When the battle for Jerusalem becomes personal

More than 2,000 Palestinians were killed in the Israeli war on Gaza, but we know very little about them

Daoud Kuttab

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It is not clear whether the Israeli prime minister’s portrayal of the latest violence as the battle of Jerusalem was a description of what was happening or an electoral wish. Whatever the case, the results of the “battle of Jerusalem,” if it is that, will certainly be different from what Israelis predict.

One of the first indications that Jerusalem is different are the names.

More than 2,000 Palestinians were killed in the Israeli war on Gaza, but we know very little about them. In Jerusalem, however, the names of both Palestinians and Israelis who are killed are given much more prominence in media coverage and public discussions.

Israel’s planned punishments for the people of Jerusalem will do little to de-escalate the tensions, but will certainly contribute to widening them

Daoud Kuttab

Mohammad Abu Khudair who was brutally killed by Jewish settlers, and Yusuf Hasan al-Ramuni, the Palestinian driver who operated an Israeli bus and was said to have hanged himself, have become household names.

The Israelis who were killed in the attack on the synagogue also have been named: Rabbi Moshe Twersky, Rabbi Avraham Shmuel Goldberg, Rabbi Kalman Levine and Aryeh Kupinsky.

Similarly, the press gave the names of the two Palestinian cousins, Ghassan and Uday Abu Jamal, from the Jerusalem neighborhood of At Tur.

Political temperature

This high visibility of the various victims of the violence in Jerusalem is certain to raise the emotional and political temperature in a city that has been near boiling point since summer.

Israel’s planned punishments for the people of Jerusalem will do little to de-escalate the tensions, but will certainly contribute to widening them.

While Israel’s prime minister and other ministers and politicians quickly accused the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah and Gaza for what happened, Israel’s security chiefs, including the head of Shin Bet (internal security), publicly contradicted their political leaders and blamed the violence on the visit by members of the Knesset to al-Aqsa Mosque and the killing of Abu Khudair, rather than anything else.

The fact is that, unlike other areas in the occupied territories, Israel has full control over East Jerusalem and has created a wall separating Jerusalem from the rest of the Palestinian territories.

Israel uses legal and administrative means to further isolate Palestinian leaders.

Emergency law

Once, Israel used its emergency law to prevent a children’s puppet festival in Jerusalem’s Hakawati theatre because it was funded by the Norwegian government via the Ramallah-based Palestinian government.

Israel’s obsession to cut off East Jerusalem from the rest of Palestine has meant that the Palestinian leadership has no leverage on fellow Palestinians. The result is that the city’s 300,000 residents are leaderless political orphans who act as lone wolves that are neither influenced nor directed by any visible leadership.

The political temperature of Jerusalem is also raised when any side tries to shake the strong religious beliefs of the other.

Having Israeli security enter the third holiest mosque wearing their boots, as they did on October 29, is seen by Muslims around the world as a violation of their sacred religion and holy places.

This does not justify killing Jewish worshipers in a synagogue, but it goes to show that what has been happening on the grounds of Al Aqsa Mosque left a deep scar on the population.

Press reports said that the four Jewish worshipers killed Tuesday included dual citizens. Three Americans and Briton were killed.

A Druze soldier who came to their rescue, Zeidan Seif, also died from wounds in the exchange of fire.

The attackers were Muslim Palestinians from Jerusalem.

This multiplicity of nationalities and ethnicities attacked points to the importance of this conflict, especially the Jerusalem part of it. It should be removed from day-to-day politics and be given higher attention by the international community.

Time to act

The U.S. and the UK, along with Arab and Muslim leaders, must act with wisdom and conviction to find long-term solutions to this conflict and to institute policies that guarantee the freedom of worship and the protection of all holy places in Jerusalem.

Leaving an issue as volatile as Jerusalem in the hands of the Israeli settlers who run Premier Benjamin Netanyahu’s government will only lead to more disasters.

It is time that the international community act in a decisive way and put an end to this vicious cycle of violence.

The city of Jerusalem does not need to be fought for. It needs to be left as an open city for all the faithful to be able to worship freely.

Making the current violence a battle for Jerusalem is pouring oil on fire and will escalate the violence.

For many people in the city and around the world, when it comes to Jerusalem, it is very personal.

This article was first published in The Jordan Times on November 20, 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.

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