Opinion: Preserving Palestine’s heritage

Opinion: Preserving Palestine’s heritage By Idris Tawfiq – The Egyptian Gazette
Saturday, November 5, 2011 01:42:39 PM

It was only to be expected that the state of Israel would try to ruin any attempt to celebrate Jerusalem as Capital of Arab Culture back in 2009. How could it be otherwise, with the Zionists telling the world that Jerusalem has been their capital for the last three thousand years and that it will be the eternal capital of Israel?

If the existing Judaisation of Jerusalem carries on at its present rate there will be little left of Jerusalem as a capital of Arab culture for anyone to celebrate. Systematically, the Arab nature of the city is being uprooted and
destroyed, whether it be monuments going back to the Middle Ages and before, or to modern dwellings where the Arab citizens of Jerusalem live.

        All of it is happening before the eyes of the world, but very little is being done to stop it. Although the very streets themselves shout that this is an Arab city so much of Jerusalem’s Arab past is being demolished or disguised.  To get rid of it all, however, the Zionists would have to destroy the city itself!
At long last, though, something happened this last week that is of immense significance in the long process towards restoring peace and justice in Palestine. UNESCO has admitted Palestine as a full member. The significance of this action cannot be underestimated. Its importance, though, has nothing whatsoever to do with the bid for Palestinian statehood at the UN.
Let us not confuse this week’s decision with the circus of last September. The short-sighted bid for Statehood, led by the lacklustre leaders of the Palestinian Authority at the United Nations would, at most, only have achieved a feeble Palestinian state on about eighteen per cent of the land of Palestine, whilst at the same time requiring the people of Palestine to recognise Israel and its usurpation of their land.
The recognition of Palestine by UNESCO as a full member goes much further in helping the people of Palestine, for at last this action will help to preserve the Arab identity of Palestine and stop the actions whereby the Zionists are doing everything in
their power to destroy it.
For too long, those who have re-written history and airbrushed the Arab heritage of Palestine from its pages have managed to focus the eyes of the world away from the truth, fooling them into believing a version of history that is not true. In digging under the foundations of Al-Aqsa Mosque for the last forty years to find their lost Temple, the Israeli archaeologists have not managed to find even a cup or a saucer to prove their claim!
The idea of celebrating 2009 as the year for Jerusalem as Capital of Arab Culture was really a masterstroke, even though
Arab governments really made little use of it. In focusing the world’s attention once more on the Arab nature of the city it put the noses of the Zionists out of joint by telling things as they really are, rather than going along with the invented history of the city which visitors read in their guide books.
Reading many of these guidebooks to Jerusalem today would be amusing in the way that history has been rewritten by the Municipal and State authorities, if it were not so tragic in the lives of its citizens. Just like the many Israeli government spokesmen who appear on our news channels giving a false account of what is happening in Palestine, so the history of Jerusalem which they present to visitors is a lie.
The tunnels being built under Al-Aqsa, to weaken its foundations and bring about its collapse, are presented to tourists as archeological excavations which they are invited to walk along and see. At the start of 2009, the Israeli Jerusalem Municipality was planning to demolish 88 residential units, including 114 houses inhabited by 1500 Palestinian residents of the East Jerusalem area of Bustan in order to replace them with an Archaeological Park administered and financed by Israeli settlers.
Whilst the US voting against full membership of UNESCO was not a surprise, it was disappointing that both Germany and Canada voted against. The UK chose not to upset its American friends and decided to abstain. In choosing to cripple the work of UNESCO by withholding 60 million US Dollars of funding, the Obama Administration has been very mean-minded and has once again showed where its true interests lie by doggedly sticking to its alliance with the State of Israel. Israel’s own peevish response was to announce the acceleration of permits to build more illegal settlements in the West Bank and Jerusalem.
Jerusalem is an Occupied city within an Occupied land. Its people have suffered greatly and still suffer from terrible oppression. According to the organising committee for the celebration in 2009, its strategic goal was to restore Jerusalem’s prominence as a city of cultural, historical and religious value in order to protect and preserve its Arab cultural identity.
UNESCO’s decision this week will help to do that. Its decision opens the way for many sites in Palestine, such as the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, the cities of Nablus and Hebron and Al-Aqsa Mosque itself to be declared World Heritage Sites. With such a status it would be unthinkable for the state of Israel to try and destroy them. In the meantime, though, life goes on. One of the groups most hit by both the first and second Intifida, or Uprising against the Occupation, were the stall holders in the Old City of Jerusalem. These simple men closed their shops and stores in defiance of the Israeli authorities, harming their own business in preference for their love for their city and their land.
        The tragedy for many of these traders today is that when their day’s work is done they have to lock up their shops and then undergo once more the daily humiliation at the hands of Israeli soldiers as they negotiate the checkpoints and the barriers and the closed roads that will get them back to their homes in the West Bank, not knowing if tomorrow they will be allowed to enter their city again. So whilst the Arab nations are being urged to make significant gestures for peace, the homes and the heritage of the
Arab citizens are being written out of history, as if they never existed. Arab homes in Jerusalem are demolished and replaced with parks and open spaces. The city’s Arab history is in danger of being turned into one great Zionist Disneyland, a fantasy of what the Zionists want the place to be, rather than a reflection of what it is.
How can peace-loving people all over the world work for peace when their efforts are being ridiculed by what is happening
on the ground? A decision must soon be made about the way forward. Is the “peace process” delivering peace, or is there another path that might have to be trod, which will bring justice and peace to Jerusalem and the Land of the Prophets?

British Muslim writer, Idris Tawfiq, is a lecturer at Al-Azhar University. The author of eight books about Islam, he divides his time between the UK and Egypt as speaker and writer. You can visit his website at

( / 05.11.2011)

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