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Jerusalem Wins Again
By: Mohammad Al-Sahli
March 15, 2018

Israel has considered Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem, as its capital, as a signal to race time in Judaizing the city, and this time, its goal was the property of the Jerusalem Orthodox churches and monasteries.

The government of Netanyahu has sought to "revive" its tax plan regarding the churches retroactively since 2010, thus, who are concerned with the churches found themselves in front of the occupation's demand to pay $ 190 million, or seizure and confiscation, this was accompanied by the announcement about his government's intention to discuss a bill authorizing the confiscation of properties, that have been sold by churches to private companies during the past years.

As what happened after the implementation of Israeli security measures on the gates of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and its surroundings, the occupation was forced to suspend its actions in the face of widespread protests by the Jerusalemites, although this retreat is a temporary and does not indicate that the occupation closed the file of controlling the properties of churches and monasteries. This also means that the battle has not stopped at the limits of postponing the immediate implementation of the tax plan.

It was normal that the protesters against the tax decision, to link between the suspension of the decision and the retreat of the occupation from its security measures in Al-Aqsa Mosque and its surroundings, when they said, “We won in the battle of Resurrection, as we won the battle of Al-Aqsa”, but the occupation government will seek to achieve through its negotiations with church leaders, what it has failed to achieve in its attempt to impose taxes.

Over the past years, there have been serious debates over the issue of manipulation of the Orthodox Church’s properties through renting or selling them to associations and companies associated with settlement, this has led to more conflicts which pushed the church institutions and councils to demand the dismissal of Patriarch Theophilos III. The strength of these protests apparently has prompted the freezing of a number of sale projects that were intended to be implemented. It is not surprised that the tax law is being "revived" and applied to the church to make its people in front of an emergency financial "obligations" by large sums.

Therefore, the church Councils and institutions, stressed the need to stand in the face of this procedure and not comply with the blackmail of Israel, which seeks to force the church to accept the renting or selling of its properties in order to pay the amount of taxes. This is all within the framework of a project adopted by the occupation government, since several years, aims at the Judaization of the entire city of Jerusalem, and not only pressure on the church and monasteries, and in order to force them to rent or sell.

Since its occupation, successive Israeli governments have set up a series of projects to abolish the Palestinian national identity of the city, and have worked on it through several axes:

* Issuing the laws and legislations that open the way for carrying out campaigns to demolish Palestinian homes or evict their inhabitants, according to fabricated judicial claims. Settling institutions and societies have been active in this area. In addition, these governments have issued laws to allow Jerusalemites' staying in their city by imposing the so-called "Arnona" tax, which is twice as much for the Palestinians as the settlers in Jerusalem.

* Expanding the settlement neighborhoods in the city, to form the main urban and housing building in Jerusalem, and developing plans that seek to remove a number of Palestinian communities from the borders of the municipality of the city.

* Deepening the process of Judaization by linking a number of settlements in the city of Jerusalem, in particular Ma'aleh Adumim settlement, in addition to paving bypass roads to reach the city limits, in an attempt to separate it from the West Bank. Reports for legal and human rights organizations have revealed that work is progressing in this direction, with the aim of imposing de facto on the Palestinians. The occupation government is spending about ten million dollars a day, to change the identity of Jerusalem and Judaize it, which is a basic mission that the Zionist parties in the government and the opposition are united around it.

The successive governments of Israel are aware of the importance of the Jerusalem Awqaf, churches and monasteries, and their role in perpetuating the Palestinian national identity of the city.

Thus, since 2015, they have sought to impose the temporal and spatial division on the Al-Aqsa Mosque, but this project failed in the face of widespread Palestinian protests. And they tried to exploit the operation of targeting Israeli police members in Al-Aqsa yard, to impose strict security measures, at the forefront, installing "smart" cameras and establishing electronic gates, but these actions were met with more severe protests and the Jerusalemites with all Palestinians were united, in the face of these measures, and they forced the occupation to retreat. The participation in the confrontation was not confined to a single Palestinian component, rather the church leaders and those concerned with the Islamic Awqaf stood side by side at the head of the protests against the measures of occupation.

However, the occupation government does not consider that the battle has ended by its defeat, and considers that each round of the battle has its own circumstances, and in this period, it is benefiting for maximum from the compatibility of its position with the Trump administration's position, towards the Palestinian rights, especially on the refugee issue and Jerusalem.

Therefore, observers expect that the Netanyahu government will pressure more on churches and monasteries, to collect new gains, as it happened through its rental for lands and properties belonging to the church, and as a result, calls for the Arabization of the church have been escalated after the disclosure of secret deals, concluded with the occupation and with several settlement associations. The aim of these calls is to emphasize the status of the church in its normal context, as a part of the Palestinian national component and under the banner of the Palestinian national program.

In light of this targeting for the church's properties, it is necessary to emphasize the need to implement the decisions of the Central Council, in its last sessions and the Executive Committee, especially the decisions calling for strengthening the steadfastness of the Jerusalemites, through a comprehensive national political and economic plan, that faces the expansionist occupation measures and its relentless efforts to Judaize the city! These threats have escalated after the arrival of Trump's administration and the compatibility of its position with the positions of the occupation government. This administration has begun its anti-Palestinian rhetoric, by proposing an ''alternative Jerusalem" for East Jerusalem, to be a poor Palestinian capital, on half of the West Bank, after giving the green light to the annexation of the settlements and the removal of Jerusalem after the denial of the right of return for Palestinian refugees to their homes and properties that they have been expelled from, which is guaranteed by UN Resolution 194.

Mohammad Al-Sahli is the Editor in Chief of Al-Hourriah newspaper, the official speaker of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine
Translated by Rawda Abo Zarqa
Revised by Ibrahim Motlaq

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