The Palestinians will never be silenced

East Jerusalem

Veteran Palestinian journalist Abdel Bari Atwan says that although Israel may be trying to silence the call-to-prayer it will never quell Palestinian resistance.

The bill currently making its way through the Israeli parliament aimed at restricting the use of loudspeakers to issue the call-to-prayer by mosques within the Green Line and occupied East Jerusalem – ostensibly to reduce “noise pollution” – has caused outrage among Palestinians and in the Arab and Islamic worlds.

The law is the product of a long-running campaign spearheaded mainly by settlers in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.

It’s timing, however, seems to be the Israeli government’s way of demonstrating its contempt for last month’s adoption by UNESCO of a resolution condemning its actions against Muslim and Christian holy sites in Jerusalem and its attempts to change the multi-confessional character of the holy city – movingly symbolized, for residents and visitors alike, by the characteristic mingling of the sound of adhan calls and church bells ringing.

It may also have been timed to detract attention from an equally brazen and potentially more far-reaching measure: last week’s passage of a bill legalizing the 100 or so “unauthorised” Israeli settlements built on stolen Palestinian land in the West Bank, in addition to the 130 officially-recognised settlements (all, of course, are illegal under international law).

Whatever the case, nobody is convinced that the issue at stake is noise, not even the bill’s main sponsors: when it was first introduced earlier this year, it was on the grounds that mosque loudspeakers could be used to broadcast “incitement” or “religious or nationalist messages.”

Judaising Jerusalem

Manifestly, the bid to silence the mosques is but the latest in the succession of steps taken by all Israeli governments, from the moment Israel occupied and annexed East Jerusalem, to “Judaise” the city in every respect.

These have ranged from physical expulsion to land confiscation, the demolition of homes (indeed entire neighborhoods), settlement construction, restrictions on travel, access and residency, economic marginalisation, and countless administrative and security measures, both draconian and petty, all aimed at squeezing out or marginalising the indigenous Muslim and Christian inhabitants, both physically and culturally.

President Mahmoud Abbas
President Mahmoud Abbas

It was eloquently summed up by Palestinian MK Haneen Zu’bi: “The issue is not about noise in their ears but about the noise in their minds. What disturbs them so much is the noise of the Palestinians’ presence in their own homeland,” she was quoted as saying.

A typical Palestinian response was that if settlers, many recently arrived from North America or Europe, dislike the adhan that has been sounding over the city five times a day for the past millennium and a half, they could move back to their own countries, or within the internationally recognised borders of their adoptive state.

The Palestinian Authority (PA), for its part, has tried to warn Israel that passage of the bill will enrage Palestinian, Arab, Muslim opinion, even plunging the region into a “religious war.”

But since when has Israel cared about regional opinion? It has no need, based on so much past experience, to fear any meaningful international sanction for pursuing blatantly racist policies.

It certainly does not fear any Arab backlash, nor have any problem with “religious war” – indeed, with the region in such turmoil, it openly boasts of offering its “protection” to various Arab states. And it most emphatically has no intention of heeding advice from the hapless PA, for which it misses no opportunity to flaunt its disdain.

Anti PA anger

The PA’s impotence over the adhan ban, and in every aspect of its dealings with the occupying power, will fuel the simmering mood of anger that is building up among Palestinians, both political forces and the general public, and which could explode at any moment – as it did in the recent “knives intifada.”

It is directed not just against the ongoing occupation, but also the PA itself and President Mahmoud Abbas and his policies: inertia on the domestic Palestinian front, an ultra-accommodating approach to Israel, coupled with slavish attachment to a “peace process” that long ago ceased to be anything more than a diplomatic fiction.

With frustration growing at the failure of attempts to reactivate the PLO, which Abbas also heads, some Palestinian political factions have been considering moves to set up a rival umbrella to claim leadership of the Palestinians as well as a rival PA.

Others talk of issuing an ultimatum to Abbas to change political course, within a time-frame of no more than two months, and pursue a path based on resistance – whether peaceful, armed or both – to the occupation.

A further challenge could come at the long-delayed 7th General Congress of the Fateh Movement, the PLO’s mainstay, due to be held on 29 November. Preparations have been plagued by disagreements reflecting rivalries between factions within Fatah, not least over the eventual succession to Abbas. But if the gathering goes ahead, it could result in the election of a new and younger leadership that would steer Fatah onto a different course, heralding a new phase of active resistance to the occupation.

If that does not happen, or is not allowed to happen, there is a serious prospect that Fatah will end up splitting and the PA imploding.

Palestinian anger and frustration at the status quo is very real and intense. Israel may try to silence the mosques, but the Palestinians have shown again and again, despite overwhelming odds, that they and their cause will ultimately not be silenced.

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