With the Jerusalem Day festivities finally out of the way, Palestinians can breathe a sigh of relief.
This year, commemorating the 1967 Israeli conquest of East Jerusalem, the “day” included a week of activities and saw the Israeli cabinet’s weekly meeting held in the “Western Wall tunnels,” beneath the al-Aqsa mosque compound.
“Here King Solomon built the First Temple,” was how Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opened the 28 May meeting, glossing over the fact that there is no evidence that a King Solomon ever existed outside the biblical story.
Blurring the lines between history and myth, Zionist ideology and the state of Israel which is built upon it treat the Old Testament as a history book. They built a case to legitimize the dispossession of Palestinians on the premise that today’s Jews are the descendants of an ancient tribe that lived in Palestine thousands of years ago.
The “religious-national” movement in Israel is composed of Orthodox Jews with a casual look, strong messianic beliefs and a deeply racist ideology. These people lay mostly dormant until 1967. Then, when Israel completed the occupation of Palestine and took the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip, they became active.
Today, they spearhead West Bank settlements, creating facts on the ground and building “illegal outposts” that soon turn into settlements. They go into centers of Palestinian populations to terrorize residents and are dedicated fully to the expansion of the Jewish presence in Jerusalem.
They are particularly hard at work taking over properties in and around the Old City of Jerusalem using threats, bullying and harassment of the city’s indigenous Palestinian population.
Jerusalem Day, marked this year on 24 May, is an opportunity for this movement to flex its muscles. This year, Israeli media tended to portray the harassment and terrorizing of Palestinian residents by settlers celebrating Jerusalem Day as isolated incidents, but the fact is the entire day and its festivities are designed to disrupt and undermine Palestinian life in the city.
No single event symbolizes this more than the infamous “Flag Parade” where thousands of young members of Israel’s most vicious religious-nationalist zealot groups gather in the Old City carrying the Israeli flag.
Walking the cauldron
I made my way toward the Western Wall, and already store owners were rushing to close their shops as young Israelis – boys in blue jeans, white shirts and the characteristic large knitted skull caps, and girls in long denim skirts and white shirts – were marching through the streets of the Old City, dancing and singing of the coming of the Messiah and the rebuilding of the Temple “soon and in our day.”
The line to enter through the metal detector leading to the Western Wall plaza – which had been created in 1967, right after the city had fallen to Israel when the army destroyed the old Moroccan Quarter there and demolished more than 130 homes – was already long.
I joined old American Jews with matching t-shirts and hats that read “Jews for a Safe Israel,” and young settlers with their large skull caps and overgrown side curls.
From the Western Wall I went down the hill and out through Bab al-Magharba – the Moroccan Gate, named for the community that lived there, but which is now oddly named “Dung Gate” in Hebrew – and headed down to Silwan.
I passed another glaring example of Zionist mythology destroying Palestinian life, the so-called “City of David” archeological park, an enormous theme park built on the ruins of stolen Palestinian homes and dedicated to a biblical king whose existence has never been proven.
My objective was to go to the Wadi Hilweh Information Center to see how they are doing and what they expected to happen to this community of 55,000 Palestinians on this day.
At the center, there were a number of young Palestinians, some working on computers, others just sitting and talking. I went to the office to see the director, Jawad Siyam.
“Once the festivities are over the young Israelis come and start throwing rocks, banging on people’s doors and terrorizing the residents,” he told me.
Security for settlers
Siyam told me he was heading toward the Damascus Gate soon where he expected that those marching as well as the police who were securing the events would be harassing local Palestinians and that clashes were likely to break out.
I told him I’d meet him there and made my way. The city’s streets and alleyways were by now filled with large groups of young Jews who came to celebrate. Not a single Palestinian store was open.
On top of the plaza outside the gate, journalists were assembled while, on the median on the main road, Israeli forces were already positioned.
I wasn’t sure where to stand, on the Jewish side or the Palestinian side, and eventually I found my way to the side of the street where a dozen or so Palestinians had gathered, mostly teens who were chanting “Free Palestine” and singing songs of liberation.
From that side of the street I could see just how many security forces had been mobilized. There were regular police, Border Police, and Yasam – an especially ruthless unit of the Israeli police, thugs in uniform used during “riots.” There were Yasam officers mounted on enormous horses and there were “anti-terror” police on motorcycles.
On top of that, one can be sure there were countless plainclothes secret police agents roaming around. There had to be at least a thousand of these in position, all fully armed, all facing a handful of young, unarmed Palestinians.
Jerusalem Day is celebrated primarily by the religious nationalists – settlers – which, these days, are considered the most influential group within Israeli society. They are behind many of the threats, and much of the dispossession and ethnic cleansing that is the daily bread of Palestinians.
Jerusalem Day is the day they get to rejoice in their triumph.
Miko Peled is the author of The General’s Son: Journey of an Israeli in Palestine.