As Ramadan approaches, the city of Jerusalem is preparing for its sacred rituals. Ramadan is observed by Muslims across the world in the spirit of sacrifice, cleansing and renewal, but in Jerusalem it carries unique and particular importance. While Jerusalem is central to all three monotheistic religions and is a reflection of the mosaic of civilisations that have inhabited the city throughout the years, the holy month serves to reinforce the city's Palestinian and Arab identity – an identity Israel is violently attempting to strip away.
During Ramadan, this identity is on full display: worshippers who are typically barred from entering Jerusalem due to Israel’s discriminatory permit regime flock to the Al Aqsa Mosque compound; colourful Ramadan lanterns adorn the streets of the Old City; and the aromas of meals prepared for the breaking of the fast waft throughout the city. These are not only expressions of celebration but of existence and resistance against Israeli colonial settler policies and practices that, on a daily basis, threaten both the Palestinian presence in, and claims over, the city. Palestinian steadfastness is increasingly important following various decisions by the Trump administration that have given Israel a green light to undermine Palestinian rights. No one should accept Israel’s exclusivity over Jerusalem and normalise its illegal annexation of the city.
On a daily basis, more than 300,000 Jerusalemites fight against a brutal Israeli occupation that seeks to remove them from their land. The equation used by the Israeli occupation in Jerusalem and other parts of the occupied Palestinian territory is relatively simple: confiscate as much land as possible, with as few people as possible.
In order to achieve this, Israel has enforced various illegal policies and practices aimed at systematically diminishing a Palestinian presence in Jerusalem. This includes revoking the residency status of East Jerusalem Palestinians (amounting to nearly 15,000 Palestinians since 1967), preventing the natural growth of the Palestinian community by restricting family unification and child registration of East Jerusalem Palestinians, expropriating Palestinian land and property, denying building permits and the demolition of Palestinian houses, physically isolating East Jerusalem from the rest of the occupied West Bank, in part by building the annexation wall and installing military checkpoints, and suppressing Palestinian political and cultural life.
Such policies and practices aid the preservation and expansion of the illegal Israeli colonial settlement enterprise in Jerusalem. Israel’s colonial settler project takes several forms, ranging from large colonies such as the French Hill and Pisgat Zeev colonial settlements to individual Palestinian homes in the Old City being turned into colonial enclaves, with the Palestinian residents forcibly evicted and replaced with Israeli settlers and entire neighbourhoods, such as Sheikh Jarrah and the Mount of Olives, being slowly transformed into colonial settlements.
The illegal settlement project not only aims to erase a Palestinian physical presence from the city but to shift the historical narrative as a means of Judaising Jerusalem. This is most evident in the Jerusalem neighbourhood of Silwan, outside the walls of the Old City, where Israel has created an archaeological park on land confiscated from its Palestinian residents, using the pretext of archaeological claims to justify the destruction of Palestinian homes and the expulsion of their inhabitants. Since the beginning of this year, Israel has enforced the demolition of 10 Palestinian homes in Silwan and at the same time continues to expand and facilitate new settlement infrastructure, serving to consolidate an Israeli settler presence in the neighbourhood.
Israeli historian Illan Pappe described Israeli policies during the Nakba, or the catastrophe, of 1948, as “displacement and replacement”. In Palestine, and particularly in Jerusalem, we live an ongoing Nakba, where our presence is being systematically worn down and replaced with the Israeli settler colonial project.
These policies have been supported and emboldened by the Trump administration. By recognising Jerusalem as Israel's capital, in violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions and in defiance of international law, the US administration has underlined its intentions. It is not an honest broker of peace but seeks Palestinian surrender to illegal actions, sending a message to Israel and the world that the use of force to expand borders is not only acceptable but commendable. This is a dangerous precedent to set. Taking this and other US administration decisions that have consistently undermined Palestinians' rights over the past year (moving the US embassy to Jerusalem, defunding UNRWA, shuttering the Palestine Liberation Organisation office in Washington and recognising Israel's sovereignty over the occupied Syrian Golan Heights) into consideration, it is hard to imagine that Donald Trump's so-called peace plan, rumoured to be released after Ramadan, will be anything more than a legitimisation of Israel's illegal actions undermining Palestinian rights – mainly our right to self-determination.
The Palestine Liberation Organisation has constantly repeated that Palestine is not for sale – and we affirm this by maintaining presence on our land. In this context, Palestine’s new government will expend all efforts to support the resilience of the Palestinian people under occupation in general, and in Jerusalem in particular.
This task will prove challenging under current financial limitations and impediments resulting from the unilateral illegal actions by both the Israeli government and the US administration. Supporting the resilience of our people is not just a Palestinian responsibility but an international one. It is necessary that the world send a strong message to Israel that it does not accept its illegal practices and policies in Jerusalem (and across occupied Palestine), which not only undermine the rights of Palestinians living there but threaten regional peace and stability. While we welcomed the international response railing against the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, this must be followed by concrete action and a co-ordinated strategy to improve the living conditions of Jerusalemites and support their steadfastness and continued presence in their homes.
As millions of people across the world prepare to observe Ramadan, we call upon them not to forget the struggle for freedom, equality and justice of the people of Palestine. We need your support in order to raise the morale and hope of our people for a future of dignity and justice. Jerusalem remains the heart of the Arab world and the steadfastness of the Palestinian people represents the will and the feelings of millions in the Arab and Muslim worlds.
As the late Palestinian president Yasser Arafat once said: “A day will come when one of our boys or girls will raise the flag of Palestine over the walls of Jerusalem, the minarets of Jerusalem and the churches of Jerusalem.” May this holy month bring us closer to this moment, a turning point toward a just and lasting peace in our region.
Dr Saeb Erekat is the secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organisation