Palestinians fighting for their rights in Jerusalem

Palestinians fighting for their rights in Jerusalem
Analysis: As Israeli settlements in and around Jerusalem continue to expand, Palestinians continue their struggle for the recognition of their rights, against the odds.
4 min read
31 March, 2015
Land day is still marked 39 years later [AFP]

Throughout Jerusalem's ever-changing reality of the past 39 years since the first Land Day, the dream remains deeply rooted among Palestinians that the city will one day become the capital of their state.

But the city has been ripped apart by Israeli settlements.

This reality has become a nightmare because of the continued Israelisation of Palestine over the years of occupation since 1967.

Many Palestinians think the price Jerusalem has paid through the stalled negotiation process with Israel, specifically with right-wing extremist governments, has been much more than the price it paid during the times of conflict during the two intifadas.

The first intifada resulted in the formation of the Palestinian Authority (PA) and hopes of establishing an independent Palestinian state in the free parts of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Many Palestinians think the price Jerusalem has paid in the peace process has been worse than the price it paid during the two intifadas.

Evaporating dreams

But this dream did not last long and soon vanished into thin air, as the second intifada turned its armed resistance into an outlaw.

The stance taken by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in rejecting the militarisation of the uprising - famously describing the armed resistance movement as "one of our worst mistakes" - was the beginning of the setbacks for large segments of Palestinian youth. Negotiations lasting 20 years have reached a dead end and the Israelis have put an end to most Palestinians' plans for the future.

During the period of negotiations, Israel stole what remained of Palestinian land - more than 60 percent of the land in the proposed Palestinian state, including Jerusalem - flooding it with settlements deemed illegal under international law and hundreds of thousands of settlers.

With this, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has taken on an extremist-nationalist-religious dimension by the Israeli right, with attacks on holy Islamic sites.

"Jerusalem was one of the first cities that had martyrs in the battle of Land Day, along with Sakhnin, Nazareth and other towns and cities inside the Green Line, when Jerusalem resident Abdallah al-Hawwas was martyred," said Hatem Abd al-Qader, a Fatah official in Jerusalem.

Nearly four decades after the battle of Land Day, Abd al-Qader recalls his political activity as a member of the secret field division in the first intifada.

That period of struggle was crucial for Palestinians, who almost broke the back of the occupation. Their significant victories were undermined by the subsequent political developments, leading eventually to the second intifada.

Palestinians then resisted with all their strength before reaching the current impasse - the dream of independence and statehood turning into a nightmare.

Abd al-Qader realised this harsh reality when he was a PA minister. He stepped down after a short period, having seen first-hand its inability to take on its challenges.

The PA had weakened the will of Jerusalem residents, as the signed deals prevented the PA from working in Jerusalem - the main cause of continuing Israeli encroachment on East Jerusalem and attacks on the beliefs and holy sites of Jerusalem residents.

The tyranny of demographics

"This is a decisive period for the fight for Jerusalem regarding Israeli demographics, as the number of settlers in occupied East Jerusalem has exceeded 300,000 and the construction of settlements in Jerusalem continues at a startling pace," said Khalil Tufakji, director of the maps and survey centre at Orient House in Jerusalem.

"By 2020 there will be around 60,000 new settlement units. After this, Jerusalem will become what the Israelis want - an important centre of attraction and capital of the Jewish people."

This is a decisive period in the fight for Jerusalem as the number of settlers in occupied East Jerusalem has exceeded 300,000.
- Khalil Tufakji

In an attempt to express their anger at Israel's practices, young people in Jerusalem called for action in their holy city on Land Day.

Their call resonated with the residents of many destroyed Palestinian villages. The former residents of the abandoned village of Lifta on the outskirts of Jerusalem made the short trip to their home village to clean the cemetery and pray alongside the spring.

Villager Yaqoub Awda spent many years in Israel prisons. The 60-year-old and other Lifta villagers make the trip every year, both on Land Day and on the anniversary of the Nakba, to strengthen their children's connection to their home village.

"This year's trip is different from previous years because of Israel's attempts to turn Lifta into a Jewish heritage site while us villagers insist on registering our village as a Canaanite, Arab, Palestinian heritage site," said Awda.

"The occupiers will leave Lifta and it will remain for us, its former residents."

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.