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Palestinians are reviving their agency in Jerusalem

After years of oppression and fragmentation, Palestinians in the occupied city are remobilizing around a common political goal.

Palestinians hold a mass evening prayer adjacent to Jerusalem's Old City, July 23, 2017. (Activestills.org)

Palestinians hold a mass evening prayer adjacent to Jerusalem’s Old City, July 23, 2017. (Activestills.org)

After days of deliberations, the Israeli government finally removed metal detectors from the entrances of the Aqsa compound on Monday evening. Reports say the decision may have been linked to an agreement reached with Jordan’s King Abdullah, as part of a deal to resolve a brief diplomatic crisis that followed Sunday’s attack at the Israeli embassy in Amman.

Israeli authorities are now seeking to install “smart” cameras that can identify visitors to Al-Aqsa using facial recognition software. Palestinians argue that this technology, which can easily be abused by Israeli security services, is even worse than the metal detectors. The Islamic Waqf declared its opposition to the new plan yesterday and insisted that the status quo be restored to the situation that existed prior to a deadly shooting two weeks ago. Local worshipers continued to protest outside the Aqsa compound, and police continued to respond with stun grenades and arrests.

Despite this development, it seems that the Palestinians’ campaign of civil disobedience – largely ignored by the media’s focus on violence during the past week – is working.

Mass protests over Temple Mount carve out unique civil disobedience

Mass protests over Temple Mount carve out unique civil disobedience

The mass boycott of the metal detectors was a remarkable sight. Young headscarved women appealed (and at times shouted) to Muslim visitors not to pass through the gates. Men prayed outside or in the narrow alleys of the Old City, with some live-streaming the scenes on Facebook. Four families living inside the compound, not wanting to violate the boycott, refused to leave the premises until a special arrangement was agreed upon with the Waqf.

This united activism surprised many. Dispossessed and disenfranchised for decades, Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem have been leaderless since the brutal suppression of the Second Intifada and further crippled by the wave of violence that erupted in September 2015. With Jewish settlements expanding and collective punishment increasing, the city’s Palestinian neighborhoods seemed to be verging toward social and economic collapse.

Now, after years of fragmentation, the community is remobilizing en masse around a common political goal. Thousands of Palestinians, under the glare of Israeli riot police, thronged the streets on July 21 in one of the largest protests the city has seen in some time. Hundreds of fellow worshippers, activists, and representatives traveled from Arab towns and cities across Israel to join them. Christians and secularists were seen standing alongside conservative Muslims in prayer, affirming that the fight for Al-Aqsa is a national cause and not just a religious one. Few Palestinians watching the news cared for Ismail Haniyeh’s sermons from Gaza or Mahmoud Abbas’ “freeze” on security coordination with Israel; all eyes were on the chanting crowds that filled Jerusalem’s streets.

A Palestinian child rides his bike outside the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif. Israeli authorities erected metal detectors at the entrances to the compound in the wake of a deadly attack against Israeli security forces by three Palestinian citizens of Israel the week before. (Activestills.org)

A Palestinian child rides his bike outside the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif. Israeli authorities erected metal detectors at the entrances to the compound in the wake of a deadly attack against Israeli security forces by three Palestinian citizens of Israel the week before. (Activestills.org)

If Israel thinks that smart cameras will resolve the crisis, it is grossly mistaken. For Palestinians, any new, unilateral measures at the Aqsa compound – which has already had Israeli officers guarding its gates for years – would be an extension of the massive security structures that dominate and intimidate their daily lives.

More concerning is that over the years, a growing number of Israeli politicians and groups have demanded increased Jewish access to, if not full sovereignty over, the compound, with some fanatics aspiring to build a Third Temple on the ruins of Al-Aqsa. The Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron (Cave of the Patriarchs), which was seized and split by the army after Baruch Goldstein’s 1994 massacre, is viewed as a warning of how “security” claims could turn the compound into another military or settlement outpost. Israelis dismiss these fears as conspiracy theories; experience teaches Palestinians otherwise.

The nascent movement is thus far from over. Although acts of violence may threaten its growth, Palestinians have achieved an important step in reviving their agency in the occupied city, in spite of the numerous policies seeking to crush it. Walking in the Old City, one activist expressed hope that the events might help the community begin to rebuild the organized committees, nonviolent strategies, and popular support that guided the First Intifada 30 years ago. If not, he sighed, “God help us.”

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    1. GSP

      The only way they know how, through holy war. STAY WOKE Y’ALL.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Grandpa Frost

      I have a modest suggestion. Stop trying to kill Jews! If you did that, all and I mean ALL Israeli security measures would magically disappear.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        This is a lie. Israeli “security measures” have always been devices to steal more land. These “security measures” are relentless and only accelerate when the Palestinians organize nonviolent protest of the kind Amjad Iraqi is talking about, or whenever the Palestinians try to build on their land or farm it. We see it all the time. The settlers want more land? Sure–no problem–simply declare the Palestinian land they covet a “closed military zone.” “Security,” you see.

