Mar 27 2012

Ahlan Wasahlan in Al Quds (Jerusalem)

Published by at 12:02 pm under Articles,Palestinian politics

By Daoud Kuttab

The invitation by the Palestinian president to Arabs and Moslems to visit Jerusalem is long overdue. But it is better late than never. Jerusalem’s 300,000 Palestinians badly needed this invitation which comes at a time that their natural hinterland (the rest of the West Bank) has been cut of from them.

For years Arabs and Moslems have shied away from visiting Jerusalem and other Palestinian lands for a variety of reasons. Most have no opportunity to go even if they wanted to. With the exception of Egypt and Jordan (the latter only since 1994) no other Arab country has diplomatic relations with Israel. Non Arab states with substantial Moslem populations can come and some have in the past decades mostly through one off tourism junkets. I have seen Moslems, from Indonesia, Sirlanka, India, South Africa and Bangladesh among others crossing into Palestine through the King Hussein Bridge.

Some have said that it was emotionally too difficult for them to see the holy city under a foreign military rule. Religious leaders and for different reasons have also chimed in. Egyptian copt have been ordered not to visit Jerusalem because of Israel’s unilateral decision (before the peace with Egypt) to give the keys of a Jerusalem convent near the Church of the Holy Seplechure to rival Eretrians (at the time Israeli alleys). Egyptian born Doha based Islamic leader Yosef Qardawi also made a fatweh against the visit to Jerusalem that had not been challenged until recently.

Additional a few although with loud rhetoric have publicly called for a boycott claiming that such a visit only encourages Israelis to continue their occupation as it shows that the occupation and annexation of Jerusalem is normal. These individuals opposed to normalization have at times terrorized and politically punished anyone that goes against their point of view. Professional unions in Jordan and Egypt, have publicly adopted these positions although in discussions with many of them they understand that there is a difference between show of solidarity and a visit that legitimizes occupation.

Mahmoud Abbas’s position calling on all to show solidarity with Jerusalem by coming to the city is not new although it has never been spoken so clearly at so high a forum. The late Faisal Husseini has often made the same plea and often repeated that it is unfair to equate the victim with the aggressor. The argument that by boycotting Jerusalem those individuals hurt fellow Palestinians whom one assumes that they support rather than Israel which doesn’t really care that much whether people from Arab and largely Moslem countries come or not. A year ago Abbas made a similar plea speaking to Dubai TV. Since then this illogical position of indirectly boycotting Palestinians has been broken largely by sports teams  largely from Gulf countries who have visited Palestine upon an invitation from the Palestinian Sports Union and via permits obtained by and through the Palestinian Authority even if those permits were made only after Israel agreed to the individuals for which the PA made the request.

The latest call by Abbas takes the issue even one step further. One reason why sports teams were able to politically get away with the visit was that they entered Palestine using permits issued by the Palestinian Authority. Anyone wanting to visit Jerusalem today has to cross the 8 meter high wall and dozens of checkpoints and therefore this requires Israeli approval. Persons in some of the leading anti Israeli countries such as Syria and Iran would not be able to come even if they wanted to. The rest of the world, including the Gulf and Asian countries can come by obtaining a visa through an Israeli embassy or one of Israel’s ally countries that are charged to handle such issues. Still some might object saying that they can’t accept to have an Israeli visa on their passports because they travel to countries like Syria and Lebanon (although some countries allow you to obtain a second passport and it is possible –though not guaranteed – that the Israeli visa is not stamped on the passport but on an external).

The fundamental issue however remains that as Israel tightens the physical as well as political choke on Jerusalem’s Palestinian population and holy places, help is needed from external powers and peoples. Nothing brings home the issues in Jerusalem more than a visit. Israel and its supporters have not stopped one day from solidarity visits. It is time for those who believe in justice for Palestinians and who insist on the holy city of Jerusalem remaining a vibrant multi ethnic multi religious city, to organize visits to it. Local political, social or religious groups are more than happy to invite friends and supporters and host them, tour them and give them a first hand information about what is happening to Jerusalem. Moslems are called to shido al rihal (saddle up and go) to al Quds al Sharif.

Palestinians who are citizens of Israel from the Galillee and from the  Negav have begun a strong campaign to stand up with fellow Palestinians in Jerusalem. The plight of the people and the importance of the city should not be restricted to Palestinians. Moslems, Christians and people of all faith and people of non faith should heed the call and support the embattled city and its Palestinian population.

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