Palestinian protesters wave the national flag outside the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem's Old City on April 26, 2021. (Photo by Ahmad GHARABLI / AFP)

Mahmoud Muna

The clashes and violence around the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem have caused much ink to flow in recent weeks, but as a longtime resident of the city, I have a unique perspective on the young people who live in the city. and around the Old Town.

The key to any real understanding of the events is the deep relationship that exists between Palestinian residents of the Old City and the public space surrounding their homes – a relationship that even Palestinians living outside its walls beneath. often estimate.

Beyond the obvious religious and national responsibilities that the inhabitants of the Old Town feel towards their former hometown, they regard the public spaces as their own gardens, where they find themselves on the terraces and their magnificent balconies until late. the summer nights.

LIKE NO OTHER

Jerusalem is a city like no other. Recognized as a World Heritage Site by Unesco, it is a concentrate of heritage wealth for the whole world. The streets are narrow, the houses in the Old City are overcrowded, and few building or renovation permits are granted to Palestinian residents.

This explains why families (and young people in particular) flock to the vast Damascus Gate to find space. Throughout my life, and more so in recent years, the Damascus Gate (or Bab Al-Amoud as we call it), has become a place of gathering and social life. Young people meet there, smoke and eat sweets.

Over the years, the amphitheater-shaped plaza had become the scene of cultural performances, including musical events, street art, traditional dance, and even parkour.

Everything changed on the first day of Ramadan this year, when the Israeli authorities prevented people from gathering around the grand staircases (which locals call “the chairs“) with metal barriers, and only allowed one. narrow foot access via the small steps. Young Palestinians saw the move as a provocation and staged nightly protests to reclaim the space.

The determination and commitment to a peaceful protest has grown. After a few days of skepticism, the Palestinian community at large quickly rallied to the cause of young people. The requests were crystal clear: remove the barriers around the grand staircases and reopen the ‘chairs’ area.

The Israeli police repeatedly tried to persuade the young people to agree to the closing of the stairs, to no avail. It was then that we realized that there was in fact no leader for this movement, no party or political leader involved.

Of course, hopelessness, the lack of a future, and the growing sense of oppression and discrimination are all factors that fuel the anger and this cycle of confrontation. The tipping point, however, came when ultranationalist Jewish groups gathered and marched chanting “death to the Arabs”, before clashes erupted in the streets of Jerusalem in full view of Israeli forces.

On April 22, things rushed. About 120 Palestinians were injured overnight. The demonstrations have multiplied and intensified. Two days later, on Sunday evening, the police decided to remove the barriers and open the stairs to the Damascus Gate.

A SMALL VICTORY

Jerusalemites of all ages and backgrounds flocked to the square to celebrate the event with an exceptional night of celebration. It was only a small victory, but thirteen nights of continuous protests had finally paid off, and the city’s most important social space for Palestinians was finally reopened. At the time of this writing, that story remains unfinished: Israeli forces continue to deploy in large numbers around the Damascus Gate and tension is high.

By opposing Israeli policies through protest – and contrary to the blocked path to Palestinian elections – the youth of Jerusalem present another model of leadership and mobilization, marked by spontaneity, community participation and social.

Less than a kilometer from Damascus Gate, the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah became the scene of a new protest last week. In this historic district, the owners of 28 houses are threatened with eviction by a group of ultra-nationalist Israeli settlers. Palestinians in the neighborhood have demonstrated peacefully in solidarity with the families, and although the legal battle is not yet over, it is clear that Israeli courts are once again manipulating the law in favor of Jewish settler organizations claiming the homes of those who lived there even before the creation of Israel seven decades ago. Every day, Palestinian residents are subjected to military violence and that of armed settlers, who attack civilians at the iftar table of solidarity erected in the open air.

On Thursday, May 6, the army deployed significant forces to protect the makeshift office of Knesset member Itamar Ben Gvir, a far-right politician who makes Benyamin Netanyahu look like a communist by comparison! Once again the army was hard at work defending a group of settlers. They are the ugliest face of Israel.

In the Old City and around the Al-Aqsa Mosque, Palestinians have to put up with the violent and aggressive attitude of Israeli soldiers, many of whom are no more than 18 or 19 years old.

Inexperienced soldiers who receive submachine guns with rubber bullets and live ammunition, stationed behind metal barriers set up where thousands of Palestinians try to gain access to their holy place.

They are always ready to intervene, viewing every Palestinian on the move as a potential risk, be it a man, a woman or a child.

Years of indoctrination of saying that they are defending their people against a new holocaust, as if we had something to do with European Aryanism! Unless you pay a heavy price – losing our homeland and living under oppression and racism since 1948.

ISRAELI ESCALATION

On the night of Friday, May 7, the IDF continued to escalate. Frightened by the presence of 70,000 Palestinians, she stormed the compound of Al-Aqsa Mosque and literally shot people who were praying. More than 200 Palestinians have been hospitalized, many with head and eye injuries. At least one man has lost his sight.

All of this is happening in a context of failed Israeli democracy, without a viable government after four elections in two years. A fifth election is probably in sight. Cases of corruption and scandals abound, ranging from the top of the Israeli political spectrum to cases of rape by its religious leaders. Yet, once again, it is the Palestinians who are paying the price for such anarchy.

Israeli society and its political establishment are deeply concerned, but they refuse to see that it is the military occupation that is the problem here. Indeed, for us, the occupation is the main obstacle to our liberation and our freedom.

We are fed up with the occupation and all that goes with it, and we cannot continue to play the psychiatrists of Israeli society. We are the occupied, not the occupiers, we are the oppressed, not the oppressors, we are the colonized, not the colonizers. For the well-being of all those who live between the river and the sea, this occupation must be ended. It has lasted too long.

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Mohmoud MunaA Palestinian writer and activist, he runs the Educational Bookshop in Jerusalem.

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