It’s Israeli domination, not security
More cartoons online at Azad Essa is a journalist at Al Jazeera. He is also co-founding editor at The Daily Vox
IT’S BEEN almost a week, and still no respite. Palestinians continue to gather outside Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem, demanding that the Israeli government remove surveillance and metal detectors (Israelis started removing these yesterday) at the entrance to the mosque.
In response, Israeli security forces continue to upend the sit-in, spraying rubber-coated steel bullets indiscriminately into the thousands of Palestinians sitting on straw mats, praying, singing and chanting for an end to the new measure. Here outside the Lions’ Gate, in the old City of Jerusalem, the tear gas hovers, drops, suffocates. And burns.
Since Friday, five Palestinians have been killed, 900 others reportedly injured. The UN says if left unsolved by Friday, the crisis will have “potential catastrophic costs well beyond the walls of the Old City”.
All this over metal detectors? Well, let’s go back to the spark.
On July 14, three Palestinians shot and killed two Israeli police officers in the Old City before being shot dead themselves inside the mosque compound.
The next day, Israel shut the mosque and new metal detectors and security cameras were installed.
Metal detectors can reasonably be construed as a public-safety measure – unless they’re imposed by an occupying force.
And so the Palestinian response: A grass roots refusal to enter the mosque until the new procedures were removed. It included nightly sit-ins and mass prayers five times a day on the gates of the Old City.
The sit-ins and prayers were inevitably broken up by the occupation’s security forces, culminating in a bloody Friday that left three Palestinians dead.
Most Palestinians are barred from even reaching Jerusalem, let alone the holy sites.
Palestinian Jerusalemites live under layers of discriminatory policies that render them temporary residents in their own city, deny them the right to build, cut them off from the rest of their population behind walls and checkpoints and allow the growth of illegal Israeli-only settlements deep into their neighbourhoods.
And, never really making international headlines, fears set off by the constant clamouring of some Jewish extremists – including inside the Israeli parliament – to demolish the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
In that light, the metal detectors aren’t about security. They’re another layer of domination.
Though Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has maintained that the move was not to change the “status quo”, or terms of access to the mosque compound, Palestinians know too well: Today’s metal detectors could easily treat them as tomorrow’s foreign objects.
It’s happened before: In 1994, an Israeli soldier named Baruch Goldstein entered the Ibrahimi Mosque, known as the Cave of the Patriarchs to Jews, and slaughtered 28 Palestinians while they prayed.
The incident resulted in Israel clearing Hebron’s Old City of many of its Palestinian residents and businesses, making the main market a no-go area for locals and formalising a system of limited access for Palestinian worshippers. The excuse then was also security.
While the massacre and its result are hardly known to most outside observers, it’s a transformative moment for Palestinians – the complete division of one of their biggest cities and one of their holiest sites.
The first Palestinian suicide bombing was a response to Goldstein’s attack.
While the world’s diplomats have obsessed for the last three decades about a two-state solution, Israel has operated like this on a wider scale: slowly but unceasingly colonising, building settlements, appropriating more Palestinian land, dominating the Palestinian economy and stripping away its captive population’s right to movement, access and self-determination.
Through property laws and travel permits, permanent expulsions, deportations and a giant wall, Israel’s entire colonial arsenal is employed in occupied East Jerusalem, where 400 000 Palestinians, born and raised in Jerusalem, are permanent residents, not citizens.
It’s a precarious life, with the occupying power retaining a litany of excuses it can use to strip a Palestinian of the right to enter or live in their city.
Meanwhile, anyone on Earth can become a full-time citizen with superior rights to the native population – provided their religion and ethnicity is deemed to be the correct one by the self-styled Jewish state.
The Israeli state is obsessed with the ratio of the two populations in its city, going as far as determining what percentage of Jerusalemites should be Israeli and what percentage should be Palestinian (for those interested, the target ratio was initially 73.5% to 25.5%).
All this suggests that 50 years after occupying East Jerusalem and “unifying the city”, and 37 years after declaring Jerusalem its united and eternal capital, Israel still sees the presence of the city’s Palestinians as an intractable problem.
And for the Palestinians, even something as innocuous as a metal detector at the entrance to a holy site is a symbol of the state that has forced itself upon them, dominating and controlling every facet of their lives. And so, they refuse to enter.
HOTSPOT: Israeli police at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound near Lions’ Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City. Police yesterday removed the metal detectors placed there after two Israeli police officers were shot.