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Jerusalem’s sickness runs deeper than the occupation

Jerusalem’s real problem is the nationalist and religious fervor in both Israeli and Palestinian societies that foment the greed, competitiveness, obsession, insecurity, and desire for control of the city and its narrative.

The Old City of Jerusalem, September 26, 2014. (Photo by Faiz Abu Rmeleh/Activestills.org)

An alleyway in the Old City of Jerusalem, September 26, 2014. (Photo by Faiz Abu Rmeleh/Activestills.org)

When I was a kid, a family trip from Tira to Jerusalem was considered a special occasion. About twice a year we would drive straight to the Old City, eat shawarma and kunafeh at the same restaurant and sweet shop, and best of all, visit the Dome of the Rock (“al-Sakhra”) and al-Aqsa mosque.

Even though I wasn’t very religious, it was hard not to be enamored by the Old City and its religious sites, and to know that the Western Wall and the Holy Sepulchre, holy to Jews and Christians respectively, were only short walks away.

Sadly, that childhood sense of wonder evaporated as I became more aware of what was really happening to the city around us: the poverty of Palestinian neighborhoods; the Israeli flags waving on the roofs of stone houses; and the armed soldiers and policemen roaming the streets.

Soon I heard the stories of Palestinian families being thrown out of their homes; of children being arrested during raids in the middle of the night; of settlements designated for Jewish citizens only; and of an obsolete and invisible border called “the Green Line.”

But the occupation was not the only thing that corroded Jerusalem’s magic. When my family and I approached the mosques, the waqf representatives were as invasive as the Israeli soldiers demanding our IDs outside the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount compound. “Where are you from? Are you Muslim? What is the first verse of prayer?”

The worst was when they scrutinized my mother, sometimes nitpicking over a few strands of hair sticking out from under her headscarf, or insisting that she be separated from me and my father during prayer, even when the mosques were almost empty.

Palestinian Muslim worshippers pray overnight, July 13, 2015 outside the Dome of the Rock in the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem's Old City during Laylat al-Qadr which falls on the 27th day of the fasting month of Ramadan, July 13, 2015. (photo: Faiz Abu Rmeleh/Activestills.org)

Palestinian Muslim worshippers pray overnight, July 13, 2015 outside the Dome of the Rock in the Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City during Laylat al-Qadr which falls on the 27th day of the fasting month of Ramadan, July 13, 2015. (photo: Faiz Abu Rmeleh/Activestills.org)

This past week, my fellow writers on +972 have correctly highlighted that the recent escalations in Jerusalem – of Palestinians throwing stones, the Israeli authorities encouraging live fire against them, and the clashes on the Haram al-Sharif – are neither new nor unexpected. They are inevitable outcomes of Israel’s occupation and the resistance and discontent that naturally generates against it.

To this day, many observers are not comprehending the extent to which the occupation has mutated the city to produce what the writer Teju Cole accurately described as “cold violence…a suffocating viciousness” to erode Palestinian presence in the city. Jerusalem has become a sick city as a result of this cold violence, and is getting sicker with every passing year.

But the source of this sickness is deeper than the occupation alone. The real problem – of which even the occupation is a symptom – is the nationalist and religious fervors emanating from many among both Israelis and Palestinians, which foment the greed, competitiveness, obsession, insecurity, and desire for control (if not domination) of the city’s space and its narrative.

We see this from the rhetoric of political leaders, to the symbols and slogans displayed in the public sphere, to the physical and at times deadly violence waged on the ground. It exists in the massive Jewish settlements and infrastructures cutting across occupied lands and neighborhoods, and it exists in the photos of killed Palestinian militants cropped in front of the Sakhra and Aqsa.

Smoke is seen rising over the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Issawiya as Palestinian youth clash with Israeli police, November 5, 2014. Earlier in the day, a Palestinian man drove into a crowd of pedestrians in Jerusalem, killing a Border Police officer and wounding over a dozen others. (Photo by Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

Smoke is seen rising over the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Issawiya as Palestinian youth clash with Israeli police, November 5, 2014. Earlier in the day, a Palestinian man drove into a crowd of pedestrians in Jerusalem, killing a Border Police officer and wounding over a dozen others. (Photo by Yotam Ronen/Activestills.org)

There is no doubt that Jerusalem is central to the identities of both Israelis and Palestinians, and there is nothing wrong with wanting to protect strong national and religious connections to the city – on the contrary, they are what make Jerusalem the extraordinary place that it is. But both Israelis and Palestinians have allowed political ideologies to corrupt the city’s transcendental character.

