22 August 2020

London - After an unprecedented escalation of violence against religious communities and people belonging to religious minorities, the United Nations General Assembly, last year, adopted a resolution declaring August 22nd as the International Day of Commemoration the victims of the violence based on their religion or belief. The International platform of NGOs working for Palestine “iPalestine”, on this day, calls all member states as well as the civil society and the private sector, actively observe this International Day and play an important role in promoting the freedom of religion or belief in Palestine, Jerusalem specifically, to mitigate the ongoing conflict on the land of Palestine since 1948. It is a call and an opportunity to rise to combat intolerance, discrimination and violence against Palestinians on the basis of their religion or belief, and to raise interfaith initiatives.

Since the beginning of the Israeli occupation for Palestine, especially Jerusalem, its authorities have followed a systematic plan aimed at changing the demographics in the area and increasing the number of Israeli Jews in Palestine in general and East Jerusalem in specific while reducing the number of Palestinian Christians and Muslims. Israel tended to apply this strategy through building settlements, racist practices against Christians and Muslims living in the area, closing Jerusalem to Palestinian residents from the rest of the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, building the apartheid wall around East Jerusalem, practicing assault on holy sites and places of worship. Since 1967, the Israeli occupation authorities have immediately begun to build settlements illegally within the holy cities’ borders including Jerusalem, Hebron, and Bethlehem and on their outskirts, as these settlements form a cordon at the present time surrounding the occupied part of the Jerusalem from the rest of the West Bank. Today, there are over 350,000 settlers living in East Jerusalem who practice all kinds of violent acts against Palestinian and Christian Muslims living in Jerusalem including throwing them with stones, stealing their houses, and causing the Israeli police to arrest them without legal reasons .It should be noted that Israel is working to forcibly displace Muslim Palestinians from the occupied city of Jerusalem as part of its Judaization project known as Jerusalem (2050).

Moreover, the Israeli occupation have consistently confiscated lands to prevent any Islamic Palestinian urban sprawl. They have also relied on a series of structural planning policies aimed at preventing Palestinian Muslims nor Christians in East Jerusalem from building on their land or expanding existing facilities. As a result, the occupation authorities allow Palestinians to build and live on only 13% of occupied East Jerusalem. This is in addition to the fact that building permits in Jerusalem are very expensive, and it is almost impossible to obtain them due to the imposed Israeli restrictions, racist measures and discriminatory policies pursued by the occupation government in this regard, which gives it an excuse to demolish the homes of Palestinians who are forced to build to meet the natural growth of their families without obtaining Building licenses. It should be noted that since 1967, Israel has confiscated about 34% of East Jerusalem's lands for "public use," and another 53% of East Jerusalem's lands have been designated for settlements or designated as "green areas."

It is also estimated that since 1967, Israel has demolished thousands of homes and installations in East Jerusalem, including some historical and religious sites such as the Mughrabi Quarter in the Old City. The aim of this is to empty the Palestinian presence in the Holy City and eliminate the Palestinian identity. The demolition acts carried out by the occupation forces have also caused the displacement of thousands of Jerusalemite citizens and left them homeless, and their forced eviction from their city in itself violates international law and violates its rules.

Civil society organizations concerned with the right of Palestinians living in Jerusalem assures that Since 1994, the Israeli occupation authorities have prevented Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip from entering any area in Jerusalem. Palestinians wishing to enter Jerusalem must obtain temporary permits that are rarely granted by the Israeli authorities. This closure policy has resulted in the denial of more than three million Palestinian Muslims and Christians of free access to their holy sites in Jerusalem, even during religious holidays. Israel’s acts expanded to the Israel’s sudden decisions of closing the holy sites in Jerusalem without any reason which led Israel to practice its violent acts including shooting, killing, hitting, and arresting Palestinians who protest against this closure or attempt to enter those sites on the closing days.

Israel, since its occupation of East Jerusalem, continues with its violations and attacks on the Islamic and Christian holy sites, especially its continuous attempts to change the legal and historical status in the blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque, divide in time and space, undermine the freedom of Muslims to pray in it and keep them away from it, and carry out excavations below the blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque and around its walls. The Israeli occupation authorities also continue their systematic plans to undermine the churches in Jerusalem and weaken the Christian presence in the Holy City through numerous policies, including the imposition of taxes on their churches, foremost of which is the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. The list of attacks is long and cannot be counted, including imposing a siege on the Church of the Holy Sepulcher on Easter and the Sabbath of Light, diverting the roads leading to the Church in the Old City to a barracks, and setting up checkpoints to obstruct pilgrims' access to it under the pretext of maintaining security, and this matter has become repeated annually in recent years. The occupation authorities also did not hesitate to attack monks, and this is what we witnessed in January 2018, when the occupation police attacked the monks and arrested one of them during the suppression of a stand organized by the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate in Jerusalem at the door of the Coptic Monastery of the Sultan in the yard of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

Civil society organizations assert that both Muslims and Christians are affected by these Israeli violent acts including the Al-Aqsa massacre, which occurred on October 8, 1990, in which nineteen Palestinians were killed by the Israeli occupation soldiers. The events of the Al-Buraq Tunnel when the Israeli occupation authorities excavated from the south side below the blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque and destroyed the Umayyad palaces to open a tunnel located along the western wall of the blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque below the Mamluk buildings, such as the Jawhariya, Ottoman and Tannazi schools, as these clashes caused the death of eighty-five Palestinians. Israel also continues its attempts to seize the properties surrounding the Holy Haram and turn them into synagogues, police stations and religious institutions that are planning to demolish the blessed Al-Aqsa Mosque.

For the sake of Muslim and Christian Palestinians who were killed, hit, humiliated or arrested by the Israeli occupation because of their religion, “iPalestine”, on this day, calls for the need for a collaborative work by all civil society organizations working for Palestine in Palestine and in the diaspora with all capable entities to promote the implementation of international human rights standards that ensures the protection of individuals against discrimination and acts of violence based on their religion and belief. “iPalestine” assures the Israel’s discrimination and violent acts against Muslims and Christians in Jerusalem aim to intimidate Palestinians of religious beliefs which accordingly prevent them from practicing their faith. This International Day is an occasion to educate the public about issues of religious liberty and to mobilize religious groups media, and politicians to address this growing problem.

Therefore, “iPalestine” illustrates that from this standpoint, the protection of religious freedoms has become a pressing issue in recent years, given that the main cause of many tragic conflicts in different parts of the world is due to intolerance and religious persecution, and the related racial intolerance, racism and hatred of specific groups of people and assures that this international day is another opportunity for civil society and all otter concerned parties to prove that they are a powerful advocacy tool.