The demand for a democracy with equal rights over all of historic Palestine must be made loud and clear. Israel must make way for a political reality where the voices of all people are heard and the rights of all people are guaranteed.
JERUSALEM (Opinion) — Jerusalem was an Arab and Muslim city for close to 1300 years. Like other parts of Palestine, it was a harmonious mosaic. But, though there was always a Christian and Jewish presence — both of people and of monuments — it was predominantly a Muslim city.
This was violently disrupted twice: first in the year 1099, from which for a period of 88 years the city was occupied by the Crusaders, and then again in 1948 when the newly created Jewish State took the city and made Jerusalem its own. When the State of Israel took the western part of the city in 1948, in violation of a United Nations Resolution, it destroyed its Arab and Muslim character and then declared it as the capital city of the Jewish people.
Claiming that Jerusalem — and indeed all of Palestine — belongs to Jews only is not only morally wrong, but also short-sighted and unsustainable. In Jerusalem, as in the rest of historic Palestine, Israelis and Palestinians today, despite living in close proximity to each other, are completely segregated by a system of apartheid,. The two communities live in one state, governed by the same government, but in completely different realities and under different laws resulting from Israel’s apartheid legal system.
If the United States truly cares about democracy, the answer to this is not for Washington to legitimize Israeli claims to exclusive sovereignty but rather to support work towards a democracy where everyone’s rights are respected and guaranteed under the same law.
A modern history of conquest and oppression
On November 29, 1947, the United Nations General Assembly voted to partition Palestine and establish a Jewish state in selected parts of the land, as well as an Arab state. The plan stated clearly that “The international regime for Jerusalem, the eighth division, [is] to be administered by the United Nations Trusteeship Council” and that it should not be part of either state.
But the Zionist leadership ignored this, and the conquest of Jerusalem, as well as other parts of Palestine, went ahead full-speed. This was followed by a brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing — which is recognized as a crime against humanity, according to the UN. The Jerusalem campaign — in which 39 villages were destroyed and eight neighborhoods in and around the city were completely emptied of their Palestinian inhabitants by fully armed Zionist militias that were largely supported by Britain — is described in detail in Ilan Pappe’s book, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (see p. 194).
Ironically, it wasn’t until December 13, 1949 — more than a year and a half after the state of Israel was established and the majority of Palestinians forced out, but only four days after the United Nations reaffirmed the resolution that Jerusalem should be placed “under a permanent international regime” — that the government of Israel declared that Jerusalem would be the capital city of Israel.
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The international community never recognized Israeli claims to the city, and no countries with which Israel has diplomatic relations have embassies in Jerusalem.
Donald Trump’s announcement that the United States recognizes Jerusalem as the capital city of Israel was in fact a legitimization of the illegal occupation and ethnic cleansing — or, specifically, de-Arabizing since, as we see in West Jerusalem, only Jews were allowed to remain and inhabit the city.
In my book, The General’s Son: Journey of an Israeli in Palestine, I tell a story that was told to me by my mother about this period in the city’s history. My mother was born in Jerusalem in 1926, and in 1948, when the Jewish forces had forced the Palestinian population to leave, their now-vacant homes were made available to the incoming Jewish families..
My mother was only 22 years old at the time, and already a young mother. She too was offered a fine looking home in Jerusalem’s Qatamon neighborhood. However, she turned down the offer, saying she refused to take the home of another family who had now become refugees.
“Can you imagine how they must miss their home,” she would say to me as she repeated the story over and over again. She then went on to describe the terrible looting that took place as the Palestinian families had to flee and were given no time to take their belongings with them.
