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Is visiting Jerusalem normalisation or liberation?

The frequent visits to Jerusalem by Arab and Muslim figures and delegations at the invitation of the Palestinian Authority has prompted a serious debate between those calling for them to continue and those who are opposed to them and want them to stop. The city has been under complete Israeli occupation since June 1967.

Those who are in favour of such visits believe that they provide political and financial support for Jerusalem and the Palestinians who live there. Opponents believe that they will lead to the normalisation of relations between Arab and Muslim countries, and people, and Israel. This is because visitors have to obtain entry visas and permits issued by the Israeli army.

With this in mind, let’s look at the reaction of the Palestinians praying in Al-Aqsa Mosque on Friday, 22 May, when the Chief Justice of Jordan, Sheikh Ahmed Halil, was stopped by the congregation from giving the Friday sermon. This was not due to a dislike of guest speakers. A week earlier, the head of Turkey’s Department of Religious Affairs, Muhammad Gormaz, gave the sermon without any problems or complaints from the worshippers. This is explained by the fact that Turkey is clearly in favour of the Palestinians’ rights whereas Jordan’s position is more ambiguous.

The Turkish government’s attempts to lift the siege imposed on Gaza have been relentless, as have its demands to protect the Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem, which is witnessing feverish Jewish settlement activities aiming to present the city’s Judaisation as a fait accompli. Meanwhile, there is no real role being played by the Arab League – including Jordan – to support the Jerusalemites and encourage their perseverance.

Al-Aqsa Mosque’s courtyards are entered repeatedly by extremist Jewish groups, with full protection from the Israeli army. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government is racing against the clock to Judaise Jerusalem, taking advantage of the foggy Arab situation and the failure by Arabs and Muslims to give political and financial support to the Palestinian Jerusalemites at a level that matches the challenges they are facing.

After building most of the Separation Wall around Jerusalem, Israel has issued a number of directives intended to Judaise the city. Some of the most dangerous were those regarding the Judaisation of Arab education therein, as well as implementing the Absentees’ Property Law, which includes property confiscated by Israeli institutions in occupied East Jerusalem. Palestinian Jerusalemites who leave the city for work or education reasons are stripped of their right to live there by the Israelis.

It is reasonable to assume that Israel’s insistence on implementing a number of racist laws in Jerusalem can be classed as part of the government’s approach to taking control of the city and Judaising all aspects of life there. This approach eventually aims to change the demography in favour of the Jews, thus crushing Palestinian hopes of having a state with Jerusalem as its capital. The Israelis want to make the Palestinians a minority in the city, no more than 12 per cent of the city’s population, by 2020.

Close observers will notice that the new Israeli directives are a revival of the Judaisation approach to settlements in the city; Netanyahu’s fourth government is not called the “settlement government” for nothing. This will be accompanied by more storming of the mosque’s courtyards by extremist settlement groups, as well more orders to demolish dozens of Arab homes in Jerusalem neighbourhoods.

It is worth noting that implementing the Absentees’ Property Law in occupied East Jerusalem will lead to any property in East Jerusalem owned by Palestinians living in the West Bank, Gaza Strip or any Arab country being declared by Israel as “abandoned” property. It will then be confiscated and taken over by settlers. No compensation will be paid to its Palestinians owners. There are also thousands of Jerusalemites at risk of having their identity cards revoked and being expelled in order to take control of their property and land in the next few years.

The Arabs and Muslims must plan to deter Israel and prevent its Judaisation policies from taking over the city. Such a plan should aim to preserve Jerusalem as it has been for centuries, protecting and maintaining its historic Arab, Muslim and Christian identity.

Strengthening the Jerusalemites’ perseverance will not be achieved by means of official Arab and Muslim delegations visiting the city, or by means of condemnatory statements. It can only be achieved through practical steps that begin with stopping any measures taken to normalise relations with Israel; this should include a boycott of Israeli goods, which are found in Arab markets despite the growing boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement around the world, including Europe. There must also be real measures taken to provide financial support in order to confront the danger facing the city and its religious symbols, such as Al-Aqsa.

Instead of organising visits by official Arab and Muslim delegations to Jerusalem under the pretext of Palestinian Authority invitations to support the Jerusalemites, an Arab-Muslim fund should be established to liberate Jerusalem. While these visits are taking place, Sheikh Raed Salah, leader of the northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, is prohibited from visiting Al-Aqsa Mosque and there are a large numbers of Jerusalemites making a peaceful protest within its courtyards continuously, to maintain the Muslim presence in the Noble Sanctuary.

There are other ways to support the Jerusalemites. For example, Arab development funds could support many projects in the city and the establishment of small projects away from the influence of the Israeli occupation.

In addition to the need for serious Arab and Muslim efforts to confront the dangers in Jerusalem, there must be alternatives to the potential for normalisation with Israel through these visits. Instead of Arab and Muslim governments insisting on sending officials to visit Jerusalem and the holy sites, thus falling into the trap of de facto recognition of the Israeli occupation of the city, they could agree on nominating one day each week on which all media outlets will shed light on the dangers facing Jerusalemites. The media should also urge the people and institutions to make financial contributions to support the Palestinians and the holy places in Jerusalem.

We could also spread the idea behind the “Al-Aqsa is my responsibility” march, which was organised by the Islamic Movement and headed by Sheikh Raed Salah a few days ago, from the Sheikh Abdullah Mosque in the heart of Haifa to Al-Aqsa Mosque. This raised awareness of the daily desecration of Al-Aqsa by Jewish extremists and the Israeli army.

As a priority, similar marches in solidarity with Jerusalem and its people could be organised in towns and cities across the region. The streets could be filled on a specific day every month to raise awareness and grab the world’s attention regarding Israel’s round the clock attempts to Judaise Jerusalem and expel the Palestinian Jerusalemites from their city under a variety of pretexts.

I will conclude by saying that the Arab youth who were able to gather in the liberation squares to demand the fall of Arab totalitarian regimes five years ago are capable of mobilising their energies and efforts in order to support the Jerusalemites and help them stand their ground. There is an established belief amongst the Palestinian people that after the achievement of the Arab Spring’s goals, which will be achieved despite the difficult conditions being faced, the Palestinian cause, starting with the issue of Jerusalem, will be significant in popular and official Arab hearts.

Translated from Al Jazeera net, 1 June, 2015.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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