By Daoud Kuttab
Israeli security is pushed to the limits. The coincidence of three holidays at the same time pushed the men and women who are responsible for quiet to the brink. The holy month of Ramadan, the Jewish Passover, and Easter all occurred in the same last weeks of April. The old city of Jerusalem where 90% of the population 35,000 residents is also home to Islam’s third holiest mosque. The right-wing prime minister of Israel Neftali Bennet has ordered that those Jews wishing to visit the Haram al-Sharif/Al Aqsa Mosque should be allowed to do so regardless of what Palestinians think. In previous years under different Israeli administrations visits to the mosque’s esplanade known to Jews as the temple mount was prohibited during the month of Ramadan. Friday, the Muslim holy day of the week in Ramadan, can see at a time over 150,000 worshipers attending the noon prayers and weekly sermon.
This large number of people is a huge burden to the Israeli police who must also be sure that thousands of Jewish worshipers at the nearby Western wall must also be protected.
All security and crowd control theories are built on a two-tier approach. Try and control the crowds with as little confrontation as possible, and make sure that you have some form of communication with the leaders of the protestors. The United States State Department’s annual human rights report falsely claimed that in 2021 Palestinians living in Israel and the occupied territories were generally allowed to protest freely. This might be true for Jewish Israelis but try to raise a Palestinian flag at Damascus gate and you will be immediately attacked, beaten, and arrested. Hundreds of Palestinians have been arrested for refusing the continued Israeli occupation of their lands and the insistence of the Israeli government to allow Jewish zealots to ‘visit’ the esplanade of the mosque uninvited and without coordination with the mosque’s managers. Jordan’s King Abdullah along with John Kerry reached an agreement in 2014 with then Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu that Al Aqsa is more Muslims to pray to and for all others to visit.
A visit to the mosque during this holy month is not necessary and a sane government official would have made that call. In fact, under pressure, the Israeli cabinet did decide to keep the so-called visitors from the mosque area in the last ten days of the holy month. Yet on the third Friday of Ramadan and despite the public distribution of that decision, Israel used a drone to drop tear gas at the crowds of Muslims in the mosque’s outdoor area. 150,000 attended Friday noon prayers and many stayed as is the tradition during the last days of Ramadan.
But the problem is not in this year’s calendar. The problem is much deeper. Israel has no communications with Palestinians and has done everything it can to deny Palestinians any opportunity to organize themselves politically. Palestinian parliamentary elections agreed to in the Oslo Accords have been banned, Palestinian institutions are closed, and as Human Rights Watch argued Israel has barred every attempt at political empowering Jerusalem’s 350,000 residents even though Israel claims that they fall under its civilian, not military rule.
On even the wider level the current Bennet government has had no shame in stating that they have no plans to hold talks with Palestinians to end their military occupation or to even meet with the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. In the preamble of UN Security Council Resolution 242 in November 1967, the world body emphasized the “inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war.
Numerous resolutions since have repeated the same. In fact, American Friends of Peace Now have argued most recently that what is needed is a road map to end the occupation. “The occupation must end. The conflict must be resolved. The only way to resolve it is through diplomacy, and only the United States can help broker such diplomacy. That was true in the past and is still the case today,” said APN in an April 19th message to US secretary Blinken entitled “Conflict management diplomacy is insufficient.
The violence that has occurred in the old city of Jerusalem has been going on for some time, yet the same politicians want to solve the recurring problems with security-only solutions. The time has come for the world to do what it did to the unacceptable action of Russia’s Putin and tell Israelis that they must work on ending its occupation. There is a willing Palestinian partner who is open to a historic agreement, but peace cannot be had if one side applies the might is right theory and reject that we need to apply the idea that right is might.
Daoud Kuttab is an award-winning Palestinian journalist and former Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University. Follow him on Twitter@daoudkuttab