
Meanwhile, a nine-storey building named Jonathan House, built illegally (by Israeli law) in Silwan continues to house rowdy Jewish settlers without any attempt to execute equal justice.
The Israeli high court denied in 1978 a Palestinian, Mohammad Burqan, the right to repurchase his own house in the Moghrabi quarter, adjacent to the Jewish quarter, because the now expanded Jewish quarter has “special historical significance” to Jews, and this “supersedes all other claims by non-Jews.”
Jerusalem has often stood out as the heart of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
The Israeli oppressive attempts against the city and its people succeeded in cutting Palestinians off from their natural Palestinian and Arab leadership, but as a result, these new leaderless orphans have creatively found their own means of survival and resistance.
The silent Intifada that is taking place today in Jerusalem is one result of the Israeli policy of denying Palestinians their rights and refusing to include Jerusalem in serious talks.
Israel’s policy of creating facts on the ground and quietly changing the status quo of Al Aqsa Mosque will not work because when pushed, people have their own ways of survival.
Israel will soon realize that it will have a harder time dealing with the unorganized local leadership than it could have had if it dealt honestly and fairly with the Palestinian and Jordanian leaderships regarding Jerusalem.
This article was first published in The Jordan Times on October 30, 2014.
Daoud Kuttab, an award winning Palestinian journalist who resides in Jerusalem and Amman. Mr. Kuttab is the director general of Community Media Network a media NGO that runs a radio station in Amman (al balad radio 92.4fm) a newsweb site ammannet.net and a TV production operation in Palestine Penmedia (penmedia.ps) which is producing the Palestinian version of Sesame street. You can read his blogs on DaoudKuttab.com and find him on Twitter @DaoudKuttab.