Opinion

Jerusalem the cornerstone of Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Jerusalem the cornerstone of Israeli-Palestinian conflict

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The exchange of attacks between Hamas and Israel notwithstanding, the most important takeaway from the events of the last week is that Jerusalem is and will continue to be the center of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Politicians and even revolutionaries and militants will continue to use the city as a lightning rod for specific purposes, but that will not reduce its importance. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas may have wanted to get out of an election whose results he was unable to guarantee by using the Israeli refusal to allow Jerusalemites to participate, but the very fact he used Jerusalem to get out of the difficult poll goes to show how important the holy city is in Palestinian politics.
Even Hamas, which might have a different motivation for its actions, couldn’t help but respond to the calls for help. What forced the initial barrage of rockets — that for the first time reached the outskirts of west Jerusalem — was the fact that the Israeli provocation and refusal to respect and deal with the Palestinians and their holy sites had reached unprecedented levels.
Israelis violently breaking into Al-Aqsa Mosque, where devout Muslims were spending the last days of the holy month of Ramadan, showing little respect for the sanctity of the place and the worshippers within, brought appeals from the besieged and attacked Palestinians for help from any and all who could. Palestinian citizens of Israel were the first to respond and, even though Israeli police barred them from entering Jerusalem near the village of Abu Ghosh, they decided to walk the remaining 20 km to the Old City. As news of these restrictions spread online, hundreds of Palestinians went out in their cars and drove to the city. Meanwhile, local restaurants provided iftar fast-breaking meals free of charge to those who had come to show solidarity.
But the Israeli security forces’ aggression and their insistence on allowing the radical, anti-Arab Jews to complete their flag-waving and provocative visit to Jerusalem produced hundreds of injured Palestinians and yet another call for help. Thus came the first siren blast in the Jerusalem area to announce impending rocket fire — an act that appeared, at least temporarily, to change the balance of power. Israelis ran for cover and the sirens seemed to expose the many civilian security guards who were pretending to be part of the local scene in order to spy on the Palestinians, who had earlier broken the hundreds of cameras that were monitoring their every move inside and outside the Old City.
A debate will certainly take place as to the wisdom of introducing Hamas rockets into the conflict and whether this diverted attention from Jerusalem’s largely unarmed protests, both in Al-Aqsa and in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, where tens of Palestinian families are threatened with eviction.
Regardless of this or that argument, there is no doubt that the city of Jerusalem and the preservation of its Arab identity continues to be the most important aspect in the entire Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Ariel Sharon’s defiant entry to Al-Aqsa Mosque in the fall of 2000 produced a similar reaction by Palestinians, which was brutally put down, leaving tens of martyrs — an act that triggered what became known as the Al-Aqsa or Second Intifada. Now, Jerusalem and its most prominent site, Al-Aqsa Mosque, is again the center of the conflict and the trigger that causes all other activities and acts of resistance.
With Israel knowing the potential reaction to their violent efforts against the Palestinian people and their holy place, it remains unclear what its motivation was for escalating the situation. Did the Israelis, particularly Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu amid his failure to form a government, want to instigate a conflict in order to get the support of the Israeli public thanks to their expected handling of this issue, which has equal emotional and religious meaning to devout Jews? Netanyahu, who is not a devout Jew but is politically dependent on the political and religious Jewish parties, needed to have this drama around Jerusalem and the revered location of Al-Aqsa in order to gain the sympathy of the public and possibly to derail the attempts of his opponents to form a government that could replace him and his right-wing allies.

The city and its most prominent site, Al-Aqsa Mosque, is again the trigger that causes all other activities and acts of resistance.

Daoud Kuttab

Regardless of the motivations or whether it was Abbas or Hamas, the only game in town continues to be that of the status of Jerusalem and its identity. Courageous Palestinian youths have succeeded in standing up to the powerful Israeli military machine and have defended their Al-Aqsa with their bare chests and determination, coupled with the new fad of smiling as they are being arrested to show they have no fear of the Israelis.
The city of Jerusalem has been claimed as the capital of both the Israelis and the Palestinians. The question remains whether the Israeli side will be allowed to continue to crush the other side or whether a formula will be found to allow Palestinians and Israelis to share the city and allow its residents — whether Muslims, Christians or Jews — to live and pray in peace and without fear or intimidation.

