Palestinians and Israelis battle over Jerusalem

PALESTINIAN AFFAIRS: Palestinians view a crackdown in Jerusalem after last week's terror attack in the context of the fight for Jerusalem.

 IN THE OLD City’s three main souks (markets), Butchers’ Market, Goldsmiths’ Market and Fragrances and Spices Market, more than 90% of the shops have closed.  (photo credit: KHALED ABU TOAMEH)
IN THE OLD City’s three main souks (markets), Butchers’ Market, Goldsmiths’ Market and Fragrances and Spices Market, more than 90% of the shops have closed.
(photo credit: KHALED ABU TOAMEH)

Hours after Sunday morning’s terrorist attack near the Western Wall, Israeli policemen again visited the home of Adnan Gheith, the Palestinian Authority “governor” of Jerusalem, in the village of Silwan.

This time, however, the police officers did not come to arrest Gheith, who had been released from detention days earlier.

The purpose of the visit was to check whether the “governor” was complying with the terms of the house arrest imposed on him by the authorities due to his alleged illegal activities on behalf of the PA in the city.

Since his appointment to the top job in 2018, Gheith, a senior official with the Palestinian ruling Fatah faction headed by PA President Mahmoud Abbas, has been detained at least 34 times by the Jerusalem Police.

Gheith has also been served with a military order banning him from entering the West Bank or contacting senior representatives of the PA and Fatah.

 MOFEED SHWEIKI: Many merchants moved to areas outside of the Old City because people stopped coming to the Old City.  (credit: KHALED ABU TOAMEH)
MOFEED SHWEIKI: Many merchants moved to areas outside of the Old City because people stopped coming to the Old City. (credit: KHALED ABU TOAMEH)

This means that the “governor,” who holds an Israeli-issued ID card in his capacity as a permanent resident of Jerusalem, is not able to report to work at the headquarters of the Jerusalem Governorate in the town of A-Ram, which is located outside the boundaries of the Jerusalem Municipality, north of the city.

The crackdown on Gheith and the terrorist attack – which was carried out by another resident of Silwan, Amir Sidawii who allegedly shot eight people on a bus near King David’s Tomb – are seen by Palestinians in the context of the ongoing battle over Jerusalem with Israel. It is hard to find a resident of east Jerusalem who does not want to continue living under Israeli rule. Yet many feel that Israel does not want them in the city, while the PA is not doing enough to help them stay there.

Gheith, a personal appointment of Abbas, was supposed to be a symbol of Palestinian sovereignty over Jerusalem. But he has spent more time at home or at the headquarters of the Jerusalem Police than in his office.

The Jerusalem Governorate, one of 16 Palestinian governorates, is divided into two parts: one that includes Arab neighborhoods and villages that are under Israeli sovereignty and are located within the Jerusalem Municipality’s boundaries, and a second that consists of villages surrounding the city that are part of the West Bank, such as Abu Dis, Eizariya, A-Ram and Kalandiya.

Gheith, like the previous Jerusalem “governors,” is not permitted to operate in the areas under Israeli sovereignty. This is in accordance with the 1994 Law for the Implementation of the Agreement on the Gaza Strip and Jericho Area – Restriction on Activity, which prevents the PA from carrying out political, governmental or similar activity within the area of the State of Israel, including east Jerusalem.

In recent years, Israeli authorities have stepped up their efforts to impose the law by restricting the activities and movements of Gheith and banning various types of events and gatherings linked to the PA in east Jerusalem.

Gheith, nonetheless, does not seem prepared to give up. Like most political activists in east Jerusalem, he remains as defiant as ever.

In an interview with the Al-Qastal website this week, he said that the Palestinians in Jerusalem “stand with their bare chests in the first line of defending the Arabs and Muslims.”

He added: “The occupation is seeking to Israelize Jerusalem by turning it into a city with a Jewish majority and Arab minority. Only a traitor gives up the right of his people to the homeland.

“In the past four years, I’ve been banned from entering the West Bank. The house arrest deprives the resident of Jerusalem of his most basic human rights. I can’t go to medical centers, and I wasn’t able to attend my daughter’s wedding and my brother’s engagement party.”

Gheith and many Palestinians are convinced that Israel has plans to squeeze the Arabs out of Jerusalem through a series of measures, including the demolition of houses built without licenses from the municipality, poor municipal services and lack of investment in infrastructure.

Tens of thousands of east Jerusalem residents have already been forced to move to neighborhoods that are located on the other side of the security barrier, such as Kafr Akab, due to the severe housing crisis in the city.

