Vicious barracks

Mohamed Abu Shaar , Tuesday 26 Apr 2022

During religious celebrations, writes Mohamed Abu Shaar, Israel has transformed Jerusalem into a military barracks

Vicious barracks
Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos III holds candles as Christians gather around the burial site of Jesus Christ during the Holy Fire ceremony (photo: AFP)


Not far from Al-Aqsa Mosque, the site of repeated incursions and the violation of worshippers and those in seclusion, stand the Israeli barricades and obstructions that have robbed Christians of the Eastern Church of the joy of celebrating Holy Saturday at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in occupied Jerusalem. Meanwhile, the struggle intensifies between the Palestinians and Israelis who are both trying to impose their will in the holy city.

The Israeli authorities impeded the arrival of worshippers hoping to participate in the Easter Vigil at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre by erecting barricades and closing a number of the Old City gates in their faces. These measures are part of Israel’s escalation in Jerusalem and occupied Palestinian territories, under the pretext of security tensions in the city, which run parallel to tensions in the Gaza Strip.

While the Covid-19 pandemic restricted Easter celebrations over the past two years, Israeli security measures this year prevented a large number of Christians from participating in celebrations. An Israeli court had previously ruled that 4,000 worshippers could participate, but at the last minute Israel changed its mind and only allowed 1,500 people to go through. Eventually, Jerusalem residents broke through security barricades set up by the Israeli police that blocked access to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.

Archbishop Atallah Hanna, Head of the Sebastia Diocese of the Greek Orthodox in Jerusalem, says Israel has turned the city of Jerusalem into a military barracks. Hanna also accused the occupation forces of savage aggressions against those celebrating Holy Saturday. “The occupation army stormed the Church of the Holy Sepulchre with weapons,” he exclaimed.

Hanna told Al-Ahram Weekly the purpose of Israel’s recent actions at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is to provoke Christians, targeting an unprecedented Christian convergence on Jerusalem. He further accused Israel of transforming Jerusalem from a place of worship to a military barracks.

Hanna went on to say that the Israeli occupation is sabotaging religious occasions and committing crimes against everything Palestinian and Arab. He insisted that this constitutes a violation of the sanctity of the holy city, and requires immediate international intervention to save Jerusalem.

Hanna believes that the way Israel has sabotaged Ramadan festivities, which coincide with Easter, by repeated incursions into Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Temple Mount, demonstrates that “the Israeli occupation wants to exclude everyone, and has no desire to achieve peace in the world.”

Israeli escalation was met with warnings by Palestinian factions who believe Israel is trying to impose a fait accompli on the ground, by violating holy sites for Palestinians, whether Al-Aqsa Mosque or Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The Israeli escalation in Jerusalem increases the likelihood of renewed military confrontations between Palestinian factions in Gaza and the Israeli army. At the same time, sporadic firing of rockets from Gaza towards Israeli settlements adjacent to the Gaza Strip will probably hasten confrontations.

In recent days, primitive rockets were fired towards Israel from the Gaza Strip and Lebanon, but did not result in any losses on the ground. They did, however, open up all possibilities for Israeli officials. In response to these rocket attacks from Gaza, the Israeli army began preparing for a large-scale operation in Gaza, including a list of targets that will be presented to the political leadership, according to the Hebrew newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth.

The newspaper said this is despite a political decision to respond to rocket attacks from Gaza with civil sanctions, and that the army – while ready to take action – supports these sanctions.

Israeli assessments suggest Hamas may not want large-scale military confrontations with Israel at this time, and prefer limiting escalation to Jerusalem and the West Bank. However, rapid developments in occupied Jerusalem brought the option of confrontation sooner.

Hamas wants to prove what it claims as a new dynamic between the Gaza Strip and Jerusalem, and the state of calm and tensions there. Meanwhile, Israel deals with the Palestinians using “carrot and stick” logic, by returning to policies of strangling Gaza by closing the Beit Hanoun-Erez crossing. Consequently, thousands of workers are deprived of working in Israel, and Gaza is deprived of the funds that these workers would bring in.

Tensions between Hamas and Israel due to attempts to impose new rules of engagement and achieve the greatest possible gains is a dangerous game according to analysts, because it may force the two sides to engage in a battle that neither side wants right now.

Riyad Al-Ayla, political science professor at Al-Azhar University in Gaza, argues that military escalation between Palestinian factions and the Israeli army depends on conditions in Jerusalem. Al-Ayla stated that the current situation could lead to new military confrontations that neither side wants. He told the Weekly that firing rockets from Gaza towards Israel is a message from the factions, since the battle in Jerusalem is not far from the Gaza Strip. “It’s an attempt by the factions to pressure Israel into calming the situation in Jerusalem,” Al-Ayla stated.

He believes that military escalation between factions in Gaza and the Israeli army currently depends on Arab and international mediation efforts, stressing that US and Arab moves confirm that no one wants the situation between the Palestinians and the Israelis to worsen.

Several Arab countries that have diplomatic relations with Israel, especially Egypt, are exerting efforts to restore calm in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza Strip. It is attempting to avert another military escalation in Gaza since Cairo oversees this issue, and is working on massive infrastructure projects in the Gaza Strip that it hopes will be completed without further obstructions.

Israel is under tremendous pressure from the radical right to promote the Judification of occupied Jerusalem, and impose more changes as a fait accompli. However, this plan collides with Palestinians rallying around Jerusalem at Christian and Muslim holy sites. This makes for an explosive situation for Israel, whether in the West Bank or Gaza.


*A version of this article appears in print in the 28 April, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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