Jerusalem: When Society Rises Against Colonial Catastrophe

Al-Quds* has been at the receiving end of the most intense and fastest colonial encroachment ever seen in Palestine, its people left to their own devices, stripped of any support, backing, or a vision to put up against the Zionist enterprise.
2021-04-26

Majd Kayyal

Writer from Haifa, Palestine


share

In recent years, the intense Israeli assault on Jerusalem has been exceptional, perhaps even unprecedented. Today’s popular revolt in Jerusalem is a spontaneous rebellion against a monstrous Zionist configuration, immeasurable in size and knows no bounds, that seeks to destroy Palestinian Jerusalemite society. Such social devastation is the only key Israel holds to tighten its oppressive grip over the 350 thousand Palestinians who live in the “capital” and to maintain Jewish supremacy in the occupied city.

Every Israeli institution, be it official or unofficial, somehow partakes in Judaising Jerusalem or tearing apart its Palestinian society. Intelligence forces, the police force, municipal forces, ministries of interior, security, and the judiciary are certainly all central actors in such an assault. The picture is a much bigger one, however: universities, research centres, employment centres, NGOs, investment funds, urban planning bureaus, capital (both Israeli and Palestinian), settler movements, social welfare services, the education system, and countless others – all consistently work towards intensifying Zionist control over the city.

The overall picture

Urban planning committees and bureaus reshape the city in a way that divides Palestinian neighbourhoods into isolated quarters (by resorting to settlements, roads, parks, and touristic development), disrupt their contiguity, and cut their links with their historical city centre. In parallel, Jewish settlements are interlinked, with one another as with the city centre (through the light rail, for one), while waves of house demolitions are ordered in Palestinian neighbourhoods as pressure mounts over tens of thousands of households, crushed under economically devastating fines, or forced into demolishing their own homes. Along with tax authorities, ministries of health and the environment systematically attack local merchants with the daily humiliation of fines and store closures, to extort their property, selling it to settlers, to turn in young protesters, or thwart political and social events, among other goals that the intelligence services may devise. In tireless coordination with local capital, investment funds and employment and economic integration institutions pump tens of millions of dollars into “integrating” Palestinians in Israeli job markets and consumption; similarly, they create services and shopping centres to cater to their Palestinian neighbourhoods, in an attempt to substitute their own city centre and market. Hand in hand with Zionist institutions, the ministry of education purges school staff in Jerusalem of their activist educators and imposes Israeli curricula on Jerusalemite schools instead. All the while, school dropout rates are shrouded in inconsistent percentages, which range between 40 and 60 percent of middle and high schools. Meanwhile, the social solidarity system in the city, which used to exist through national, activist, and religious spheres in the city, was intentionally battered, and attempts were made to replace it with colonial “social welfare” services – in a society home to a population 80 percent of which live below the poverty line (and that’s before covid-19 marched in!). 

The incentives behind the Zionist obsession with ripping apart the Jerusalemite community are no secret. A substantial Palestinian human presence (350 thousand) live in the city in direct daily contact with Israelis. Physically expelling them from the city is difficult, while controlling or overpowering would be impossible – unless their social fabric is dismantled and all attempts to organise, unite, and movement-build are suppressed – unless they are morphed, that is, and subjugated into the system of Israeli citizenship. 

In the meantime, Israeli universities, organisations, and research centres try to create alternative local political “elites” that claim to represent people in service provision, but while working through Zionist governmental channels. That is, not to mention settler-colonial organisations that expend billions to seize Jerusalemite houses and expel their residents, not only in the old city but also in Silwan, Sheikh Jarrah, and other Jerusalem neighbourhoods, pushing the population out, to settle in horrible impoverished suburbs, with an insanely high population density, horrible access to service provision, and miserable residential and social conditions (today, 80 thousand people live in Kafr ‘Aqab, for instance, when they used to be 20 thousand in 2014!). Additionally, city locals are terrorised on a daily basis by intelligence and security forces, let alone by hundreds of arbitrary arrests and virtually sham trials.