Many others have bought or rented houses and apartments in the West Bank, especially Ramallah, Bethlehem and Jericho. And a few families moved to predominantly Jewish neighborhoods, especially French Hill and Pisgat Ze’ev.

“It’s not easy to be an Arab in Jerusalem,” said east Jerusalem engineer Haitham Salman. “It’s very hard and expensive to obtain a permit from the municipality to build a house. Many people, in addition, can’t afford to pay the municipal tax [arnona]. The cost of renting a home is also very high. That’s why you see many families moving to cheaper areas, such as Kafr Akab, which now looks like many of the overcrowded refugee camps.”

The hardships facing the east Jerusalem residents have not stopped some of them from engaging in violence and other forms of anti-Israel activities, particularly in Isawiya, Sheikh Jarrah, Silwan, the Muslim Quarter of the Old City, A-Tur (on the Mount of Olives) and Shuafat refugee camp.

These areas have long been considered by the police as problematic, although most of the residents are not involved in the violence, which consists mostly of hurling stones and petrol bombs and launching fireworks, as well as stabbing attacks.

Shortly after the terrorist attack near the Western Wall, which wounded eight people, including a pregnant woman, some residents of Shuafat celebrated with fireworks and chants of “Allahu akbar.”

Such celebrations over terrorist attacks are not unprecedented in east Jerusalem, where activists affiliated with Hamas, Fatah, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine continue to have a strong presence.

“These activists believe that their role is to thwart Israel’s scheme to Judaize Jerusalem and erase its Arab and Islamic identity,” said Akram Siam, a Fatah activist from Silwan. “The Palestinians’ main goal is to prove that east Jerusalem is not different than the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and that it will be the capital of the Palestinian state. Israel, on the other hand, is working hard to create irreversible and new facts on the ground to prove that east Jerusalem is part of its undivided capital.”

The battle for ownership of houses in east Jerusalem

IN THE past few years, tensions in east Jerusalem have been on the rise, in light of visits by Jews to the Temple Mount and the controversy surrounding the ownership of houses in Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan, where several Jewish families have moved to live. East Jerusalem residents admit that most of the houses were legally purchased from their Arab owners by Jewish groups.

The Palestinians see these moves as part of Israel’s efforts to “Judaize” the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound and large parts of east Jerusalem.

In fact, every Israeli decision concerning east Jerusalem, including the renovation of streets and public parks, is almost immediately condemned by the Palestinians as part of an Israeli scheme to “change the historic status quo” at the expense of the Muslims and Christians.

Last week, PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh accused the Israeli authorities of working to impose Israeli curricula on Palestinian schools in east Jerusalem. He, too, claimed that the move came in the context of Israeli efforts to “Judaize” Jerusalem and force its Palestinian residents to leave.

But some residents of east Jerusalem point the finger of blame at the PA and the Arab and Islamic countries for failing to support them.

Inside the Old City, more than 350 Palestinian-owned businesses have closed in the past few years because of the sharp decline in income from local and foreign tourism, according to a source in the Arab Chamber of Commerce.

In the Old City’s three main souks (markets), Butchers’ Market, Goldsmiths’ Market and Fragrances and Spices Market, more than 90% of the shops have closed. Some of the merchants said this week that the shops were closed because the owners were no longer able to pay their debts to the municipality and the tax authorities.

“We hear about financial aid coming from the Arabs and Muslims to help the people of east Jerusalem, but we haven’t seen anything,” complained Eyad Mansour, co-owner of a small coffee shop. “Most of the money goes to the pockets of our leaders, who don’t care about Jerusalem. In a few years, most of the businesses in the Old City will be closed.”

Mofeed Shweiki, who says that his family has owned a clothes shop in the Old City for more than 60 years, also expressed concern over the closure of many businesses.

“Many merchants moved to areas outside of the Old City because people stopped coming to the Old City,” said the 78-year-old Shweiki. “Why should anyone come to do his shopping in the Old City when it’s difficult to find parking and everything is available in the nearby neighborhoods and villages? The Palestinian leadership doesn’t care about the people of east Jerusalem.”

A senior Fatah official from east Jerusalem concurred. “The Palestinians have lost the battle over Jerusalem,” he stated. “There’s a lot of talk about supporting Jerusalem, but the Palestinian Authority hasn’t done much. The Arabs and Muslims also don’t care about the city and its Palestinian residents. At the same time, Israel is investing billions of shekels to tighten its grip over the city and change its Arab and Islamic identity.”