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Jerusalem: the untamable city

Jerusalem has risen, again. For five days already, the city has become the scene of violent clashes between the Israeli occupation police and the Palestinian youth. It all started when the occupation authorities decided to shut down the Damascus gate square, at the main entrance of Jerusalem’s old city. The square has historically been a public space full of life. Small merchants and peasants use it as a marketplace, young people meet and gather on its stairs, and families usually picnic in its surroundings. Shutting it down would mean to deprive Palestinians from one of the last public spaces in the city that they still can use. It would also impact commerce and daily life in general inside the ancient walls of the old city. Although the Israeli occupation regularly changes the aspect of the city and its public spaces, Palestinians decided that this time enough was enough, and took on the occupation, its police and its settlers, upfront, and in mass.

Half a century of resistance

The Damascus gate square has been in the center of confrontation between Jeruselamites and the occupation in recent years. The occupation has militarized the small space with four watch-posts and dozens of armed soldiers constantly overlooking the square. But as in the rest of the city, the heavy military presence of the occupation doesn’t seem to intimidate the Palestinian population. In fact, the occupation has never managed, along half a century of domination over Jerusalem, to impose stability by its terms over the city.

Since 2014, already three major uprisings have shaken the occupation’s control over Jerusalem. In 2014 Palestinians raised their national flag in the city in mass marches, for the first time since the first Intifada. In 2015, the uprising in Jerusalem sparked a wave of protests across the West Bank. And in 2017, the occupation was forced to remove the metal-detector gates from the entrances to Al Aqsa compound after Jerusalemites performed a seven-day-long, round-the-clock, mass sit-in at the entrances of the sanctuary. In general, defiance to the occupation’s authority in the city has never stopped since 1967, despite all attempts to crush it.

When the state of Israel first occupied the Eastrn part of Jerusalem, in 1967, it changed the status of Palestinians in the city from citizens to mere residents, whose residency can be revoked at any time. It made it nearly impossible for Palestinians to obtain building permits, forcing them to build without permits, under the threat of demolition, and it began, since 1969, to fill the city with Israeli settlers. This colonial process, that goes far beyond military occupation, aims at changing the nature an the character of Jerusalem, from a Palestinian, Arab, Middle-Eastern city, to a European-like one. But as all colonial enterprises, it needs force, brutal force, to tame the population and cripple its capacity to resist. It never succeeded.

Palestinian resistance in Jerusalem started almost immediately after the occupation settled in. The first resistance networks began to form even before the occupation seized the city. Legend has it that late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was in Jerusalem the very day the Israeli army enetered the old city, organizing Palestinian cells, and that he was smuggled out in a car trunk. Palestinian resistants entered in action against the occupation forces as soon as 1968, and women took an important role. One of the iconic figures of this early Palestinian resistance in Jerusalem was the Afro-Palestinian woman Fatima Birnawi, who was arrested and tortured by the occupation forces after a failed attack against Isreli settlers. She was later liberated in a prisoners swap in 1983. In the 1970s, resistance in Jerusalem became even more organized. The occupation claimed, at the time that that resistance actions were carried out by Palestinian militants coming from abroad, especially form Jordan. Butl in 1974 it found out that one of the key-organizers of the resistance in the city was no less than the Jerusalem bishop of the Christian Greek Catholic church, Monsignor Hilarion Capucci, who was arrested after finding weapons in his car.

The capital of disobedience

But it was in the first Intifada, which started in December of 1987, that resistance to the occupation in Jerusalem, as in the rest of Palestine, became popular and mass-led. The General Unified Command of the Intifada, the committee that planned the general strikes, demonstrations, and wrote the communiqués that led the popular actions, operated from Jerusalem, in clandestinity. For six years, Palestinians in the west Bank and Gaza lived in complete civil disobedience, defying the occupation’s authority in every aspect of their daily life. Palestine as a political, cohesive entity, on Palestinian soil, was born in revolt, and Jeruusalem was its center. Its capital.

Since then, popular opposition to the occupation’s power in Jerusalem never stopped. Even after the Oslo accords, which moved the epicenter of Palestinian political life to Gaza, and then to Ramallah, Jerusalem remained the focal point of confrontation with occupation. In 1996, the occupation authorities started the opening of a tunnel underneath Al Aqsa mosque, which sparked mass protests in the city, later to spread in all of the Palestinian territory. Even members of the Palestinian authority’s police took part in the clashes. And it was in Al Aqsa compound, in September of 2000, that the second Palestinian Intifada began, precisely after negotiations between the PLO and the state of Israel failed, particularly because Israelis refused any kind of Palestinian sovereignty in the holy city.

A youth that did not submit

A lot of changes have happened since the second Intifada ended, neary to decades ago. Jerusalem has effectively been removed from the negotiations table altogether by both Israel and the US, while Palestinian politicians are still trying to figure out a good reason for continuing to hold to the negotiations project. During these two decades, the occupation has accelerated settlements building in Jerusalem, as well as demolitions of Palestinian property. All while isolating Jerusalem from the rest of Palestine, both physically, through the separation wall, and politically, by repressing any attempt of Palestinian organizing in the city. Most of Palestinian civil institutions in Jerusalem have migrated to Ramallah under the pressure of repeated arrests, bans, and shut-downs by the occupation authorities.

It is in these circumstances that a young generation of Palestinians in Jerusalem has been leading the resistance in the streets . A generation that didn’t know the days of Fatima Birnawi or Bishop Capucci. A generation that is too young to remember the first Intifada. However, this generation is still confronted with military occupation, which has turned life in the city into a daily struggle for survival. It is a generation which the occupation has deprived from any means of living a regular life or even of planning a future, drawing them in poverty, turning their neighborhoods to a safe haven for drug-dealers, and organized crime.

This generation of Jerusalemite Palestinians grew up amidst demolitions, deportations, arbitrary, humiliating searches by the police, settler violence, and extrajudicial executions in the streets. It is a generation that has been forgotten by the big designers of the political status-quo, who debate over moving their embassies in Israel to Jerusalem, before or after receiving a full capitulation from the Palestinian leaders. But there is another side to the coin. Half a century after the occupation forces celebrated their six-days victory in the surroundings of Al Aqsa mosque, it is still confronted with massive resistance. Half a century after the world has accepted to depict Jerusalem on its maps as an Israeli city, in a constant hurry to declare the death of the Palestinian Jerusalem, this same world is remided by a generation of simple, angry Palestinian youngsters, that a living, milenia-old city can not be tamed. And that no matter how many times it is killed, Jerusalem will always rise, again.

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