Handing Jerusalem to the Palestinians
In its desire to build a case for why Jerusalem should for the first time become a capital city for an Arab nation, the Palestinian Authority has consistently attacked the notion that, in the words of historian, Sir Martin Gilbert, “the city holds the central spiritual and physical place in the history of the Jews as a people.”
Central to this position has been a concerted attempt to deny the powerful Jewish connection to Jerusalem, instead casting it is as a fundamentally Arab, Islamic and Christian city, and to characterize any Jewish presence as colonial, expansionist and a generally recent phenomenon.
Speaking on Palestinian Authority TV in August 2010, the Palestinian Minster for Religion, Mahmoud Al-Habbash claimed that Jerusalem has been, “throughout history, the capital of the Palestinian state and the capital of the Palestinian people” despite the fact that no Palestinian state has ever existed and that the Jewish people have been the only people in history to call Jerusalem their capital.
The Palestinian Authority Mufti, Muhammad Hussein took the distortion even further by stating that “there never was a Temple in any period, nor was there, at any time, any place of worship for the Jews or others at the Al-Aqsa Mosque site.”
Such sentiments are not merely confined to the religious leaders of the Palestinian national movement.
In February of this year, adviser on Jerusalem affairs to the Palestinian President’s Office, Ahmed Al-Ruweidi accused Israel of creating an “artificial” Jewish heritage in Jerusalem “at the expense of its true and authentic [identity] as an Arab, Islamic and Christian city”. A statement which not only denies the ancient Jewish connection to Jerusalem but which ignores the more recent aspects of Jerusalem’s identity, notably the fact that the city has had a Jewish majority since the 1860s.
President Abbas himself has long referred to Jerusalem as the “eternal capital of Palestine”, a statement which is fundamentally inconsistent with any recognition of Jewish claims to the city.
While many observers will quickly brush off such inflammatory falsehoods and policy statements as mere political gamesmanship by the Palestinians or the refrain of fringe elements, there is a very real concern that the concept of Jewish foreignness when it comes to Jerusalem is taking hold in the mainstream political discourse.
Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa director, Malcolm Smart, has described Jewish residential projects in the eastern parts of the city as taking place on “occupied Palestinian land” which “devastate the lives and livelihoods of the Palestinians”. Characterizing east Jerusalem as “occupied Palestinian land” effectively intercedes in the dispute over the status of the city and hands it to the Palestinians. In the process, the impartiality of Amnesty International is spectacularly undermined.
Furthermore, Smart’s objection to a Jewish presence in the east of the city and his assertion that the land is Palestinian and is “occupied” by Israel both ignores the absence of a legal sovereign from which Israel could occupy the land and the Jewish connection to Jerusalem long before the resumption of Jewish life there following the end of the Jordanian hold on the city in 1967.
Smart’s displacement of the Jewish connection to Jerusalem by casting Israeli construction as an injustice perpetrated by a mere occupier against an ostensibly indigenous population, constitutes a fundamental distortion of history.
More so, the subtle manner in which the Jewish people are severed from their ancient capital, in contrast with the patent falsehoods of the Palestinian Authority referred to earlier, is precisely what makes it so dangerous – cloaked as it is in the language of international law and human rights.
The UN Special Rapporteur on Adequate Housing, Raquel Rolnik has taken things further still, employing language which bridges the gap between the rhetoric of the Palestinian Authority and of seemingly non-partisan, mainstream organizations.
Rolnik described Israeli government housing policy in Jerusalem, among other places, as “Judaization”, a slur which had previously been confined to the Palestinian Authority and radical sympathizers.
The use of the term “Judaization” (by a UN official no less) which, can be understood to denote a process by which something which is not Jewish is made so, is to deny the Jewish character of Jerusalem and to perpetuate a new and highly politicized history aimed at advancing Palestinian national aspirations, not in tandem with the development of the Jewish State, but in place of it.
Rolnik’s outrageous use of the term suggests that Jewish life in Jerusalem is somehow alien and cannot be tolerated.
Perhaps the most troubling aspect of her comments is the implication that Palestinian interests can only be advanced by denying the long, unbroken Jewish connection to the land. An approach which seems fundamentally inconsistent with the idea of a mutual recognition of Jewish and Palestinian movements and a co-existence of two states borne of such movements.
It is significant that blatant distortions of history and a denial of Jewish Jerusalem have gradually shifted from the arena of the Palestinian Authority to the domain of purportedly non-partisan NGOs and the UN. Ironically, such distortions, far from advancing Palestinian national aspirations, in fact undermine the notions of mutual recognition and understanding which are essential precursors to any negotiated peace.