For the Zionist leadership, the ethnic cleansing of Palestine was a major strategic objective. There are many quotes that demonstrate how pleased they were when it was successful and, though exact numbers are not clear, close to one million Palestinians were forced to leave. Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, said the following in reference to Jerusalem while on a visit to the city in February of 1948:
When I come now to Jerusalem, I feel I am in a Jewish (Ivrit) city […] It is true that not all of Jerusalem is Jewish, but it has in it already a huge Jewish bloc: when you enter the city through Lifta and Romema, through Mahaneh Yehuda, King George Street and Mea Shearim – there are no Arabs. One hundred percent Jews […] In many Arab neighbourhoods in the West you do not see even one Arab.” (The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine, p. 142)
The unified capital of Israel
It wasn’t until 1967, when Israel completed the conquest of Palestine, that it also completed the conquest of the city of Jerusalem by taking the eastern part of the city. Then once again Israel embarked on a campaign — which still continues in 2017, fifty years later — of ethnic cleansing, destroying neighborhoods in and villages around the city, and building for Jews only.
The Mughrabi or Moroccan neighborhood in the Old City of Jerusalem was one of the first to be bulldozed and its inhabitants forced to leave to make room for a major plaza in front of the Western Wall. In Silwan-Wadi Hilwe, which sits at the foot of the Old City just below the Haram Al-Sharif, or the Noble Sanctuary, there is a Palestinian community of some 50,000 people. Walking through Silwan, one can see that Palestinian homes are being destroyed by archeological excavations that are part of the City of David archaeological park — an Israeli project that wants to prove that the biblical King David once resided there.
At the same time, Jewish settlers — some American, some Israelis — supported by armed Zionist militia and police, are forcing families to leave their homes so that Jews can take them. In August of 2017, Israeli Public Security Minister Gil’ad Erdan — whose office is also in charge of conducting Israel’s fight against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, or BDS, campaign — visited Silwan and said that his office will do everything possible to ensure the safety of any Jewish family that is willing to move to East Jerusalem.
In 1980 the Israeli Knesset passed the Jerusalem Law, which declared both parts of the city as the unified capital of Israel, arguably hoping that this would settle the issue of the city’s sovereignty once and for all. But the reality is that, as much as Israel tries to pretend that Palestinians have no claim to Jerusalem, it cannot change the fact that Jerusalem is still a holy city for Arabs and Muslims around the world. Any Palestinian child will tell you that Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine.
Each Friday, busloads of Palestinian families from all parts of Palestine, particularly from the towns and villages of 1948, come to Jerusalem to pray at the Al Aqsa mosque. I have seen them for years: young and old, they brave the long hours of travel crossing through militarized checkpoints, the regular harassment by Israeli security forces, and the very real risk of being held back by Israeli police and never making it to the mosque. It is not uncommon for the Israeli police to prevent them from even entering the Old City. Often times, Palestinians will then resort to praying on the sidewalk outside the Old City if they are prevented from entering.
Answering Trump with a demand for democracy and respect
It isn’t hard to see that the reality in Jerusalem is a microcosm of all of Palestine. It is a reality that cannot be sustained and should not be allowed to continue. Trump’s declaration recognizes and, even more destructively, legitimizes systemic racism, ethnic cleansing and violence against an indigenous people.
The answer to that is to demand a respect for the rights of all people, no matter their faith or race. Not one religion, one nation, one sovereignty that is imposed by force, but a democracy with equal rights that respects human rights and human dignity for everyone.
The demand for a democracy with equal rights over all of historic Palestine must be made loud and clear by all people of conscience and by the international community.
Israel must make way for a political reality where the voices of all people are heard and the rights of all people are guaranteed.
This is what has inspired the BDS movement, whose demands include ending the military occupation, granting equal rights, and allowing the Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and their land.
If we can learn anything from the examples set by the non-violent resistance to end apartheid in South Africa through BDS, then supporting a one-state solution is precisely the right answer and the right action with which to confront Donald Trump’s Jerusalem declaration and Israel’s occupation of Palestine.
Top photo | The Dome of the Rock Mosque in the Al Aqsa Mosque compound is seen in Jerusalem’s Old City, July 15, 2017. (AP/Mahmoud Illean)
Miko Peled is a well-known Israeli-American activist, author, and karate instructor. Peled authored The General’s Son: Journey of an Israeli in Palestine, and speaks at venues around the world.