  • Daoud Kuttab is a resident of Jerusalem. Twitter: @daoudkuttab
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Arab News' point-of-view

Israel destroys tower block, kills Hamas commander as Gaza civilian death toll mounts

In Gaza City, people sifted through debris after an Israeli air strike destroyed a 12-story building near the coast. (AFP)
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Updated 13 May 2021

Israel destroys tower block, kills Hamas commander as Gaza civilian death toll mounts

  • At least 56 people in Gaza, including 14 children, two Palestinians in the West Bank
  • Six Israelis have also been killed in the ongoing conflict

TEL AVIV: Heavy exchanges of rocket fire and air strikes, and rioting in mixed Jewish-Arab towns, fueled fears Wednesday that deadly violence between Israel and Palestinians could spiral into “full-scale war.”
Israel’s Defense Minister Benny Gantz vowed more attacks on Hamas and other Islamist militant groups in Gaza to bring “total, long-term quiet” before considering a cease-fire.
“This is just the beginning,” warned Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “We’ll deliver them blows they haven’t dreamt of.”
Gaza militants have launched more than 1,000 rockets since Monday, said Israel’s army, which has carried out hundreds of air strikes on Islamist groups in the crowded coastal enclave of Gaza.
The most intense hostilities in seven years have killed at least 56 people in Gaza, including 14 children, and six in Israel, including an Israeli soldier and one Indian national, since Monday.

 

Three Palestinians were killed in West Bank clashes. And at least 230 Palestinians and 100 Israelis have been wounded.
An Israeli soldier was killed on Wednesday when Palestinian militants in Gaza fired an anti-tank missile near the border, the army said, amid tit-for-tat rocket fire and air strikes.
A statement from the army identified the soldier as Omer Tabib, 21, who was “killed this morning by the anti-tank missile launched by the Hamas terror group from Gaza at Israel.”
The bloodshed was triggered by weekend unrest at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque compound, which is sacred to both Muslims and Jews.
As world powers voiced growing alarm over the crisis, the UN Middle East envoy Tor Wennesland warned that “we’re escalating toward a full-scale war.”
The UN Security Council held another emergency meeting without agreeing on a joint statement due to opposition from the United States, Israel’s ally.
The European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell called for an immediate end to violence in Israel and the occupied Palestinian Territories that has killed more than 50 people since Monday.
“Everything must be done to prevent a broader conflict, which will, first and foremost, affect the civilian populations on both sides,” Borrell said in a statement that condemned actions by both sides.

 

France’s foreign minister said the international community must do everything possible to avert a new conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, after Palestinian militants fired hundreds of rockets and the Israeli army launched air strikes.
“The cycle of violence in Gaza, in Jerusalem but also in the West Bank and several cities in Israel risk leading to a major escalation,” Jean-Yves Le Drian told parliament. “Everything must be done to avoid... a conflict” that would be the fourth such deadly confrontation in the last 15 years, he said.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called for an urgent meeting of the Middle East Quartet in order to halt violence between Israel and the Palestinians.
Speaking alongside UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, Lavrov said: “Today we’ve come to the common opinion that the most pressing task is to convene the Quartet of international mediators — Russia, the United States, the UN and the EU.”
Sergei Vershinin, a Russian Deputy Foreign Minister, called on Israel to “immediately” stop all settlement activities in the Palestinian Territories, RIA news agency reported.
Vershinin also said that Moscow called for the “status quo of Jerusalem’s sacred sites” to be respected, RIA reported. 
China’s special envoy on the Middle East, Zhai Jun, expressed “deep concern” over escalating clashes between Palestinians and Israel and urged all parties to exercise restraint to avoid further casualties.
In a meeting with Arab envoys and the chief representative of the Arab League in China, Zhai said Beijing would continue to push the UN Security Council to take action on the situation in East Jerusalem as soon as possible, according to a foreign ministry statement.

Netanyahu declared a state of emergency in the mixed Jewish-Arab Israeli city of Lod, where police said “wide-scale riots erupted among some of the Arab residents,” and authorities later imposed an overnight curfew there.
There were fears of widening civil unrest as protesters waving Palestinian flags burnt cars and properties, including a synagogue, clashed with Israeli police and attacked Jewish motorists in several Jewish-Arab towns.
Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin, in unusually strong language, denounced what he described as a “pogrom” in which “an incited and bloodthirsty Arab mob” had injured people and attacked sacred Jewish spaces.
Rivlin said Israelis needed “to be ready and armed, strong and determined, prepared to defend our home.”

