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Between Aqsa protests and BDS, a new Palestinian resistance dawns? Open in fullscreen

Rami G. Khouri

Between Aqsa protests and BDS, a new Palestinian resistance dawns?

Palestinians celebrate the removal measures restricting access to Al Aqsa mosque, 28 July [Anadolu]

Date of publication: 31 July, 2017

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Comment: The successful Aqsa resistance prayers dissolved two key Palestinian weaknesses, and could trigger new forms of political activism among Palestinians, writes Rami Khouri.
Two weeks of shared solidarity and non-violent resistance among Jerusalem's Palestinian Arab population have achieved wonders, far more than forcing Israel's occupying authorities to drop the new security measures they had imposed restricting access to the Al-Aqsa mosque, following the killing of two Israeli guards.

These events have galvanized a new dynamic that could open the door to new political interactions among Palestinians, Israelis and Arab states.

Jerusalemites who were deeply involved in the daily protests explained in interviews that for the first time since their occupation by Israel in1967 they have successfully directed their communal capabilities, solidarity, and collective responsibility for the city towards a specific goal: continued, open access to the Al-Aqsa compound.

Equally significantly, this issue simultaneously touched on religious, personal, political and national dimensions of the lives of Palestinians and the Palestine question. Jerusalem's Palestinians successfully rejected, defied, and ultimately reversed Israel's security and control mechanisms that they feared would lead to further encroachments on Arab-Muslim control of the Aqsa compound.

By praying at or near Al-Aqsa for two weeks straight, they quickly attacked two critical vulnerabilities that have defined their lives for decades: Their material and personal well-being in Jerusalem under the harsh thumb of the Israeli occupation, and their absent political representation as they floated between the Israelis who physically control them, and the Palestinian national leadership that has been powerless to improve their life conditions. 
Palestinians successfully rejected, defied, and ultimately reversed Israel's security and control mechanisms
The two weeks of Al Aqsa resistance prayers shattered both of these weaknesses, and as such could trigger new forms of political activism among Palestinians in the months and years ahead - especially given that Palestinian citizens of Israel actively supported the protest, and the widely discredited official Palestinian leadership in Ramallah had little impact. 
 
Probably the most important factor in grasping why this protest occurred, and succeeded, is the day-to-day vulnerability of every Palestinian man, woman, and child living under Israeli occupation in Arab East Jerusalem.

In every aspect of their lives, these Palestinians live in fear and uncertainty that at any moment they could be arrested, shot, harassed or evicted from their homes by Israeli settlers. They are under constant threat of having their Jerusalem residence cards revoked, being prevented from travelling or denied construction or business permits, and they suffer many other acts of aggression that hinder daily life.

For them, Israel's occupation seeks to deliberately make their life difficult, as a way of encouraging them to emigrate, so that Jerusalem's Arab population decreases proportionally to its Jewish population (Jerusalem's population of 850,000 is around 64 percent Jewish and 36 percent Arab). 

In this context, Arab Jerusalemites feared that Israel's unilateral introduction of "security" gates and cameras at Al Aqsa on July 14 would lead to other changes at the site. Previously, Israel partitioned the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron into Jewish and Muslim prayer sections.
Read more: Thousands rally in Istanbul over Israeli measures at Jerusalem's Aqsa mosque
Particularly acute fears about Al Aqsa's fate also reflect the growth in recent years of fanatic Zionist groups, supported by some Israeli government ministers, who want to demolish the mosque and re-build the ancient Jewish temple that once stood there. These groups are planning a major march in the Aqsa area this Tuesday 1 March. 

Finding themselves politically leaderless in the face of such threats, the city's Palestinians reacted spontaneously to prevent even the smallest change in the status quo at the site; they insisted on preserving the 2014 agreement that Jordan, Israel and the Palestinians had reached to maintain the Aqsa compound as a place where Muslims congregate and pray, and all others can visit.

Full Palestinian Arab Muslim control of the built area of the entire Al Aqsa and Dome of the Rock compound has been the agreed status quo for years; Israel, for its part controls the Western Wall of the Haram al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary) or Temple Mount compound they revere as a remnant of an earlier ancient Jewish temple.
In the BDS movement and the Aqsa prayer resistance episode, Palestinian society now has at least two models of nonviolent resistance that have proved more effective than the traditional political leadership
When the Palestinians acted spontaneously and independently to protect themselves and their sovereign control of the Aqsa compound, four key actors, among others, converged to drive the mass protest under the broad leadership of the religious authorities who share responsibility for the Aqsa compound:

The hirak youth movement which comprises some 100,000 young men and women in Arab East Jerusalem who neither fear Israel nor respect the Palestinian official leadership they feel has abandoned them; the leadership of Al-Aqsa's Islamic waqf (religious endowment) that manages the site with three other local Islamic religious officials; the activism and round the clock street support of the entire community that transcended pious Muslims to include Christians, secular, groups, civil society, and others; and the direct participation of Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel who travelled to join the Jerusalem protest.
Read more: People power in Jerusalem: Al Aqsa's winners and losers
Jordan and the Palestinian National Authority in Ramallah were consulted regularly, but the four key groups above drove the protests.

Confronted with Israel's new unilateral measures that constrained their daily lives, and virtually abandoned by the Palestinian leadership and other Arab states, the Palestinians protested and resisted as a means of asserting their presence and their rights in Jerusalem.

They say their actions reflect their determination to "resist to exist in dignity, for freedom and independence". 

Israeli leaders and public opinion were clearly worried by the spectacle of a 100,000 or more Palestinians peacefully demonstrating in Jerusalem, with the direct support of Palestinians who are Israeli citizens, under their own dynamic and legitimate local leadership.

The most frightening aspect of these developments for Israelis would see such effective nonviolent resistance link up with the Palestinian civil society movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions on Israel (BDS movement) in order to campaign against Israel's treatment of all Palestinians - those in Israel, the occupied territories, and in exile abroad.

In the BDS movement and the Aqsa prayer resistance episode, Palestinian society now has at least two models of nonviolent resistance that have proved more effective than the traditional political leadership. And ordinary Palestinians living under Israeli occupation or siege also have an example of effective local leadership and political action. 


Rami G. Khouri is senior public policy fellow and professor of journalism at the American University of Beirut, an internationally syndicated columnist, and a nonresident senior fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School.

Follow him on Twitter: @ramikhouri

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.


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