December 10, 2020
When a radical Israeli nationalist last Friday attempted to burn down one of Jerusalem’s most iconic churches, the Church of All Nations at Gethsemane, the act was condemned by a wide section of religious and political leaders in Palestine and Jordan. However, Wadie Abunassar, a Haifa-based senior adviser to the Catholic Church in the Holy Land, wondered why no Israeli leaders issued a condemnation of the attack. He called for an investigation into the motive for this ugly act.
As has often happened in the past, the attacker is usually exonerated as being mentally disturbed and, therefore, what happened is referred to as an individual act, meaning there was no external influence that motivated it. A more contextual look at what is happening in Israel/Palestine, both in terms of political statements (or lack thereof) as well as the impunity of such attacks, belies the claim that there is no larger responsibility of Israeli officials and public leaders in this action.
In the past few years, more than 45 religious locations have been attacked. Israeli radicals have been filmed and left signatures after cemeteries have been pillaged, crosses broken, anti-Arab racist graffiti scribbled on churches, car tires slashed, clergy and Christian icons spat upon, and much more. Last month, a member of the Israeli Magen David Adom ambulance team who spat on Christian icons was only fired because it was filmed by a security camera and the video was shared on social media.
The racism is anti-Arab, anti-Christian and, for sure, anti-Muslim. Mosques are desecrated and worshippers are harassed daily, while many are legally prevented by Israeli kangaroo courts from worshipping in their house of prayer without any evidence or a chance to defend themselves.
Staff of the Jordanian Waqf Ministry, who for decades have been managing the 144 dunums of Al-Haram Al-Sharif, are often harassed as Israeli soldiers protect the infiltrating radicals as they show no respect to the site and its regulations, as specified in the centuries-old status quo agreement. The status of Al-Aqsa Mosque — Islam’s third-holiest mosque — was reconfirmed as recently as 2014 in the understanding between US Secretary of State John Kerry, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Jordan’s King Abdullah. The Jordanian monarch’s family members have been the custodians of the mosque since the early 1900s, long before the state of Israel existed.
Anti-Christian and anti-Muslim racism is not restricted to actions against holy places and worshippers — it has even been codified in Israeli law. The 2018 “nation state” law was used to justify discrimination against two Arab children from Karmiel, who asked for compensation to travel to another town because there were no Arabic-language schools where they lived. “This is a Jewish city,” proclaimed the Israeli court when justifying rejecting the request by citing the nation state law. This legislation considers Israel a Jewish state, despite the fact 20 percent of its citizens are Arab.
Jerusalem should be a shared city for all its inhabitants, as well as the billions around the world that look to it as a foundation of their faith.
A nongovernmental organization dedicated to equality in Israel and Palestine has created Adalah’s Discriminatory Laws Database, which it describes as “an online resource comprising a list of over 65 Israeli laws that discriminate directly or indirectly against Palestinian citizens in Israel and/or Palestinian residents of the Occupied Territories on the basis of their national belonging.”
Racism is abhorrent and rejected by all civilized people. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which celebrated its 72nd anniversary on Thursday, reminded the world that “recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice, and peace in the world.”
The most recent attack on a historic church is not an isolated case, regardless of whether or not the Israeli courts show the perpetrator to be mentally disturbed. The racist motivation for a political movement that wants to monopolize Jerusalem for a certain religion will not work. Jerusalem, the cradle of religions, should be a shared city for all its inhabitants, as well as the billions around the world that look to it as a foundation of their faith and a source of their spiritual inspiration.
Daoud Kuttab is an award-winning Palestinian journalist and former Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University. Twitter: @daoudkuttab
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