 

Palestinian groups, mainly Hamas and Islamic Jihad, have launched more than 1,000 rockets, Israel’s army said, including hundreds at Tel Aviv, where air sirens wailed overnight.
Of these, 850 have hit in Israel or been intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome air defense system, while the rest have crashed inside Gaza, the army said.
Israel has launched hundreds of air strikes on Gaza, the Israeli-blockaded strip of two million people that Hamas controls, targeting what the army described as “terror” sites.
Hamas said several of its top commanders were killed in Israeli strikes, including its military chief in Gaza City, Bassem Issa. Israel’s internal security agency, the Shin Bet, also identified three other top Hamas militants who it said were killed.

 

Its leader Ismail Haniyeh threatened to step up attacks, warning that “if Israel wants to escalate, we are ready for it.”
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged both sides to “step back from the brink.”
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said “everything must be done” to avoid a new Middle East conflict.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken said a US envoy would travel to meet Israeli and Palestinian leaders to seek “a de-escalation of violence.”
In Gaza City, people sifted through debris after an Israeli air strike destroyed a 12-story building that Hamas had been a residential building. It was also known to house the offices of several Hamas officials.
Five members of a single family were killed by an Israeli strike in northern Gaza Tuesday, including young brothers Ibrahim and Marwan, who were filling sacks of straw at the time.
“We were laughing and having fun when suddenly they began to bomb us. Everything around us caught fire,” their cousin, also called Ibrahim, told AFP.
“I saw my cousins set alight and torn to pieces,” said the 14-year-old, breaking down in tears.

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In Israel’s central city of Lod, a man and a girl were killed Wednesday by rocket fire from Gaza. Israel identified one of the dead as 16-year-old Nadin Awad, an Arab Israeli.
Her cousin, Ahmad Ismail, told public broadcaster Kan that he was near Nadin when she was killed alongside her father Khalil Awad, 52.
“I was at home, we heard the noise of the rocket,” said Ismail. “It happened so quickly. Even if we had wanted to run somewhere, we don’t have a safe room.”
An Israeli woman was killed when rockets hit Rishon Letzion near Tel Aviv. In Ashkelon, a town near Gaza which Hamas threatened to turn into “hell,” rockets fired by militants killed two women Tuesday.
The crisis flared last Friday when weeks of tensions boiled over and Israeli riot police clashed with crowds of Palestinians at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque.
Nightly disturbances have since flared in east Jerusalem, leaving more than 900 Palestinians injured, according to the Palestinian Red Crescent.
The unrest has been driven by anger over the looming evictions of Palestinian families from the Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah.
Large protests have been held in solidarity with Palestinians around the world, including in Britain and South Africa as well as in Muslim-majority countries including Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Pakistan, Tunisia and Turkey.

(With Reuters and AFP)

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Israeli troops kill another unarmed Palestinian

Updated 19 August 2022

Israeli troops kill another unarmed Palestinian

  • Anger in West Bank after man, 58, is shot on his way home from morning prayers

RAMALLAH, West Bank: There was growing outrage in the occupied West Bank on Friday after Israeli troops killed another unarmed Palestinian man.

Saleh Sawafta, 58, was returning from dawn prayers at a mosque near his home in Tubas when he was shot in the head. Doctors fought to save his life, but Sawafta died from “critical wounds.”

The victim, who had been preparing for his daughter’s wedding next week — was not involved in previous clashes with Israeli forces and was not a target for arrest.

His death brought the number of Palestinians killed by the Israeli army since the beginning of the year to 135.

Hundreds of people attended Sawafta’s funeral on Friday afternoon as anger spread in the city.

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Tubas Governor Maj. Gen. Younis Al-Assi accused the Israeli army of using “excessive and unjustified force” against Palestinian citizens, and of shooting to kill.

He told Arab News that the Israeli army’s policy of killing, wounding and arresting Palestinian citizens was the main contributor to the “industry of terrorism,” and influenced young people to seek revenge for the deaths and assaults.

Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh said that the armed forces of the Israeli occupation would continue their “terrorism” unless the international community stopped displaying double standards over international law.

“As long as they can act with impunity, the crime continues in the absence of punishment. Children, women and the elderly are victims of the terror of the occupation in every city, village and camp,” the prime minister said.

The Palestinian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Sawafta’s killing was “part of a series of daily crimes committed by the Israeli occupation forces against Palestinian citizens,” and said the army was acting on instructions from Israeli politicians.


