Writing from Jerusalem, Sai Englert describes the situation there and calls for protests and increased BDS campaigns in solidarity with Palestine. For the last nine days, Israeli authorities have banned many Muslims from the Al-Aqsa Mosque in occupied east Jerusalem, one of the holiest sites in Islam. Jewish settlers, backed by Israeli security forces, entered the mosque compound yesterday. The influence of settlers – typically right-wing and racist – has only grown since Netanyahu won elections in March after vowing to block a Palestinian state, and pledging to build thousands of illegal new homes for settlers in the Occupied Territories. Yet Israel continues to receive over $3 billion of military aid a year from the US, and David Cameron welcomed Netanyahu to London last month.
This afternoon I went to the old city of Jerusalem.
It is like a ghost town. Very few Palestinians in the streets, many shops are closed, and so are most entries to Al Aqsa. The passages that remain open are heavily policed, with only those above 55 and tourists allowed in. The streets are full of mobile check points. Each street corner is occupied by a crowd of “police officers” who are basically soldiers in a different uniform. Israeli settlers are all over the place, in all neighbourhoods, walking in small groups – armed, confident, jubilant. In the street where two armed settlers were killed on Saturday, a large crowd of their accomplices were holding a sit in: guitars, songs, candles and flags, as well as signs in English and Hebrew calling for revenge, for retaliation, for justice. They laugh and chat, for the most part in perfect North American English accents – or terrible Hebrew – about “their neighbourhood,” “their land,” “their houses.”
The whole area is tense, either very quiet or very loud. It feels ready to explode at any moment. The occupier is present with all its might. They also look ready to stay for a long time. Regular shift changes and police trucks full of water and food keep the soldiers going. Somehow many tourists continue their tours, admiring the beauty of the buildings, as if totally oblivious to the horror around them.
It is now an open question what will happen to Al Aqsa. It has effectively been turned into a restricted area except for tourists, an attraction. Will the state replay the trick it performed in Al Khalil (Hebron in Hebrew), the West Bank city partitioned into Palestinian and Israeli sectors, and separate the holy place in two? One part for Jews and one for Muslims? It seems like way more than a theoretical possibility.
Across the West Bank and Jerusalem people are getting organised and fighting back. We are nowhere near the third intifada so many are announcing on social media in the hope that it will happen, but a shift seems to be taking place. Yesterday in Ramallah the PLO and the Islamic front released a joint statement calling for the formation of popular committees of self defence. People are fighting the army up and down the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Palestinians in Haifa have organised solidarity demonstrations. Schools in the Bethlehem area went on strike today in response to the army’s murder of a Abdel Rahman Shadi, 13-year-old boy, in Aida refugee camp. All universities in the West Bank, occupied Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip are also on strike for better conditions today for the third time in a week.
The Palestinian Authority continues its role as an outsourced Israeli police force, with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas calling on the police to crush the demonstrations as quickly as possible. The Israeli army is increasing its attacks and over 500 Palestinians have been injured, with up to nine, as far as I know, killed in the last 72 hours. Israeli mobs are attacking Palestinians in the streets and shops of Jerusalem. Netanyahu is whipping up his men by extending repressive measures, encouraging police and soldiers to shoot to kill anyone throwing a Molotov cocktail or even a stone. The authorities have demolished the family homes of two “terrorists” in East Jerusalem. On Sunday evening the Israelis killed 18-year-old Huthayfa Othman Suleiman and claimed he was responsible for his own death before attacking his family and his entire university. Netanyahu is using the opportunity to repress Hamas in the West Bank, and even to launch airstrikes on Gaza two nights ago.
Zionism is unleashing its military power once more on the Palestinian population, and the West continues to foot the bill and support the colonial project. Demonstrations, actions, and BDS campaigns should pop up across the globe in response to this situation. It won’t free Palestine or stop the current onslaught, but it can continue to increase the pressure on our leaders and their Israeli friends. It can make clear that the world is not only watching, but fighting back, in solidarity with the struggle of the Palestinian people, against colonialism and racial supremacy.