Far from genuinely embracing the city’s ancient, holy and multicultural identity, Jerusalem is instead viewed as the aspired crown jewel of each side’s selfish agendas. “Jerusalem will be the undivided capital of the Jewish people” says Benjamin Netanyahu, or “Jerusalem will be liberated for the Arabs/for Islam” says Khaled Mesh’al. Even the notion of dividing Jerusalem to become separate capitals of two separate states illustrates how Jerusalem is seen as something to be owned, not to be shared.

These nationalist-religious passions have increased in their radicalism. The Israeli occupation has been the largest catalyst for this as it aggressively alters the landscape of Jerusalem and the wider Israeli-Palestinian region, while normalizing the state’s colonial control in Israeli political consciousness. But just as damaging are certain movements among Palestinian society that have chosen to confront the Jewish national-religious fanaticism with their own Arab or Islamic fanaticism. Many Palestinians have marginalized this subject for fear that it would play into the hands of Israeli advocates seeking to distract attention from the occupation.

Palestinian Muslim worshipers perform traditional Friday prayers in a street in Wadi Joz neighborhood outside Jerusalem's Old City, as policemen block their way to Al Aqsa mosque, October 17, 2014. The Israeli government has restricted access to the Aqsa mosque compound, Islam's third holiest shrine to men under 50. (Activestills.org)

Palestinian Muslim worshipers perform traditional Friday prayers in a street in Wadi Joz neighborhood outside Jerusalem’s Old City, as policemen block their way to Al Aqsa mosque, October 17, 2014. The Israeli government has restricted access to the Aqsa mosque compound, Islam’s third holiest shrine to men under 50. (Activestills.org)

But even though it is the highest priority, the occupation is not a justification for these groups to exhibit oppressive or intolerant views towards divergent religious thoughts, women’s rights in their own community, and the rights of different communities, among others. Nor does occupation justify being silent about these issues, especially when they are compounding the violations of the few rights that Palestinians have today.

This is why the only permanent cure to Jerusalem’s sickness lies not just in ending the occupation (the foremost and most urgent step), but in ending the nationalist-religious mantras of ownership of the city in both Israeli and Palestinian social and political thought.

Peace on the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount cannot happen without peace over Jerusalem as a city – in its identity, its governance, its urban planning, and its respect for the rights of all its residents and all those connected it. Regardless of the final political outcome of the wider conflict – one-state, two-state – Jerusalem must be protected for one people only: everyone.

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    COMMENTS

      • BigCat

        Every single day you are fixating on- and obsessing about Jews and Israel, juggling from one website to another “researching” on Jews and coming back here post paste the result of your “research” and wallow in your delusions that you are extremely important.

        You have a psychiatric illness. Seek professional help, moron.

        Reply to Comment
    1. I agree wholeheartedly with Ben’s description of this fine article (“This is a great, inclusive statement by Amjad Iraqi. In transcendent statements such as this I see the future.”) But I would add that the sickness Ajmad diagnoses so well is not only Jerusalem’s, although there its symptoms are strongest: it is the sickness of all of Palestine (Israeland). And imho the only permanent cure to this sickness, indeed lies (I change only one word in what Amjad says, “not just in ending the occupation (the foremost and most urgent step), but in ending the nationalist-religious mantras of ownership of the [country] in both Israeli and Palestinian social and political thought.”

      Reply to Comment
      • BigCat

        Folks, that’s “Ben” alias “RichardFlantz” alias “Brian” alias “MuslimJew” alias “Bluto” alias etc. talking- to and with himself, “supporting” himself “wholeheartedly”, congratulating himself, etc.

        “Ben” is a Psychopath.

        Reply to Comment
        • Jason Kidd

          Thanks for your vigilance!

          Reply to Comment
      • Jason Kidd

        Ben is profoundly confused and deluded on most days.

        Reply to Comment
    2. Jason Kidd

      With the regime change at 972, expect to see more posts like this from Amjad Iraqi and his ilk. Extremists.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        This assessment of yours, Kidd, is amusing and interesting to unpack because it’s so off key that it can only be called mindlessly vituperative. And racist. “Amjad Iraqi and his ilk.” But Amjad’s whole essay is about ‘de-ilking’, so to speak, is ‘anti-ilk’ or ‘trans-ilk’ if you will. And pro-everybody. You’re the icky ilky one, I’d say. Amjad’s essay is about transcending ilks and ilk-based extremism. On both sides. You want to immediately restore the sectarian divisiveness the enlightened Amjad is trying to bridge and overcome. “Quick! He’s building a bridge across the moat of divisiveness! An emergency! All hands on board!” By slinging “extremist” at him you come off as afraid precisely because he is not an extremist, is anything but. And you come across as mean-spirited, small-minded, and up to no good. I’m sorry to say. This party line you’re polishing, this axe you’re honing, that the passing of the baton to–horrors!–an Arab!–portends terrible things, is a “regime change”: it won’t cut it. You betray an ignorance about +972’s decentralized and non-hierarchical organizational structure for one thing. And the passing of the baton is empirically associated with just this kind of transcendent, inclusive, magnanimous, generous essay you hate. The data are not on your side, Panama Kidd. Who are you Kidding? I think we can trust Noam Sheizaf’s judgment on this one. And look, Amjad Iraqi’s essay is so interesting and fresh and bridge building that, look, it attracted a new or infrequent poster, Flantz, who’s saying “hmmm, this is great.” It’s you two snarling trolls who can’t wait to try to erase Flantz by your usual shenanigans. “Move along, children, nobody’s interested in Amjad Iraqi and Flantz doesn’t even exist. And “his ilk.” LoL. Kidd’s motto is like the milk ad: “Got ilk?”

