MUFTI OF JERUSALEM Mohammed Hussein (right) walks in front of the Dome of the Rock in 2007.
(photo credit: AMMAR AWAD / REUTERS)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu takes pride in having played a key role in President Trump’s decision to move the United States Embassy from Tel Aviv to Israel’s capital, and in urging and coaxing other states to follow Trump’s example. At the same time, there are worrying signs that in Jerusalem itself, the present government is failing to ensure Israeli sovereignty over a united Jerusalem. It does this by allowing a substantial Palestinian Authority presence in the Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem, by which they intimidate and coerce Jerusalem’s Arab residents to further the PA’s interests that undermine Israeli sovereignty.
The recent abduction and prolonged incarceration in Ramallah of Jerusalem resident Issam Aqel by the PA’s General Intelligence Agency for selling land in Jerusalem to Jews – and Israeli moves against the abduction – paradoxically revealed how extensive and intimidating the PA’s presence is in Jerusalem.
To begin with, the abduction came to light only because the absconded Jerusalem resident was a citizen of the United States, a fact that emboldened the family to publicize the abduction. One suspects that the abduction of many Arab residents who are not fortunate to be US citizens never come to light for fear of even greater retribution by the PA.
Worse yet, Aqel had gone to the Israel Police before his visit to Ramallah to warn the authorities that he might be in danger. He evidently hoped that the police would react in case he was abducted. The police did nothing at first, claiming that he left voluntarily for Ramallah. Aqel carried a blue identity card and is an official resident in Jerusalem. He hoped that this would protect him.
It was only after Aqel’s arrest hit the news that the Israeli authorities responded by arresting Adnan Gheith, a long-time Fatah activist in Jerusalem, and Jihad al-Faqih, an officer in the PA’s General Intelligence in charge of Jerusalem. Gheith has a long record of leading violent demonstrations against the police and Jewish inhabitants in Silwan, and in organizing violent and nonviolent vigils surrounding the Temple Mount.
Gheith was recently promoted to governor of the Jerusalem District in the PA, no doubt as a reward for his efforts in mobilizing Jerusalem residents against Israeli sovereignty for over a decade but also to signal to Arab Jerusalemites that by appointing a “muscle man” to the position, the PA meant to ensure that Arab Jerusalemites abide by its dictates, one of the most important being the prohibition of selling land to Jews.
Further acts of intimidation soon followed. The Muslim Joudeh family – one of two families entrusted with the keys to Church of the Holy Sepulchre – decided to take away the church’s key from family member Adeeb Joudeh, after he sold his house to Jewish settlers. They were no doubt intimidated by the PA to do so.
MORE UNEXPECTED were the events surrounding a harrowing traffic accident between a truck and a van transporting east Jerusalem workers on the Jericho-Beit She’an road in the Jordan Valley. Five workers were killed. One of the families of the five subsequently tried to bury their deceased in the burial site near the Temple Mount. They were prevented from doing so by rioters who accused the family of selling land to Jews.
The aspect most injurious to Israeli sovereignty was the contrast between the treatment meted out to Gheith, al-Faqih and the abducted Aqel. The former were quickly released by the Israeli authorities, while Aqel “disappeared” for a week in a PA jail until his wife mustered the courage to inform the US consulate of his disappearance. She was then informed of his detention and allowed to visit him, but he was not released.
As MK Bezalel Smotrich pointed out, had Aqel been a Jewish resident, the Israeli authorities would have mustered sufficient pressure to have him released in at least the same time it took them to release Gheith and al-Faqih. Why should the fate of an Arab Jerusalemite be any different from a Jewish Jerusalemite? Sovereignty over Jerusalem certainly means according all its residents the same protection.
The real issue, however, is hardly equal civil rights, as important as these rights may be.
The real issue is the lesson which Arab Jerusalemites who want to live in peace with their Jewish neighbors take away from these events. That lesson is clear: Israel will accord you no protection enabling the PA, in the words of Yitzhak Rabin, “unfettered by a High Court of Justice and B’tselem (a “human rights” organization in Israel), to intimidate and imprison people without regard to human rights in clear infringement of Israeli sovereignty over its capital.
More important than achieving international recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital is the necessity of ensuring sovereignty over the city itself.
This means prohibiting residence to PA officials to reside in Jerusalem, especially those involved in surveillance, intimidation and the organization of protests and incitements against Israeli Jewish residents and visitors to the Temple Mount. It also means establishing a liaison office for the Israel Police in Jerusalem, and providing relevant contact information that would allow Arab Jerusalemites to complain against harassment, along with the penalization of those who harass them, according to Israeli law. This policy should be publicized by leading Israel officials in broadcasts by Israeli Arab radio and television and in media sites such as al-Quds, both on its Jerusalem-based media site and in its newspaper.
It goes without saying that those involved in their intimidation – from the PA officials who incite to such acts to the local Fatah bully boys – should be prosecuted for such incitement and harassment.
Frequently in the Middle East, where the law of the jungle largely prevails, Israel is often compelled to act accordingly in order to protect itself. Ensuring sovereignty over Jerusalem is entirely different; it means assuring rights such as equal protection to Arab Jerusalemites from the PA’s laws of the jungle by forcefully acting to enforce the law.
This is a legal battle Israel can hardly lose. Laws and rights are only meaningful if they are backed by the power of the state and its institutions that brought them into existence. The writer is a professor in the Political Studies and Middle Eastern Studies department of Bar-Ilan University and a senior fellow at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies.
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