        Reply to Comment
        • Grandpa Frost


          I’d like you to produce even one example of Israelis using security to “steal” land.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            That you even pose such a question shows that you simply don’t get it. Israel’s entire occupation apparatus is an elaborate, meticulously crafted exercise in using “security” as an excuse to stay illegally in the West Bank and steal the land. This is so obvious as to not need saying. There are a literally limitless number of “examples.” But to get you started in your studies, here is not just an example, but a primer:

            1,500 Palestinians face expulsion to make way for IDF ‘Firing Zone 918’
            “Firing Zone 918” is the Israeli military’s term for a portion of land in the West Bank home to hundreds of Palestinians who have been there since the 19th century. Why are they under threat of eviction and how is it being done? A primer.

            Reply to Comment
    3. i_like_ike52

      I realize that “progressives” for the last century and a half have always dreamed of mass uprisings, or, in the West, the “General Strike” as a supposed awakening of the masses, so no doubt what is happening in Jerusalem is exciting many. The problem is that if you look at the history of mass uprisings of this sort, they almost always go sour in the end. Some examples
      (1) The French Revolution, (2) The February Russian Revolution, (3) The Islamic Iranian Revolution, (4) The Arab Spring Revolutions. Not one of these ended up creating a truly “peoples” democratic republic. All ended up in chaos and tyranny.
      If the Palestinians think that mass demonstrations combined with terrorist attacks are going to get them something, they are badly mistaken. The Palestinians DO NOT have a real democratic leadership and they have strong anarchistic elements in their society, similar to those that destroyed any hope of the Arab Spring revolutions making any real, positive change. Certainly there is a lot of enthusiasm at first, but if there is no real basis for a civil society, nothing good can come of it.

      Reply to Comment
      • Bruce Gould

        @Ike: In the 1776 US Declaration of Independence, its drafters wrote that if the government “becomes destructive of (…) unalienable Rights (…) Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness (…) it is the Right of the People (…) it is their duty (…) to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government.”


        Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        I was thinking the same thing, Bruce. Ike conspicuously left out the American Revolution. Or the fact that France today is a liberal democracy not a monarchy. And that the American Founders were both inspired by the French Revolution and educated by its mistakes. Seems Ike would prefer the Ancien Régime and the Bourbon Dynasty and a starving peasantry to a nation of laws, equal protection of the laws, and liberté egalité fraternité. I wonder why? Israel itself, preening itself as “the only democracy,” needs its own revolution. From an ethno-theocratic, Feiglinist “popular democracy” to an actual, not pretend liberal democracy, which it has never been. Ike says the Palestinians do not have a real democratic leadership, but neither do the Israelis. The Israelis are certainly much better at pretending they do, and dressing up their actual practices and softening the edges for outside consumption, but they do not actually have a liberal democracy. They should spare us their preaching about real democracy.
        A ‘truly’ Jewish democracy: On the ideology of Likud’s Moshe Feiglin

        Reply to Comment
        • i_like_ike52

          I guess it was expecting too much for you to see the differences between the American Revolution and the others I listed. The others were all mass uprisings of people in the street in societies that had no democratic civil society behind them. The American colonists already had a democratic civil socieyt and considerable experience of democratic self-government. Indepcndence was not proclaimed in the streets, but rather in a democratically elected Continental Congress.
          Regarding France, I don’t need to remind you that the Revolution degenerated into a bloodthirsty tyranny, which was then followed by a personal dictatorship by Napoleon, the the Restoration of the monarchy and decades of instability. True democratic government only began to appear a century after the Revolution with the appearance fo the Third Republic and even that voluntarily voted itself out of existence, WITHOUT GERMAN URGING in 1940 and replacing itself was the Fascist Vichy “French State”.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            The ambiguities of history cut both ways, Ike. The Israeli popular-“democratic” society and its elected Knesset are doing a fair job of voluntarily voting itself into a quasi-fascist state without anyone’s urging, in fact directly against everyone’s urging. And in fact it is the Israelis who created the Hamas to divide and conquer the Palestinians while whining all the while about the deficiencies in the Palestinian democracy, and it is the Israelis who arrest and imprison indefinitely on trumped up charges, as political prisoners, the elected members of the Palestinian Parliament:

            12 Palestinian members of parliament are in Israeli prison

            Furthermore, it is not up to Israelis to decide the government of the Palestinians, it is up to Palestinians to decide the government of the Palestinians. That you think it is just up to the Israelis is more colonialist-apartheid thinking.

            So, again, Israelis should not preach to us about real democracy. It’s seems to me it’s just part of the usual hasbara snow job and the hypocrisy is pretty striking.

            Reply to Comment
          • i_like_ike52

            HAMAS is an Islamic movement. Islam, as Barak Obama, Linda Sarsour, CAIR and many others say, is a religion of peace and brotherhood. Boxer Muhammed Ali refused induction into the US Army saying that as a Muslim he was a pacifist and Islam is a pacifist religion. If HAMAS is in power, then they certainly have their faces towards peace. If Israel supported HAMAS, then it was for the good of the Palestinians who would only benefit from its peaceful intentions.
            So why are you complaining that Israel supported HAMAS at one point?
            Secondly, the FATAH/Palestinian Authority is Arafat’s creation. All the “progressives” insisted before Oslo in 1993 that Arafat was the only true representative of the Palestinian people, and he himself was a “progressive” who intended on turning his Palestinian state into a version of a Swedish Social Democratic paradise. Thus, the FATAH/PA must be committed to these same things. So my question to you is, how, with two such saintly organizations in power in the Palestinian territories, could Israel “divide” the Palestinians? Such organizations would never allow such a thing since both are committed to peace and brotherhood.

            Reply to Comment