        Here’s a nice essay I happened on by a nice Jewish boy you should read that is also generally trans-ilk. For your reading pleasure:

        http://mobile.nytimes.com/2015/09/22/opinion/pope-francis-the-prince-of-the-personal.html?referrer=&_r=0

        Reply to Comment
        • Gustav

          “Bridge building”

          If Benny claims that it is bridge building, then it is a kiss of death. Benny is an avowed propagandist and a hater of Israel. His claims cannot be trusted.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Such magical powers you attribute to me, Gustav. Who is asking anyone to “trust” my “claims”? I praised Amjad Iraqi’s discerning, transcending essay, his “genuinely embracing the city’s ancient, holy and multicultural identity” and his deep understanding that Jerusalem is something to be shared, not owned. And his taking both sides to task. For that “crime” I’m a “hater”? Look in the mirror. Calling Mr. Iraqi (“and his ilk”) extremist for writing such an irenic essay is not twisted and hateful? Yes, look in the mirror.

            Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            Benny, Benny, Benny…

            Look at all your posts, not just on this thread. Clearly you are a propagandist and a hater of Israel. That makes you irrelevant.

            So, if you come here and pretend to be a moderate who wants to build bridges and point at someone else who does, then you cannot be trusted.

            As for this article, I just want to know where was he and others when the Jordanians controlled East Jerusalem between 1948 and 1967? I mean they kicked out all the Jews of East Jerusalem they didn’t allow us near the place for 19 years and they desecrated our holy places. Where was the bridge building then? Why the sudden “bridge building” now that we are in control of the city? Call me suspicious, it’s a weakness of mine but it kept me alive so far.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Look in the mirror. You who call Amjad Iraqi an extremist and me a hater, as if these were arguments rather than pathetic ad hominem attacks. First, your capsule history is selective and biased. Secondly, “you” are not “in control” of Jerusalem, you are in pseudo-control of an unsustainable situation in Jerusalem. Thirdly, where was Amjad Iraqi from 1948 to 1967? He was not yet born. Mr. Iraqi’s viewpoint is the future. Yours is the past, selectively tailored to fit an ideology.

            Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            I said where were the Palestinian Arab bridge builders between 1948 and 1967, Benny?

            There is nothing selective about the history which I brought up. Your Palestinian Arabs and the Jordanians were busy desecrating our holy sites and carrying out terrorist acts against us (note, we were not occupying the WB then). You wanna pretend that isn’t so? Go ahead, Dr Irving…

            As for Amjad Iraqi, he may or may not be a bridge builder, I have read other articles from him too and like you, he seems to be a pro Palestinian Arab apologist and a propagandist.

            And you, Benny are a hater of Israel. No use pretending. It isn’t an ad hominem attack on you, it is fact. Read your own posts on the other threads. They are full of hatred of Israel.

            Reply to Comment
    3. Average American

      My goodness, Margaret has alot to say about race. What is that the driving force behind both sides, is it race, religion, or nationalism? If you asked someone should the religion of Islam be allowed to exist, and the religion of Judaism be allowed to exist, I think most people would say yes sure. If you asked someone if the Arab race and the Jewish race should be allowed to exist, I think most people would say yes sure. So that leaves nationalism. If you asked someone should the state of Palestine be allowed to exist, and the state of Israel be allowed to exist, now you get very divergent answers. But if it is nationalism that drives both sides, that’s a problem, because the justifications for nationalism ARE race and religion. Confusing situation.

      Reply to Comment
      • Gustav

        Yep Average, the root of this war is racism against the Jewish people. It triggered our nationalism and survival instincts.

        We the Jewish people have been persecuted minorities because of our religion and ethnicity for 2000 years, yes even in Arab lands. So we decided to claim back our ancestral homeland where we are a majority and we can defend ourselves.

