Are there similarities between the so-called “Islamic State” in Iraq and Syria and the self-styled “Jewish State” in Palestine? Quite a few. For a start, both thrive on religious bigotry and pursue exclusivist, expansionist and repressive agendas. Everything taking place in Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa Mosque today underlines how very little distinguishes the two.
There is one major difference, though. While the Jewish state enjoys the political, economic and military backing of the West, ISIS is fought against, as it should be, for its heinous crimes. Furthermore, just as the Kurds and Arab tribes of Syria and Iraq have the right to resist ISIS, so too do the Palestinians in occupied Jerusalem have every right to resist Israeli oppression.
For several months now there have been almost daily clashes in Jerusalem. The Israeli media have taken to describing events there as a quiet “Intifada”. They have been a response to and consequence of the excesses of Israeli settler-vigilantes backed by the state.
Reports that the Knesset will next month vote on a draft law to partition Al-Aqsa Mosque have raised the stakes to critical levels across the occupied territories. But this is not all.
The seizure of Palestinian homes by Jewish settlers in Silwan, south of Jerusalem, has also brought tensions to the surface. It is there that more than 30 illegal settler families have been preparing to occupy apartments seized in the area during the past three months.
The odds against them are enormous but the Palestinians are not pinning all their hopes on support from any of their immediate neighbours or those further afield. “We Palestinians are not depending on the Arabs or Muslims at the present time,” said Shaikh Ekrima Sabri, the imam of Al-Aqsa Mosque, “because they [the Arabs] are also busy in what is called fighting terrorism and they don’t know that the Zionist occupation is the real terror.”
Israel’s ambition to seize Al-Aqsa is as old as the occupation itself. It is one that Palestinians have thwarted successfully over the years. Short of imposing a blanket ban on all Muslims visiting the mosque, Israel has resorted to every form of repression and subterfuge to change the status quo therein. This has only increased Palestinian resolve to ensure that the sanctuary remains the collective heritage of all Muslims.
Under the pretext of the observance of Jewish religious holidays, the Israeli authorities close the mosque repeatedly to Palestinian worshippers. And just as ISIS has attacked Christians in their churches in Iraq, Israeli forces have attacked Palestinian Muslims with tear gas and rubber bullets in Al-Aqsa Mosque. They have evicted Muslims forcefully from the site, seized control of its main gates, and allowed only Jews to enter and “worship”.
ISIS has evicted the Yezidis from their villages in Iraq; similarly, Israeli settler organisations backed by the army continue to evict Palestinians from their homes in Silwan.
These acts of aggression are often portrayed in the Western media as the errant practices of fringe elements in Israeli society. This is, however, an obscene misrepresentation of reality. When the government funds the settlers and ministers participate in their actvities this can only be described as state policy. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, indeed, has personally given orders to suppress the Palestinians who are seeking to exercise their fundamental human right to worship in their historic mosque.
Israel is relying on Western support and Arab preoccupation with their own crises, as it did during its war against the people of the Gaza Strip and other misadventures. Netanyahu interprets international and Arab silence as a green light. In fact, he is in a hurry to complete the imposition of Israeli “sovereignty” over all of Jerusalem before the Palestinian Authority makes any further moves at the UN.
It is regrettable that the PA is still not acting with the sense of urgency that the situation requires. While President Mahmoud Abbas calls on Palestinians to defend Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa Mosque, his security forces suppress any effort to resist the rampaging settlers.
To the same degree that Western governments, the Vatican and other religious institutions have condemned and opposed ISIS, as they should, the time has come for them to stand up to Israeli bigotry passed off as democracy.
No country in the world has recognised Israel’s unilateral claim to Jerusalem and its religious sites. On the contrary, it is still overwhelmingly recognised as an occupying power. The rights of the civilian population and the duties of the occupier are well documented in international law.
As a belligerent occupier, Israel can only requisition land and carry out physical transformation in the occupied territory under two conditions: if there is an “urgent military necessity” or if the change “benefits the local population”. Neither holds true in the case of Jerusalem and so, for this reason if no other, the international community must act to uphold its will and the rule of law. The self-styled “Jewish State” must be tackled in the same robust manner as the equally self-styled “Islamic” version in Iraq and Syria. Anything less makes Israel’s international backers complicit in its constant breaches of international law.