Damascus Gate on Friday was awash with journalists, poised at the ready with their cameras, eager to capture the first of the clashes and provide the world with news from the “Holy City”.
Palestinians, many of whom had come out of noon prayers from Al Aqsa, congregated to protest the US’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Their anger and frustration at Trump’s declaration, which breaks from the international norm – a refusal to recognise Israeli sovereignty over the city – stems from the fact that Jerusalem occupies an important place in the hearts and minds of Palestinians the world over. Historically, Jerusalem was the capital of Palestine, and today occupied East Jerusalem is recognised as the capital of a future Palestinian state.
For a change, rather than be seen as a photo op, Palestinians’ anger and frustration should be understood and respected within the context: Israel has been colonising Palestine – including Jerusalem – since 1948, and Trump’s declaration simply gives Israel more of a green light to continue its settler-colonial project.
In 1948 Zionist forces occupied West Jerusalem, and in 1967 Israel occupied the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and Golan Heights, and forcibly annexed East Jerusalem. The international community condemned the latter move then, and continues to condemn it today. In 1980, when Israel passed a law stating that the whole of Jerusalem was its undivided capital, the UN Security Council declared it “null and void”. East Jerusalem continues to be recognised as part of the occupied West Bank where all changes beyond what is needed to maintain public order and to provide for the rights and needs of the Palestinian civilian population are unlawful under the 4th Geneva Convention.As such, no country in the world recognises Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem (except Russia, which recently said it would recognise West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital as part of a peace agreement). Hence embassies are located in Tel Aviv.
Trump’s latest move had global political and diplomatic echelons voice their disapproval, with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey stating that the US had crossed a “red line”. Indeed, much of the world media warned that Trump’s statement served as a provocation and would spark violence while simultaneously de-railing the peace process.
Yet this is not a new situation: Violence has been occurring in Palestine since the beginning of Zionist colonisation. Israel’s annexation of Jerusalem, which has caused the slow yet continuous destruction of Palestinian social, economic and political life in the city, has facilitated this violence. Israel’s wider settler project in the rest of historic Palestine has also had horrific consequences for Palestinians. Many have seen their homes demolished, family members imprisoned or killed and every aspect of their movement controlled. The “red line” for Palestinians was crossed decades ago, and this is why they have taken to the streets, not simply because of this latest political move.
Similarly, the de-railing of the current peace process is a misnomer: It was dead from inception. The Oslo peace process was designed to entrench the occupation and ghettoise the Palestinians into Bantustans while presenting a facade of state building and steps towards Palestinian sovereignty. In sum, it was a smoke screen for Israeli settler colonisation of Palestine. While many Palestinians and their allies have seen through this over the last two decades, they have been repeatedly silenced and dismissed both externally and internally. The opposition and condemnation from many in the international community at Trump’s statement not only lacks clout but is also marked by hypocrisy. The colonisation of East Jerusalem and the West Bank that began 50 years ago has been relentless, as has been the violation of Palestinian human rights.
The world watches through a camera lens, shaking their heads and insisting that Palestinians not resort to violence but rather remain committed to the two-state solution. Meanwhile, Israel continues to enjoy normal diplomatic relations with most countries in the world. This is the spectacle of Palestine. Now, after decades of global inaction and a seal of US approval, Israel will be emboldened to hasten its colonisation and annexation even deeper into the West Bank.
In the last few days, on what is the 30th anniversary of the First Intifada, Palestinians have been protesting once again to demand their fundamental human rights. The global response they deserve is simple: Sanction the state of Israel for its gross violation of international law and human rights and listen to those Palestinian voices who for so long have been silenced by political elites.
Meanwhile, we Palestinians are presented with an opportune moment to change our destinies that have been written and determined for us for over a century. We must demand of our political leadership that they end their coordination with the Israeli occupation and abandon the Oslo peace process. And we must insist that they finally stand for the rights of all Palestinians, whether under military occupation, under siege, in exile or within the apartheid State of Israel. Only then will this spectacle end.