Visits to Jerusalem: Solidarity or Normalization?

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A Palestinian stands outside Damascus Gate in Jerusalem's Old City, on the last Friday of the holy month of Ramadan 17 August 2012. (Photo: Reuters - Amir Cohen)

By: Fadi Abu Saada

Published Wednesday, August 22, 2012

After several controversial visits to occupied Jerusalem by Arab and Muslim figures, Palestinians continue to disagree over their political impact. Some see them as an act of solidarity and support, while others insist they are tantamount to normalization with the occupier.

Occupied Jerusalem - Since the Grand Mufti of Egypt, Ali Gomaa, and the Jordanian crown prince, Hussein bin Abdullah, visited occupied Jerusalem and the al-Aqsa Mosque, there have been incessant debates in Palestine.

Some see these visits as a show of support for the city of Jerusalem and its people while others view them as normalization with the occupying force.

Al-Akhbar toured occupied Jerusalem and asked residents for their opinions on the issue.

Local man, Hassan, said that he supports these visits because they draw attention to the holy city and highlight what Jerusalem has been subjected to at the hands of the Israeli occupation.

Ahmad Barghouthi agreed with this view. He supports any visit by any Arab to Jerusalem. He argued that visiting Jerusalem does not amount to normalization as it is different from if the visits were to the Knesset or Tel Aviv.

“On the contrary, Arabs should see on the ground what the Israeli occupation has done to Jerusalem in terms of judaization,” Barghouthi said, adding: “We are calling for more international activists to come here in solidarity to support our cause. Why would we oppose Arabs visiting us?”

Activist Mazen al-Izza disagreed with this opinion. He said: “Personally, I am against these visits and I don’t believe their goal is solidarity with the Palestinian people and supporting the holy city.”

Another Jerusalem resident, Mamdouh, felt the same way as Mazen: “The shuttle visits to al-Aqsa Mosque and Jerusalem under the protection of Shabak officers serves to legitimize the occupation of the holy city and does not serve our national goals at all. You don’t need to visit to know that Jerusalem suffers under the boots of heavily armed soldiers who control all its gates.”

“The odd thing about these visits,” Mamdouh added, “is that the visitors come through Bab al-Maghariba, the first gate to be occupied in 1967, which is used exclusively by Israel and its settlers. This is obvious proof of normalization, which benefits those who have the power to allow people in and out of the holy site.”

“I don’t believe a nationalist rationale can justify shaking the hand of the occupier in the courtyard of al-Aqsa Mosque or Israeli officers and visitors’ guards entering the mosque with their shoes on, as photos have shown,” he continued.

“I wonder if those who have visited Jerusalem and learned about the cordon enforced by the occupation around the city are able to change this bitter reality in any way?”

Muhammad Hawwash maintained that “the important thing is not whether I am with or against these visits, the important thing is for these visits to be placed within a context so that their usefulness, goals, and repercussions can be evaluated, especially when the visit is from a political or prestigious figure, as was the case with the Grand Mufti of Egypt.”

“It is necessary to support the Palestinian people and their authority under occupation,” Hawwash added, “and a visit should be coordinated and announced so it can fulfil its purpose. Waxing philosophical about whether such visits are allowed or not reflects a narrow political horizon.”

“I don’t think [the cleric Yusuf] al-Qaradawi has the right to tell Palestinians what is permitted and what is forbidden, to ‘do this and not do that’ because the circumstances of the occupation make Palestinian people go through hell for a noble cause. They don’t need religious edicts and lessons from him or anyone else,” he concluded.

Another resident, Muhammad Amin said: “Of course I support visits to Jerusalem and al-Aqsa Mosque by our Arab and Muslim brethren.” His view contradicts what was said by one prominent Muslim authority, namely that visiting Jerusalem should only be permissible for Palestinians.

Amin seemed angry at this proposal. He said: “Every Arab and Muslim that comes to Palestine empowers us and strengthens our resolve. If, however, the purpose of visiting Jerusalem is to attend a Zionist conference or participate in Israeli events regardless of their nature, then it would be unacceptable. Israel does not want to see one Arab face walking around Jerusalem, visiting it, or demonstrating any kind of solidarity with it.”

He emphasized that “the battle over Jerusalem is a struggle for continued Arab and Muslim presence in the city. The visits should not be for the purpose of recreation, tourism, or just to visit. In my opinion, we need to go beyond that.”

“We should hold conferences and organize national and Islamic ceremonies from the heart of Jerusalem and invite all our Arab and Muslim brethren, so Jerusalem might become once more the vibrant heart of Palestine and the world,” he added.

Sheikh Muhammad Salah pointed out that, “The Palestinian Dar al-Ifta (top Muslim figure of authority) announced that whoever wishes to visit al-Aqsa Mosque should coordinate with the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and Palestine, should come to support the people of Palestine, and should not recognize the occupation forces.”

“Arab leaders, however, come to party in Tel Aviv! Why don’t they go to al-Aqsa Mosque, maybe God will clear their vision, because if they were to do this their visit would come in the context of supporting Jerusalem, its residents, and the Palestinian people,” he suggested.

In addition to the views expressed by residents, Al-Akhbar asked Jerusalem analysts for their opinion.

Analyst Khalil al-Asali said: “When Jerusalemites feel that they are not alone and that Arab delegations, particularly Jordanian delegations, are visiting them, it gives them a moral boost to be more steadfast.”

Why Jordan? Because “all Jerusalemites carry temporary Jordanian passports,” says Asali. This means they are Jordanian citizens according to Israel, which seeks to manipulate this card.

“Jordan could play a bigger role to protect Jerusalem and Jerusalemites as well as the holy sites. Jordan can also follow what is happening in al-Aqsa Mosque in a way that would be worrisome to Israel, which would strengthen the resolve of the people of the holy city,” Asali argued.

Analyst Zaal Abu Rakti tied these visits to a basic condition and that is “when these visits take place, they should not entail any political or economic normalization with Israel.”

He added that it is unacceptable that Jerusalem and its people are left to the mercy of the occupation under the pretext of normalization, because the city is an Arab, Islamic, and international issue, which means protecting the city is everyone’s responsibility and not that of Palestinians only.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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