Etymologically, Jerusalem means ‘the foundation of peace’. But Jerusalem, one of the oldest cities in the world, has seen enough wars and violence and more will be its lot in the future, too. Clashes since July 14 in the nearly 5,000-year-old city, considered sacred by Jews, Christians and Muslims, have raised fears of a Palestinian uprising or the third Intifada.
For Israel, a grassroots Palestinian uprising in the city will be a dampener of its diplomatic efforts to gain international recognition for its illegal annexation of Jerusalem and the Arab world’s support for its controversial Gaza plan. Israel has successfully kept the Palestinian issue out of the international radar since the Syrian civil war erupted in 2011. It has won new friends such as India, which was once a staunch supporter of the Palestinian cause. Any violent suppression of the Palestinian uprising would only kindle a new interest in the Palestinian problem which the international community has virtually abandoned.
Early signs indicated that the third Intifada, if it had taken off the ground, would have made the previous two – in 1987 and 2000 -- appear non-events because it would be driven by people’s power and would have the potential to spread to the rest of the Arab and Islamic world. This is because the issue involved the Aqsa mosque. The world’s 1.7 billion Muslims regard this mosque as the third holiest place of worship after the two mosques in Makkah and Madina.
Besides, Jerusalem also receives the Muslims’ respect because it was their first Qiblah
A Palestinian protester told al-Jazeera television: “We are under occupation and al-Aqsa Mosque is a red-line to everyone in Jerusalem -- actually, to everyone in Palestine, and all over the Muslim world -- but much more for the people of [Jerusalem]. It’s dearer than their own lives.”
Needless to say, the Arab despots shiver at the first sign of any popular uprising. Instead of their predictable silence, the Arab rulers -- some of whom maintain secret ties with Israel, though such contacts are no more secret -- reacted with the seriousness the issue deserved. They knew if the Muslims were to lose the Aqsa mosque, the region wide uprising may even destabilize their own regimes. Tough words from Turkey and behind-the-scenes diplomacy between Arab capitals, Washington and Tel Aviv helped defuse the tensions to some extent.
Israel began to relax the security measures it introduced at the Aqsa mosque compound after two Israeli policemen were killed by Palestinian gunmen on July 14. During the two weeks of protests, the Palestinians refused to pray inside the compound in protests against what they saw as attempts to bring the mosque under Israeli control. Yesterday, they celebrated when Israel removed the surveillance devices.
The clashes may be over, but it does not mean Jerusalem is all set to live in peace in keeping with its name. On the contrary, it remains a flashpoint.
Since Palestine’s partition through a lopsided United Nations Security Council resolution in 1947, Jerusalem has been a contentious issue in the Israeli-Palestine conflict. The city has been attacked 52 times, captured and recaptured 44 times, besieged 23 times, and destroyed twice – once by a brutal Babylonian emperor and later by the ruthless Romans. During the first Crusade in the 11th century, it is said that the invaders waded in blood up to their knees during their violent conquest of Jerusalem.
From 1516 to 1917, the city remained under the Ottoman Turks. With the Ottoman caliphate’s defeat in World War I, Britain occupied the entire Palestine and the same year issued the notorious Balfour Declaration, pledging a homeland for the European Jews in Palestine. This declaration, which was tantamount to one land thief giving a piece of a property he robbed to another land thief, not only laid the foundation for the creation of Israel but also for many wars between Israel and Arabs, not to mention the misery that befell the Palestinian people.
Under the UN partition plan, Jews, a majority of them being migrated European Jews, got 55 percent of the land though they comprised 30 percent of the territory’s population, while the Palestinians who made up 65 percent of the population were given 45 percent of the land. So much for the UN’s commitment to justice and fair play! In terms of the resolution, Jerusalem was to be placed under international administration.
Following wars in 1948 and 1967, Israel captured the whole of Jerusalem, but after an agreement with Jordan, the Aqsa administration came under an Islamic trust. Citing security as an excuse, Israel does not allow Palestinian males who are below the age of 40 to enter the compound. During the recent clashes, the age limit was increased to 50.
The Aqsa mosque lies on top of a rock which also contained the holiest Jewish shrine, the Wailing Wall. Both the mosque and the Wall were parts of the Temple which was built by King Solomon, who according to Muslims was a prophet of Allah. Muslims also believe that it was from the Aqsa mosque that Prophet Muhammad ascended to the presence of God. Besides, Jerusalem also receives the Muslims’ respect because it was their first Qiblah. The early Muslims, including Prophet Muhammad turned towards Jerusalem during their daily prayers, until instructions came to them to turn towards Makkah. The Quran refers to the al-Aqsa compound and its surrounding as a sanctified territory. Disregarding Muslims sentiments, hardline Jews call for the demolition of the Aqsa mosque and the adjoining Dome of the Rock Mosque, which was built by Muslim conquerors in the 7th century. They want to build the Third Temple. The Palestinians charge that Israel has started archaeological excavation in the compound area with the intention of causing the collapse the two mosques. The politically powerful Jewish hardliners made several attempts to occupy the mosque and conduct Jewish prayers. The Israeli government now allows them to visit the compound under police guard despite Palestinian protests.
The compound is in East Jerusalem which the Palestinians see as the capital of their future state. But Israel has passed legislation declaring the whole of Jerusalem as its capital. The international community has not recognised this. Even the Donald Trump administration which had earlier said it would shift the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, now appears to be backpedalling. Meanwhile, the Palestinians living in Jerusalem have become stateless. They have only resident permits and limited rights, while Israel builds illegal settlements for the Jews in East Jerusalem. As Jerusalem was being rocked by the recent clashes, details of an Israeli-Egyptian plan for independent Palestinian state emerged. The plan involves Egypt giving up part of Sinai for it to be annexed to Gaza, which will be declared an independent state. Mohammed Dahlan, an exile Palestinian leader favoured by Israel, the United States, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the UAE, is said to be spearheading efforts to work out the deal. Most Palestinians see the plan as a move to restrict the Palestinian state only to Gaza with the West Bank being divided between Israel and Jordan. With friends such as these among themselves, do Palestinians need more enemies?