US says ‘concerned’ by Israeli closure of Palestinian NGOs

Updated 19 August 2022

US says ‘concerned’ by Israeli closure of Palestinian NGOs

  • Six of the Palestinian organizations were labeled last October as terrorist organizations by Israel
  • The NGOs have all denied any links to the PFLP, which many western nations have designated a terrorist group

WASHINGTON: Washington said Thursday it was “concerned” by the Israeli government’s forced closure of several Palestinian NGOs operating in the occupied West Bank.
The Israeli military announced earlier in the day that it had conducted overnight raids of seven organizations in Ramallah, the West Bank city where the Palestinian Authority’s headquarters are located.
Six of the Palestinian organizations were labeled last October as terrorist organizations by Israel for their alleged links to the leftist militant group Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), though Israeli officials have not publicly shared any evidence of the links.
The NGOs have all denied any links to the PFLP, which many western nations have designated a terrorist group.
“We are concerned about the Israeli security forces’ closure of the six offices of the Palestinian NGOs in and around Ramallah today,” said US State Department spokesman Ned Price at a press briefing.
“We have not changed our position or approach to these organizations,” said Price, though he noted that Washington does not fund any of them.
“We have seen nothing in recent months to change (our position)” he added.
US officials have reached out to their Israeli counterparts “at the senior level” to obtain additional information, which Israel has promised to provide, according to Price.
The seventh organization raided by Israel on Thursday, the Union of Health Work Committees, was banned by Israel from working in the West Bank in 2020.


Israel announces plan to boost Gaza work permits

Updated 19 August 2022

Israel announces plan to boost Gaza work permits

  • A further 1,500 people from the impoverished and overcrowded Gaza Strip would be allowed to work in Israel from Sunday

JERUSALEM: Israel said Friday it plans to grant more work permits to Palestinians in blockaded Gaza, reviving a pledge made ahead of a visit by US President Joe Biden but later scrapped.
A further 1,500 people from the impoverished and overcrowded Gaza Strip would be allowed to work in Israel from Sunday, the military said in a statement.
“The decision will take effect ... on condition that the security situation remains quiet in the area,” said COGAT, the Israeli defense ministry body responsible for civil affairs in the Palestinian territories.
The move to boost to 15,500 the total number of work permits was initially announced on July 12, on the eve of Biden’s visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories.
But it was scrapped four days later, in the wake of rocket fire from the Gaza Strip and retaliatory strikes by Israeli warplanes.
The work permits provide vital income to some of Gaza’s 2.3 million people, who have been living under a strict blockade imposed by Israel since the Islamist movement Hamas seized power in 2007.
Friday’s announcement follows three days of fighting this month between Islamic Jihad militants and Israel.
At least 49 Gazans were killed and hundreds wounded, according to figures from the enclave’s health ministry.
The plan to issue additional permits follows a decision by Hamas largely to stay out of the recent fighting.


Market blast in north Syria kills 19 people, wounds dozens

Updated 20 August 2022

Market blast in north Syria kills 19 people, wounds dozens

  • Assad regime shelling hits busy market in rebel-held Aleppo town, says monitor
  • The attack on the town of Al-Bab came days after a Turkish airstrike killed at least 11 Syrian troops and US-backed Kurdish fighters

JEDDAH: At least 19 civilians were killed in northern Syria on Friday in an upsurge in violence along the border with Turkey.

Artillery fire by Assad regime forces hit a busy market in the border town of Al-Bab, which is under the authority of Turkish-controlled Syrian fighters, killing 15 people.

In the semi-autonomous Kurdish region in northeast Syria, four children were killed and 11 were injured in a Turkish strike on a rehabilitation centre for girls near the city of Hasakeh.

The new bloodshed comes against a backdrop of increased tensions pitting Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces backed by the regime against Turkish forces and their Syrian proxies.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitor in Britain that has a network of sources in Syria, said the shelling that hit Al-Bab originated from Assad regime positions. A spokesman for the SDF denied any involvement.

The strike ripped through the market area and witnesses described a jumble of body parts, strewn vegetables and mangled handcarts.

BACKGROUND

The new bloodshed comes against a backdrop of increased tensions pitting Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces backed by the regime against Turkish forces and their Syrian proxies.

Violence between Turkey and Syria’s Kurds escalated this week with a deadly Turkish strike killing 17 regime and Kurdish fighters in retaliation for Kurdish fire inside Turkey.

Ankara considers the main Kurdish component of the SDF — allied with the US against Daesh militants —to be a terrorist organisation with links to the outlawed PKK.