Striking anything that may resemble a collective life

The incentives behind the Zionist obsession with ripping apart the Jerusalemite community are no secret. A substantial Palestinian human presence (350 thousand) live in the city in direct daily contact with Israelis. Physically expelling them from the city is difficult, while controlling or overpowering them would be impossible – unless their social fabric is dismantled and all attempts to organise, unite, and movement-build are suppressed – unless they are morphed, that is, and subjugated into the system of Israeli citizenship. Thus, Jerusalem has been living a pathological Israeli obsession to shatter every attempt at creating a political movement, regardless of its size, and closing every institution or centre interested in national education or collective events. 

Until 2019, Israel downright shut down around 90 Palestinian institutions in the city, blocked countless social and cultural events that used to bring city people together, whether children’s activities, theatre performances, or football matches, or even personal occasions like weddings or condolences. In parallel, activists and community organisers are persecuted and shoved into prison or banished from Jerusalem for long months, while Zionist organisations ensure no political activists are employed by European or American funds or receive their support – by filing complaints against them.

Settler-colonial organisations expend billions to seize Jerusalemite houses and expel their residents, not only in the old city but also in Silwan, Sheikh Jarrah, and other Jerusalem neighbourhoods, pushing the population out, to settle in horrible impoverished suburbs, with an insanely high population density, horrible access to service provision, and miserable residential and social conditions.

Such practices are twofold when in the old city of Jerusalem – the historical centre of the city, its markets, and Al-Aqsa Mosque – the beating heart of the city. They try to empty out the souks, spatially and geographically divide Al-Aqsa, with repeated settler attacks and provocations in its compound, terrorise merchants in nearby hoods, especially those adjacent to entrances to the compound, intensify military presence within, render all young men who enter it as threatened by default, and intensify worshiper surveillance and inspection, all the way to attempt and block social and entertainment events planned to take place in the mosque (a few weeks ago, soldiers banned a young man from entering the mosque because they found him to be in possession of a foam clown nose…it’s that bad!).

Damascus Gate: an attempt to slay the prettiest!

With the beginning of Ramadan, Israel hit a new high in its attempts to suppress one of the most prominent Jerusalemite landmarks and social lifelines: closing the stairs that lead down to the Damascus Gate. Its square and stairs are a central public space and considered to be the main entrance into the old city. It is connected to central commercial streets outside the old city walls (Salah Al-Din Street area, the historical Nablus road, Bab Assahira/Herod’s Gate area, and Sheikh Jarrah and Musrara neighbourhoods) and extremely close to Palestinian transportation hubs in Jerusalem (station to buses to Ramallah, Palestinian Jerusalem suburbs and neighbourhoods, and Bethlehem and its surrounding villages, as well as a point of departure for Hebron buses).

 Come Ramadan, Damascus Gate turns into a magical square of night-time festivities, where thousands of Jerusalemites congregate after the tarawih prayers in Al-Aqsa Mosque, breathing life into its nearby markets.

Until 2019, Israel downright shut down around 90 Palestinian institutions in the city, blocked countless social and cultural events that used to bring city people together, whether children’s activities, theatre performances, or football matches, or even personal occasions like weddings or condolences.

For a few years now, Israel has been intensifying its military presence around the Damascus Gate and changing the contours of its square. Concrete and metal military outposts have been constructed to imbed soldiers for inspecting, watching, and harassing locals passing through square centre and surrounding area. They followed a policy of distressing and threatening visitors, to the extent of carrying out a number of summary executions. This year, the Israeli authorities decided to bar the gate stairs behind iron fences on Ramadan eve – to unequivocally prohibit people from congregating there. As such, Israel has tried to stifle the finest annual event that connects and brings together Jerusalemites from different families and neighbourhoods, as well as visitors hailing from all corners of Palestine to the holy city. The love that Jerusalemites and Palestinians in general share for this occasion and its festive mood is indeed indescribable; it has ever rolled out a carpet of joy over the catastrophe we’ve been living.

