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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 April 2019

Jerusalem's Arab life cannot be erased

Israel’s systematic undermining of Palestinian identity has been facilitated by the Trump administration

An Israeli policeman pushes back a Palestinian woman outside the Old City of Jerusalem after Israeli forces closed the entrance to the Al Aqsa Mosque compound on March 12. AFP
An Israeli policeman pushes back a Palestinian woman outside the Old City of Jerusalem after Israeli forces closed the entrance to the Al Aqsa Mosque compound on March 12. AFP

This week, The National has run a series of reports exposing the hardships of Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem. From Amal Al Qassem, forcibly separated from her husband and unable to visit him in Ramallah for fear of losing her home to settlers, to teenager Yehiya Derbas, maimed by Israeli bullets, they are Israel’s quiet victims. They might not face the constant threat of air strikes – like those trapped in Gaza – but violence takes many forms. What they face is a systematic Israeli campaign to eradicate the Arab identity of East Jerusalem, the capital of any future Palestinian state.

Israel seized the eastern part of Jerusalem in 1967 from Jordan, and illegally annexed it in 1981. Although Palestinians account for a third of Jerusalem’s population, they are treated as second-class citizens, with residency that is easily – and often – revoked. A towering wall constructed three years ago that cut some 140,000 Palestinians off from the rest of the city is part of a strategy to rid East Jerusalem of Palestinians and replace them with Israeli settlers. Today, 350,000 Palestinians live there – three-quarters of them below the poverty line. Most lack adequate access to water and education, and face demolitions, evictions, family separation, police and settler violence. With the demographics against them, Israel is pushing Palestinians to leave – with discriminatory policies and force.

Discrimination on this scale violates both international law and the region’s history. And yet, these tactics received a boost last May, when President Donald Trump relocated the US embassy to Jerusalem, pronouncing it the capital of Israel. Since then, the balance of power has tipped overwhelmingly in favour of Israel, increasing the pace of settlement-building and discriminatory law-making. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently claimed that US policy in the region is based upon “facts on the ground”. But it is the Israelis, with US support, who have changed those realities. Palestinians in East Jerusalem are now helpless and alone. As The National reports today, even Jerusalem’s Greek Orthodox Church has secretly been selling land to Israel.

There are some encouraging signs. Jordan, the custodian of several holy sites, might take a more active role. Meanwhile, Pope Francis joined Morocco’s King Mohammed VI in calling for Jerusalem to be a “symbol of peaceful coexistence”. Leaders at the Arab League summit in Tunis this week rebuked Mr Trump, declaring East Jerusalem the capital of Palestine. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has described it as the “capital of both states”. These words carry weight, but they will be of little assistance to Palestinians dealing with the harsh realities of daily occupation. It is time for the world to take action, before the Arab soul of Jerusalem is erased for good.

Updated: April 3, 2019 11:28 AM

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