There is a lot of fuel on the fire in Jerusalem at the moment and it is burning. As I write this on Monday morning, Israeli police forces are clashing with Palestinians at the Al Aqsa mosque site and in several other locations around the Old City and it is being reported that hundreds of Palestinians have been injured overnight.
Violence has been escalating over the month of Ramadan and started when police prevented Muslims from gathering on the steps by Damascus Gate in the evenings during April. Separately, several families in Sheikh Jarrah are facing the threat of eviction and the area has become a hotspot for nightly protests.
Both of these issues are commonplace for Palestinians, who have almost every aspect of their lives strictly controlled by the Israeli occupying powers. On this occasion however, they have provided the spark that has united Palestinians from across East Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza and importantly from across Israel, to unite in outrage against the injustice that has restricted their freedom for over 70 years.
Something different is happening in Jerusalem at the moment that hasn’t been seen in many years. Young people are self-organising and are taking to the streets in large numbers to call for justice. Social media has moved on dramatically since the last time there was a major uprising (the ‘second intifada’ between 2000-2005) and events are being captured on tik-tok, Instagram, twitter and live streamed across the world. There have been over 91,000 posts on the #savesheikhjarrah hashtag alone.
Every night over the past week there has been violent clashes between Palestinian protestors and the police. People have lost eyes from rubber bullets, hundreds have been injured, each night stun grenades have reverberated across the city and copious amounts of skunk water has been sprayed but remarkedly, no-one has yet been killed.
When we drove past one hotspot area on Friday night, the first thing we saw was a group of young women, aged around 18, who were identically and conservatively dressed in what looked like a school uniform. They all wore white head scarves and long coats, and they were singing. Meanwhile, a few feet away police stood shoulder to shoulder in full riot gear. Were these young women the ‘extremists’ that Israeli PM, Netanyahu condoned in his last public statement on the matter?
Language matters and it is so highly nuanced that even whilst living in the eye of the storm it is hard to make sense of what is happening. Some say the police are being very lenient, whilst others consider them brutal thugs who respond violently to peaceful protest. Some people will also consider that if the highest level of justice, the Supreme Court has ruled on the evictions that the Palestinians have no case to fight.
In a normal country that might hold fast, but Israel is not a normal country. It is a religious state that has built the prioritisation of Jewish people above the native Palestinians into the heart of its legislative system.
Today is Jerusalem Day. It marks the ‘reunification’ of Jerusalem when the East (Palestinian) side was occupied by Israel in 1967. In normal years it is a humiliating show of strength from Israel where Israeli Nationalists are invited to march through the Old City waving flags. The flag dance march is expected to begin around 4pm this afternoon and this year it could be catastrophic. It is incredulous that the authorities plan to allow this inflammatory event to go ahead, winding its way through Damascus Gate towards the Al Aqsa compound.
Israel has either chosen not to de-escalate the situation or does not have the skill to do so. Now is the time for the international community to seriously ramp up its interventions to condemn what is happening here. All eyes are on Biden and the US administration to lead the way and they have not gone far enough to date. No one has, and everyone I know that is connected to the international community feels helpless and perhaps a bit embarrassed. The truth they don’t want to say, is that the embassies in Tel Aviv hold the strings, not the consulates in Jerusalem, and most countries still place their relationship with Israel above the injustice being served to the Palestinians.
If any good can come of this, I hope that the heightened media attention will raise awareness globally and help to challenge some assumptions about the situation. I fear that innocent lives will be lost today, and for what? Not a natural disaster or an unstoppable disease, but a man-made system of oppression that can’t be allowed to continue.