Silencing Palestinian voices in Jerusalem


By Omar Radwan


February 10, 2010

Last week, the Israeli Ministry of Interior issued Palestinian
geographer Khalil al-Tafakji with a six-month travel ban. Tafakji’s
activities are largely confined to surveying and cartography, he is not
a politician. However, his work has created major obstacles for
Israel’s plans to Judaize the city of Jerusalem and decrease its
Palestinian population.

Tafakji is employed by the Mapping and Geographic Information Systems
Department (GIS) of the Arab Studies Society. The aim of this
department, as described by Tafakji, is "to research and document the
effects of Israeli policies and practices in the Occupied Palestinian
Territory (OPT) relating to land and property, and to be able to
produce maps showing these effects". Among the maps produced is one
showing Palestine as it was in 1945 and one plotting every illegal
Israeli settlement built in the West Bank and the Jerusalem area from
1967 to 1994. In 1998, GIS completed a project surveying all
Palestinian property in Jerusalem and the department now serves as the
main reference point for people engaged in land transactions. The work
of GIS has stalled Israeli plans for Jerusalem in various ways. It now
holds accurate details of property entitlements in the city, so GIS has
been able to stop sales of property to Israeli parties by people with
forged title deeds. In addition, it has been able to submit zoning
proposals to the Jerusalem municipality designed to prevent Israeli
takeovers of Arab areas of the city. These are usually signed by all
the residents of a certain area and are, therefore, difficult even for
the Israelis to refuse.

Three weeks ago, Tafakji returned to Jerusalem from a tour which took
him to a number of countries, including India, Tunisia, and Turkey. He
had been speaking about the effects of Israeli policies in Jerusalem on
the city’s Palestinian population. No such travel ban as has been
imposed on Tafakji has ever been imposed on any other Palestinian; the
only similar case is that of Israeli nuclear whistleblower Mordechai
Vanunu, who has been prevented from leaving the country ever since his
release from prison. It seems that Israel is very fearful that facts
about its policies in Jerusalem – which can be best described as ethnic
cleansing by stealth – reach a wide audience outside the country.

Khalil al-Tafakji is not the only person working to preserve the
Palestinian presence in Jerusalem who has been targeted by Israel. On
13 January an Israeli court sentenced Sheikh Raed Salah to nine months
imprisonment for affray. Sheikh Salah was alleged to have spat in the
face of an Israeli policeman during a 2007 demonstration against
Israel’s demolition of the Magharbeh Gate of Al-Aqsa Mosque and the
building of a new bridge in its place that would allow Israeli soldiers
easy access to Al-Aqsa Mosque in order to quell demonstrations. Sheikh
Salah denies the charges against him vehemently, saying that his Muslim
faith prevents him from spitting at any creature created by God, let
alone a human being. He claims that it was he who was attacked,
something far more likely given the brutality to which the Palestinians
of the city are subjected regularly by the Israeli police.

The real reason why the Israeli authorities want Sheikh Salah behind
bars is because of his exposure of Israel’s plans for Jerusalem. He is
the leader of the Islamic Movement within Israel’s 1948 boundaries and
is at the forefront of a campaign to stop Israeli plans to Judaize the
Palestinian neighbourhoods of Jerusalem and their assault on Al-Aqsa
Mosque and other Muslim holy places in the city -described
euphemistically by Israel as "archaeological excavation". In October,
Sheikh Salah organised a sit-in at Al-Aqsa Mosque, in which hundreds of
Palestinians took part. This was in response to the plans of two
extremist Jewish groups, Revava and the Temple Mount Faithful, to enter
the mosque and desecrate it. Israeli police stormed the site shortly
afterwards and the Sheikh was banned from entering Jerusalem. Sheikh
Salah said recently that 2010 will be a decisive year for Al-Aqsa
Mosque. He revealed that Israel has already built three networks of
tunnels under Jerusalem; one under Al-Aqsa Mosque, one under the Old
City and one under the Selwan district, where Israel has started to
demolish hundreds of Palestinian homes in order to construct an
"archaeological park". Israel’s "excavation" work has resulted in the
collapse of Palestinian houses and threatens Al-Aqsa Mosque itself. The
Sheikh also spoke of Israel’s construction of a synagogue near Al-Aqsa
Mosque and said that the Zionist state’s ultimate plan is to enforce a
partition of Al-Aqsa Mosque between Muslims and Jews similar to that
imposed at the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron after 1967.

Israel’s imprisonment of Sheikh Raed Salah and its unprecedented travel
ban on Khalil al-Tafakji are part of a systematic assault on the
Palestinians of the city which has escalated over the past year. This
assault includes the destruction of Palestinian homes in the Selwan
district, the eviction of Palestinians in the Sheikh Jarrah
neighbourhood and their replacement by Israeli settlers, the planned
desecration and destruction of a Muslim graveyard in order to build a
"Museum of Tolerance" on the site, and Israeli activities at Al-Aqsa
Mosque. Israel is now trying to silence two Palestinians who stand in
the way of its plans and who have mobilised others to prevent the
destruction of their city. However, the Palestinians of Jerusalem will
not disappear quietly, and thanks to the efforts of people like Sheikh
Raed Salah and Khalil al-Tafakji they are aware that they can disrupt
Israel’s plans and stop them from going ahead.


Link: www.middleeastmonitor.org.uk/articles/35-palestine/660-silencing-palestinian-voi
   ces-in-jerusalem

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