A new wave of rebellion

In such a dreadful social circumstance, out of brutish Israeli arrogant oppression, out of the attempt to steal away the smallest of our remaining joys, another generation has come to see the light of day under the shadow of catastrophe. Upon birth, every Palestinian must bear witness to some Israeli crime or another. Some of today’s children were born the day the atrocity of burning alive Mohammed Abu-Khdeir took place, and who see the extent of humiliation and oppression to which Israel resorts to break our spirit and every living bit within us – to turn us into freaks that feed the colonial system and its commercial centres, into creatures who crumble under the weight of poverty, crime, backwardness, and engineered ignorance, as our intellectual and cultural connection with our own history and civilisation has been severed, and so has our right to access an (uninterrupted) rich social history – who crumble under distorted values and morals that used to inform the struggle for justice, freedom, social solidarity, and political willpower.

What began as a non-politicised mischievous childish act on Tiktok, where “hitting settlers” was rendered a hidden-camera prank of sorts – which sprang out of the oppression and hate suffered, out of the persecution that spares no efforts to horrifically humiliate– turned, in lightning speed, into packed political demonstrations that clashed with Israeli soldiers and attacked the ministry of justice and the court of injustice in Salah Al-Din Street, trying to set them ablaze. 

Still, while Israel has thus far managed to suppress political organising to the largest possible extent and to quash patriotic cultural and social work to a large extent, it has failed, and will fail, to produce the perfectly oppressed freak. This current revolt began in Tiktok – social media used by a generation of “challenges” – within which “hitting settlers” was rendered a hidden-camera prank of sorts. Very quickly, however, the political patriotic discourse regained its imperative status. What began non-politicised mischievous childish act – which sprang out of the oppression and hate they suffer, out of the persecution that spares no efforts to horrifically humiliate them – turned, in lightning speed, into crowded political demonstrations that clash with the Israeli army and attack the ministry of justice and the court of injustice in Salah Al-Din Street, trying to set them ablaze.

Nonetheless, the hope and enthusiasm such a popular revolt, and similar ones, may revive in us must not distract from seeing the dangerously comprehensive and deep-rooted picture that Jerusalem lives. This city has been at the receiving end of the most intense and fastest colonial encroachment ever seen in Palestine, its people left to their own devices, stripped of any support, backing, or a vision to put up against the Zionist enterprise. Actors who imagine some form of patriotic renaissance to the city are suppressed, while the important backing the city enjoyed from 1948 Palestinians was hit when the Islamic Movement and the Qawafel Al-Aqsa venture were banned, and when the marabouts were targeted in general. As for the Palestinian Authority…no words could describe it better than those of its own senile president himself.

With the beginning of Ramadan, Israel has hit a new high in its attempts to suppress Jerusalemite social life: closing the stairs that lead down to the Damascus Gate, with its square and stairs a central public space and considered to be the main entrance into the old city. It is connected to central commercial streets just outside the old city walls…Come Ramadan in specific, the Damascus Gate turns into a magical square of night-time festivities, where thousands of Jerusalemites congregate after the tarawih prayers in Al-Aqsa Mosque, breathing life into its nearby markets.

The Zionist enterprise in Jerusalem is quite brutal; it gnaws deeper than we could see and wider than we could imagine. Resisting it would need serious commitment, energy, resources, and, first and foremost, political willpower. Backing this revolt is indispensable, as is spreading and expanding it, of course. In the meantime, however, studying previous revolts and understanding their upsides and limitations alike, along with the Israeli response they received, trying to predict and challenge it, would be equally indispensable. As would be reading and understanding the Jerusalem picture… an appalling one, undoubtedly. 

• Translated to English by Yasmine Haj

• First published in Arabic 

______________

* Arabic for Jerusalem, and which literally means “the holy place”.

Articles from Palestine

A Human Gesture

2021-07-15

Let’s let Khalida know that she’s not alone during this ordeal, and that we share her pain and grief. Let’s write to her in prison. Let hundreds, thousands of letters...

Palestine is Back as a Given

Nahla Chahal 2021-06-21

Speaking of one Palestine, extending from the river to sea, would, in turn, be repeated as a given. Not through adolescent politicians’ tongues, or as a unified position that denied...

From the same author

On B’Tselem’s Apartheid

Majd Kayyal 2021-02-01

The Israeli human rights organisation, B’Tselem, has recently issued a statement in which it says that “the territories under Israeli control are organised under a single principle: advancing and cementing...