        But now racist people crawl out from under rocks and claim that we are the racists for insisting that one place on this earth, Israel, has to have a Jewish majority. Given our history, and given that there are many other countries (in fact most) have other ethnic and religious majorities which they fight tooth and nail to maintain, those who condemn us are surely the old racists who still don’t want to stop the persecution of Jews because old habits die hard.

        Reply to Comment
        • Ben

          Who’s telling you that you can’t have a majority? That’s a red herring. They’re telling you that you can’t have a racist, supremacist, land-thieving majority perched in a pseudo-constitutional system with a weak high court that does not protect minority rights against the tyranny of the majority.

          Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            Even if it would be the simplistic cartoonish black and white one sided picture which you paint, you would be wrong to judge from it. Wanna know why? Coz we are still in the middle of a 100 year war with them.

            And yes, they are telling us that they don’t accept the idea of a Jewish majority state. They insist on their general right of return and they refuse to recognize the Jewish nation state which the UN explicitly voted for. Yes, they specifically voted for the creation of a “Jewish State” which your Palestinian Arabs have been fighting to initially prevent and then to eradicate for nearly 100 years.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Thanks. It’s a 48-year occupation not a 100-year war. When the UN made statements in 1947 it did not envision the current situation or the history since 1947 and by virtue of Israel’s treatment of non-Jewish persons under its control since 1947 it has not earned the right for anyone to accord it the right to build an idiosyncratic 21st Century ethnocratic-“democratic” state formally recognized as such by those people in the land seeking even minimally fair treatment from it that they have never got. The “eradicate” line in 2015 is just propaganda, as is the RoR line since you well know that the RoR issue can be negotiated and solved in a fair final status arrangement and Abbas has given every signal that that is the case.

            Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            ” RoR issue can be negotiated and solved in a fair final status arrangement and Abbas has given every signal that that is the case.”

            You bet he did. He showed his hand when he refused to let Palestinians fleeing the Syrian conflict to sign away their so called right of return to Israel proper, in exchange for being offered refuge within the West Bank.

            Yep, a great signal that Abbas would be willing to compromise, he would rather see those Palestinians dead or maimed than allow them to sign their so called rights away.

            As for how we treat the Palestinian Arabs. You are spouting your usual mindless slogans. Israeli Arabs have a better life than most Arabs in Arab countries. The West Bank Arabs less so but they too would have a better life if they would not have the tendency to try to murder us every time they get the chance. And please don’t bring up the “occupation” as an excuse coz they behaved the same way before 1967, before there was “occupation”. In fact, the occupation is the consequence of Palestinian Arab behavior, not the cause of it.

            Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            By the way, Benny’s link does not address a single point which I made in my various posts.

            Classic Benny, when he can’t argue a point, he goes off on a tangent, sets up straw men and pretends that he knocked the straw men down. Then he says QED and walks off smugly with his tail wagging.

            He has only one problem. He only fools his fellow fools who are his bed-fellows.

            Reply to Comment
          • Jason Kidd

            Please show us where Abbas said he will negotiate the pRoR, in fact, he said the opposite that he has no ability to do so.
            Ben, the sooner you stop lying the sooner you will be a respectable human being.

            Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            Never mind about about Benny, he won’t ever admit to anything that would lead one to conclude that his Palestinian Arabs can be blamed for anything.

            He stubbornly ignores any such facts and goes into denial. It is a reflexive action that enables him to blame everything on Israel. How does one reason with a hater?

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            Gustav I feel no need to repetitively answer tiresome repetitive bulls*t about 100 year wars and what Bibi’s sick refugee trick really means.

            Your patronizing nonsense about how good your Arab subjects have it in the Lords of the Land State is utterly refuted by John Brown and Michael Rotem. Please keep up.
            http://972mag.com/is-bibi-using-jlem-violence-as-an-excuse-to-target-bedouin/112063/

            And that Netanyahu is your boy is so clear because of your incessantly demonstrated need to do what he does. As Brown and Rotem say, “After all, someone needs to maintain the fear and hatred of Arabs on a regular basis; inciting against them seems to be the best way.”

            Reply to Comment
          • Gustav

            No need to incite against the West Bank Arabs. I lived through their by-weekly suicide campaign. It is very recent history, 2000 to 2004. And it goes on to this day on a smaller scale. But it is only on a smaller scale because our boots are on their throat. A thing which you criticize. But we would rather live with the criticizm of racists like you, Benny, than be blown up by your saintly peace loving Palestinians.

            As for the Israeli Arabs. You don’t think they have better lives than most other Arabs in Arab countries? Well then tell us, Benny dear, why are they so horrified by Liberman’s idea which would make them Palestinian citizens in your shiny new Palestine while also keeping their lands and ALL their assets? If Israel is the hell on earth for them, then why would they rather remain Israeli citizens? mmmmmm, Benny?

            Reply to Comment
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