Misperceptions on the Situation in Jerusalem
PHOTO: Palestinian men denied entry to the Al Aqsa Mosque by Israel pray in the street in the neighborhood of Wadi al-Joz in occupied East Jerusalem, October 31, 2014. (Ammar Awad/Reuters)
For context on recent violence and unrest in occupied East Jerusalem, the IMEU offers the following fact sheet addressing misperceptions about the situation in the city.
See also our Expert Q&A: Unrest in Occupied East Jerusalem.
1. Right-wing Israeli activists who are pushing for greater access to the Noble Sanctuary mosque complex (known as the Temple Mount to Jews) in East Jerusalem are merely advocating for religious freedom for Jews.
- Although they often couch their agenda in terms of civil rights and religious freedom, the right-wing Israeli individuals and groups that are pushing for more access and Jewish prayer in the Noble Sanctuary compound want to remove the Muslim holy sites that it currently houses and replace them with a Jewish temple. For example, on its website, the Temple Mount and Land of Israel Faithful Movement declares as its objective:
“Liberating the Temple Mount from Arab (Islamic) occupation. The Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa mosque were placed on this Jewish or biblical holy site as a specific sign of Islamic conquest and domination. The Temple Mount can never be consecrated to the Name of G-d without removing these pagan shrines. It has been suggested that they be removed, transferred to, and rebuilt at Mecca.”
- The Dome of the Rock shrine was built in the 7th century CE, while the Al Aqsa mosque was completed in the early 8th century. Both are considered historical and architectural treasures. Until recently, the vast majority of rabbis opposed Jews visiting and praying in the Noble Sanctuary based on theocratic grounds. Only with the rise of a right-wing messianic extremist movement in Israel over the past decade has there been pressure on the government to change the status quo on the site.
- One of the most outspoken advocates of applying Jewish/Israeli sovereignty to the Noble Sanctuary is Moshe Feiglin, a deputy speaker of Israel’s parliament from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party. In addition to advocating for the destruction of the Noble Sanctuary, the notoriously racist Feiglin wants the Israeli government to pay all Palestinians to leave the occupied West Bank.
2. Palestinians enjoy religious freedom and freedom of worship in Jerusalem.
- Israel routinely and systematically violates the religious rights of Palestinians in East Jerusalem and the rest of the occupied Palestinian territories.
- Israeli authorities frequently prevent access to the Noble Sanctuary mosque complex to Palestinian residents of occupied East Jerusalem by implementing age and gender restrictions that prohibit Palestinian men under a certain age, such as 50-years-old, from entering to worship.
- The Israeli government denies most Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza access to East Jerusalem and its holy sites. As a result, millions of Palestinians living just a few miles away have never visited some of the most holy places in their religions, including the Noble Sanctuary and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
3. Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem aren't the same, legally speaking, as Jewish settlements in the rest of the West Bank.
- East Jerusalem is considered occupied territory under international law, and is regarded as such by the international community, including the United Nations and United States. Therefore, there is no legal difference between Israeli residential construction for Israeli citizens in East Jerusalem and other parts of the occupied Palestinian territories. Both violate Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which clearly states: “The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.”
4. Jews should have a right to live in East Jerusalem, just like Palestinians are allowed to live in West Jerusalem.
- East Jerusalem is under Israeli military occupation. Jewish Israelis who live there form part of a government effort to colonize the area and thereby cement Israeli control over it. It is not a matter of discrimination against Jews, but rather a political and legal issue having to do with Israel’s flagrantly illegal attempts to retain permanent control over occupied Palestinian East Jerusalem.
- At the same time that the Israeli government aggressively encourages the growth of Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem, it systematically limits the growth of Palestinian neighborhoods there, making it almost impossible for Palestinians to obtain building permits. In the western, mostly Jewish, part of Jerusalem, it’s also extremely difficult for Palestinians to find housing because of widespread discrimination against non-Jews. Moreover, thousands of Palestinian families were expelled from West Jerusalem during Israel's creation in 1948 and have been prevented from returning ever since.
5. Most Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem will become part of Israel under any peace deal, therefore building in them does not harm prospects for peace.
- Until a final peace agreement is finalized and signed by both parties all settlement construction remains illegal under international law and an impediment to peace.
- Israeli claims that construction in large so-called settlement “blocs” in and around Jerusalem aren’t harmful to peace efforts mask the fact that most settlement blocs were strategically located to divide the West Bank into easily controlled cantons and to sever it from occupied East Jerusalem, forgoing the possibility of the latter ever becoming the capital of an independent Palestinian state.