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Jerusalemites need to be empowered not collectively punished

Daoud Kuttab

Published: Updated:

Israel’s continued punishment for the people of Jerusalem will do little to de-escalate the tensions, but will certainly contribute to widening them. Isolating neighborhoods and demolishing Palestinian homes is considered a collective punishment and a violation to the IV Geneva Conventions.

What Israel needs to do immediately is to empower Palestinians in East Jerusalem by allowing local leadership to rise.

Israel has full control over East Jerusalem (unlike the rest of the occupied territories) and has created a wall separating to further isolate the city from its natural Palestinian cities and leadership.

Isolating neighborhoods and demolishing Palestinian homes is considered a collective punishment.

Daoud Kuttab

The Israeli obsession to weaken the national aspiration of Jerusalemites by cutting off East Jerusalem from the rest of Palestine has meant that the Ramallah-based Palestinian leadership has no leverage on fellow Palestinians.

Palestinian institutions like the Orient House and the Chamber of Commerce have been ordered closed by the emergency regulations despite opposition of the international community.

Today, Jerusalem’s 350,000 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 outlaying areas, in Ramallah and Bethlehem and throughout the West Bank and Gaza. Political leaderships have been regularly imprisoned and any connection to the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah has been outlawed. This has reached such ridiculous levels that included 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.

Totally stateless

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 Palestinians in Jerusalem have opted to apply for Israeli citizenship, an option available to them after Israel's unilateral annexation of the city in 1967. Instead of understanding this move as a desperate one aimed at anchoring Palestinians in Jerusalem, Israelis have argued that this is proof that Jerusalemites prefer Israel over Palestine.

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. Four Jerusalemites elected to the Palestinian legislature are fighting for their right to stay living in Jerusalem.

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.

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.

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.

Israel and its supporters (sometimes using U.S. tax exempt foundations) use the carrot and the stick to takeover Palestinian people's houses through suspicious deals, turning the lives of those who refuse to sell are made hell while vigilante 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. At the same time Israel builds settlements in East Jerusalem in violation of international law.

Meanwhile, a nine-storey building, 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".

Of course, Jews now live in all quarters of the Old City and in all Palestinian neighborhoods outside the walls. And it was exactly in one of those homes that Ariel Sharon had bought in the Al Wad neighborhood just outside al Aqsa mosque that the initial stabbing took place on September 13th.

The violence 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. The answer to the Jerusalem question is political and doesn’t need any more counterproductive security solutions or collective punishments.

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Daoud Kuttab is an award winning Palestinian journalist and former Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.