Palestinians spoil Israel’s flag march by underlining Jerusalem’s Arab identity


May 31, 2022

A Palestinian man sits on a roof, above an alley, as Israelis march inside Jerusalem’s Old City, May 29, 2022. (Reuters)

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Fifty-five years after it was captured in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, East Jerusalem, with its iconic Old City, remains strikingly and unmistakably an Arab city under military occupation, even as a deadly necklace of illegal Jewish settlements is close to strangling it. The unblemished fact of its Arab identity was never more hauntingly true than on Sunday, when extremist Jews held their notorious flag march through the narrow alleys of the walled city, passing through the Muslim Quarter and assembling defiantly at the Damascus Gate, which has been a symbol of Palestinian steadfastness for decades.

Far-right Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett approved the march for ideological and political reasons. He wanted to appease the settlers and other extremists, who make up the bulk of his voter base, and send a message that Jerusalem was the united and indivisible capital of Israel. But that message did not resonate well inside Israel and beyond. In fact, with thousands of border police, soldiers and Shin Bet agents deployed in East Jerusalem to protect the marchers from the city’s rightful residents, the world could only see scenes of a city under military occupation and under siege being breached by uninvited outsiders.

In fact, what the flag march underlined for many Israelis was that East Jerusalem, including the Old City, is incontrovertibly an unconquered territory whose fate continues to hang in the balance. Why else would they need so many armed troops, who attacked, beat up and arrested many Palestinian residents, just to protect a once-a-year Jewish march, which is dominated by extremists, fanatics and racists who openly call for the death of Arabs and the burning of their villages.

Israel has a lot to be ashamed of over the way it treats and subjugates an entire nation. But the flag march has come to epitomize the true nature of Israeli society, especially in the last two decades: A society that preaches hatred and dehumanizes the Palestinians; a society that, ironically, continues to claim that it shares common values with the civilized West.

Sunday’s flag march — even to the dwindling numbers of secular Israelis who oppose the occupation and seek a peaceful settlement — represented what is ugly about Israel. It was an orgy of hate and vengefulness, with ecstatic chants of “Death to Arabs,” “May your village burn,” “Shuafat is burning,” and ending with an ancient Talmudic curse against the Palestinians: “May their name be accursed.”

But the flag march did not go quite as planned. It was hardly an exclusive Jewish day of celebration. The Palestinian residents of the city had their day too. They raised Palestinian flags inside and above the Old City. They held their own marches in the streets of occupied East Jerusalem; declaring without hesitation that the city is theirs, that it remains Palestinian to the core. Third and fourth-generation Palestinian youths — the ones about whom David Ben-Gurion once said that “the old will die and the young will forget” — had marred the Jewish festival.

But what happened on Sunday will give a boost to Israel’s old scheme that the only way to truly unite and Judaize the city is to erase its Arab/Palestinian identity. And that can only be done by neutralizing the demographic challenge; that is, to “transfer” its indigenous Palestinian residents — all 300,000-plus of them — and replace them with Jewish settlers. However, despite economic strangulation, the denial of building permits, the razing of entire neighborhoods, a lack of equitable municipal services, home demolitions, evictions, the withdrawal of residency permits and confiscation of properties in the Old City, the Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem have somehow persevered.

The long-term Israeli goal was to bring down the proportion of Arabs in East Jerusalem to less than 10 percent. Today, there are 220,000 Israeli settlers living in illegal settlements there. In fact, since 1967, Israel has expropriated 35 percent of East Jerusalem for Israeli settlements.

With the West’s complicity or indifference, the Israeli encroachment on Palestinian lands and property in East Jerusalem is likely to pick up in the coming months and years, as increasingly hard-line Israeli governments come to power. The stark reality is that Israeli leaders of all political shades agree that Jerusalem will never be divided. Their encroachment would have gone with little international protest except for one crucial game changer: Al-Aqsa.

The world could only see scenes of a city under military occupation and under siege being breached by uninvited outsiders.

Osama Al-Sharif

From 1967 to about 2000, various Israeli governments, including right-wing ones, respected, to some extent, the status quo at Al-Aqsa Mosque. Jerusalem, they claimed, was open to the freedom of religious worship. This has changed drastically, especially under the Bennett government. The daily storming of Al-Haram Al-Sharif and the breach of the status quo understanding, amid calls to demolish the mosque while allowing Jewish fanatics to perform Talmudic prayers, is turning the conflict into a religious one. This plays into the hands of religious extremists on both sides of the divide and promises to fuel militancy and violence, pushing the entire region toward a dangerous precipice above a bottomless abyss.

  • Osama Al-Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman. Twitter: @plato010

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News’ point of view


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