The warring factions in Syria's 11-year conflict have carved up the north into a patchwork of zones of control. Al-Bab is within the areas of Aleppo province held by Turkish-backed rebels. Other parts are held by Assad regime troops backed by Russia.

The SDF, spearheaded by Kurdish groups who have opened a dialogue with the regime in Damascus, also control parts of the north and northeast.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened a new military operation against the Kurds in northern Syria, but has failed to obtain a green light from allies Iran and Russia.

Erdogan insisted on Friday that Turkey did not intend to seize any Syrian territory despite stepping up its attacks against Kurdish forces.

“We do not have eyes on the territory of Syria because the people of Syria are our brothers,” Erdogan said. “The regime must be aware of this.”

But he also hinted that Turkey may be open to a reproachment with Assad after fiercely opposing his regime.“There should be no resentment in politics,” he said.


Deadly wildfires contained in Algeria after homes, livelihoods lost

Updated 19 August 2022

Deadly wildfires contained in Algeria after homes, livelihoods lost

  • Justice Ministry launches inquiry after interior minister suggests some of this year’s blazes were started deliberately

ALGIERS: Wildfires which killed at least 38 people across northern Algeria have been contained, firefighters said Friday, as volunteers mobilized to help those who lost homes and livelihoods in the tragedy.

“All of the fires have been completely brought under control,” said fire brigade Col. Farouk Achour, of the civil defense department.
Fierce fires have become an annual fixture in Algeria’s parched forests where climate change exacerbates a long-running drought.
Since the beginning of August, almost 150 blazes have devastated hundreds of hectares.

BACKGROUND

Experts have called for a major effort to bolster the firefighting capacity of Algeria, which has more than four million hectares of forest.

In the badly hit region of El Tarf, farmers examined the charred remains of their animals killed when flames swept through the area.
The fire “didn’t spare anything,” said one farmer, Hamdi Gemidi, 40, who walked in rubber sandals on the ash-covered earth where the carcasses of what appeared to be sheep lay.

An elderly Algerian woman reacts inside the ruins of her home. (AFP)

“This is our livelihood ... We have nowhere to go and nothing to make a living from.”
Ghazala, 81, said she had been rescued along with a few animals after flames came dangerously close to her house.
“I don’t know where to go now. Should I stay in the fields, forests or mountains?” she asked, on the verge of tears.
“I really don’t know where I should go.”
The Justice Ministry launched an inquiry after Interior Minister Kamel Beldjoud suggested some of this year’s blazes were started deliberately, and authorities on Thursday announced four arrests of suspected arsonists.
But officials have also been accused of a lack of preparation, with few firefighting aircraft available despite record casualties in last year’s blazes and a cash windfall from gas exports with global energy prices soaring.
Authorities said they deployed more than 1,700 firefighters over Wednesday and Thursday.
The dead included more than 10 children and a similar number of firefighters, according to multiple sources including local journalists and the fire service.
Most were in the El Tarf region near Algeria’s eastern border with Tunisia, an area which was sweltering earlier this week in 48 degree Celsius heat.
Algerians both at home and in the diaspora have mobilized to collect clothing, medicines and food to help those affected.
Late on Thursday, dozens of trucks carrying humanitarian aid from various cities arrived in El Tarf, regional authorities said.
European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell also offered support to Algerians “hard-hit by the terrible fires.”
Writing on Twitter, he said: “The EU stands by your side in these difficult times.”
Twelve people burned to death in their bus as they tried to escape when fire ripped through an animal park, a witness who asked not to be named said.
When “nobody came to help us, neither the fire service nor anyone else,” park staff assisted families with young children to escape as flames encroached on the area, Takeddine, a worker at the park, said.
Fires last year killed at least 90 people and seared 100,000 hectares of forest and farmland in the country’s north.
Experts have called for a major effort to bolster the firefighting capacity of Algeria, which has more than 4 million hectares of forest.
Algeria had agreed to buy seven firefighting aircraft from Spanish firm Plysa, but canceled the contract following a diplomatic row over the Western Sahara in late June, according to specialist website Mena Defense.
Spain, too, has this year battled hundreds of wildfires following punishing heat waves and long dry spells.
On Thursday, Algeria’s Prime Minister Aimene Benabderrahmane defended the government’s response.
He said his country had ordered four new firefighting aircraft but they would not be available until December.
The prime minister added that strong winds had exacerbated the fires and authorities deployed “all their means” to extinguish them.

 

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