Palestinians have been putting their bodies and lives on the line against repeated Israeli aggression in the Noble Sanctuary of Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock. Sometimes they have succeeded in pushing back the hordes of illegal Jewish settlers and the Israeli soldiers protecting them; sometimes they have failed. On every occasion, however, they have shown exceptional courage and demonstrated that they are prepared to sacrifice their own lives and those of their children for the sake of their land and their sacred places.
The battle for Al-Aqsa is part of a wider struggle in and around Jerusalem, which the Israelis claim as the “eternal and undivided capital of Jews all over the world”. Thus, they claim, Jews of all nationalities can go to Jerusalem whenever they want, to live there in illegal settlements and wreak havoc for the indigenous population. The Palestinians face displacement and ethnic cleansing from their city, and land, and the confiscation of their rights and freedoms to make room for those settlers.
Jerusalem, with its historic and deeply sacred mosques and churches which have not been safe from attack by the Jews who would raze them to the ground, is the stage for a large confrontation between the people of Palestine and the occupying state of Israel and its illegal Judaisation policies. We can be sure that the effects of this confrontation will not stop at the borders of historic Palestine, but will pass to the Arab and Islamic world beyond, especially the “Freedom Squares” in the countries which have experienced the Arab Spring.
At the moment, though, there appears to be little interest in Jerusalem and the holy places among the Arab capitals, which are geared towards other priorities. Some of the Arab regimes are still struggling to get their act together post-revolutions, and establish new governments in the face of stubborn opposition from the remnants of the old guard.
In the midst of this turmoil, with the Western world holding conferences to decide what can be done about the bloodshed in Syria, the horrors of Israel’s lengthy – 64 years and counting – occupation of Palestine are there for all to see. However, there have been no calls for “friends of Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa” to donate money, weapons and fighters to liberate the Muslim world’s first “Qiblah” from Israeli oppression as there have with Syria. It is as if some Arabs would be happy to see Al-Aqsa destroyed and replaced by a pseudo-historic temple.
Religious and moral motives move such people to support their own groups in the Syrian opposition, not the entire Syrian opposition, and provide them with money and weapons to overthrow the regime in Damascus. Such motivation is missing in practice when it comes to Palestine and Al-Aqsa and the holy sites. In Syria there is no place for dialogue with the oppressive regime, it is a time for action, but in Palestine there are no time limits set for the “negotiations” with the oppressive occupying power, even when they are meaningless. In Syria there is no tolerance (rightly so) for a regime that kills demonstrators, but in Palestine we have to compete with each other to demonstrate that we belong to a “culture of peace, dialogue and tolerance”. For Syria, the world is invited to a conference which some Arabs wanted to have real teeth and claws, but in Palestine it is deemed sufficient to have a solidarity meeting for Jerusalem with emotional speeches which have evaporated before the speakers settle down on their flights back home. In Syria, the world’s conscience has woken up, but in Palestine such zeal atrophies and the world sleeps again.
The people of Palestine have faced the latest threats with courage in defending their legal, moral and religious rights in Jerusalem and the holy places. This has been echoed in the Gaza Strip with rising anger at what is happening to their peers in the occupied West Bank as the moves towards national unity stumble forward on the road to popular resistance against the occupation and illegal settlements. There is no doubt that the people of Palestine are looking to the newly-liberated Arab capitals for support, and I for one do not think that they will be disappointed.
Israel’s leaders must be crazy if they think that they can continue with their tyranny and aggression while the world around them moves towards democracy and freedom. Nevertheless, they may well be shooting themselves in the foot, because their illegal policies and actions now stand out more than ever before and the ordinary people on the Arab street can see clearly the Zionist state for what it is. In that sense, the Israelis may be doing the Palestinians a favour, albeit unwittingly; we shall see if and when the Arab popular movements become focused on the common threat from a common enemy. This will not only confront Israel with a stronger, united movement seeking freedom, dignity and democracy for the Palestinians, but also help to block those counter-revolutionaries who would have the Arab street turn the clock back. That’s when the call to the friends of Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa will have real meaning.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.