By Julie Webb-Pullman
The multi-cultural, multi-religious, multi-lingual multi-factional Global March to Jerusalem (GMJ) this year promises to be the biggest yet. On June 6, the 46th anniversary of Israel’s illegal occupation of Jerusalem, people in more than 45 countries will peacefully march on Israeli embassies, or as near to Jerusalem as they can safely get, to demand an end to Israeli destruction of world heritage sites and breaches of international law in Jerusalem.
At the first GMJ 2014 press conference on Saturday at the Palestinian Legislative Council in Gaza, Dr.Ahmad Abo Halabiya, member of the GMJ International Committee and coordinator of GMJ-Gaza Strip, stood with co-member and Christian Dr Attallah Tarazi to call on Christians and Muslims alike to join the march, saying that Jerusalem and Al Aqsa Mosque are important historical and religious sites for everyone.
“Jerusalem is facing sustained attacks by Israel, which is trying to Judaize Jerusalem and extinguish the Muslim and Christian identities,” Halabiya said. “There are ongoing attacks against both Muslim and Christian worshippers, preventing them from freely practising their religions.”
“Practices like digging tunnels under Al Aqsa Mosque to undermine the foundations and cause it to collapse represent attempts to pave the way for building an Israeli temple on the site of Al Aqsa,” noted Dr Halabiya, adding that confiscation of vast tracts of land, the demolition of Jerusalemite’s homes, and the closing of thousands of Jerusalem organisations all testify to Israeli attempts to illegally impose its sovereignty over the city.
These activities are considered to breach several international instruments, including the four Geneva Conventions (1949), the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict of 1954, and the Convention for the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage of 1972.
Christians also under attack
In addition to increasingly-violent invasions of Al-Aqsa Mosque by Israeli military and civilians, Christian buildings in Jerusalem are also coming under attack. Wednesday last week the Catholic church demanded Israel take action over hate graffiti on Vatican-owned offices in occupied East Jerusalem just two weeks before a planned visit by Pope Francis, while “Price tag… King David for the Jews… Jesus is garbage” was spray-painted in Hebrew on the wall of a Romanian Orthodox church in Jerusalem on Friday.
Dr Attallah Tarazi, Christian member of the GMJ-Gaza Committee, said that Israeli military and security forces prevent Christians from reaching the Church of the Holy Sepulcher where Jesus was resurrected, as well as controlling entrances and restricting them from praying and observing their holy rites in other places.
“It is better for everyone if all of the holy places are under international control because they are an international interest, not just of Muslims and Christians and Jews, but of the entire world,” he said, pointing out that Israel is ignoring the international decision in 1949 that Jerusalem should be placed under a permanent international regime to guarantee the protection of its holy places.
“It is a long-running battle for justice – the issue is the holy sites.”
Jerusalem Old City on UNESCO List of World Heritage in Danger
In July 2012 UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee decided to retain the Old City of Jerusalem and its Walls on the List of World Heritage in Danger, regretting “…Israeli refusal to comply with the World Heritage Centre and UNESCO decisions,” and “…the persistence of the Israeli archaeological excavations and works in the Old City of Jerusalem and on both sides of its Walls, and the failure of Israel to provide the World Heritage Centre with adequate and comprehensive information about its archeological activities thereon, and asks the Israeli authorities to cease such excavations and works in conformity with the UNESCO Conventions for the protection of cultural heritage.”
Israel has neither ceased its ‘excavations and works’ nor provided UNESCO with the ‘adequate and comprehensive information’ it seeks.
“Is Israel above international law?” asked Dr Halabiya. “The United Nations General Assembly and United Nations Security Council have made 25 resolutions related to Jerusalem and Al Aqsa since 1948, and Israel has ignored them all. It even occupied East Jerusalem in 1967, but with all its bodies and decisions, the United Nations has not enforced anything.”
“We Palestinians form the first line of defence against Israel.”
Christians have an obligation to defend Palestine
Dr Tarazi believes that all Christian organisations should be standing beside the Palestinians in their defence of Al Aqsa and Jerusalem, as well as of the other ‘hot topics’ such as Palestinian prisoners, the siege of Gaza, the apartheid wall, settlements and checkpoints in the West Bank.
“I invite all in the world to support Palestinian rights and seek justice for them,” he said.
“It is the obligation of Christian organisations everywhere to let their congregations know what is happening, to use their channels to let everyone know, and stand up for justice not only for Jerusalem but also for Palestine as a whole.”
He emphasised that although there are three denominations of Christians in Gaza they are unified, part of the Palestinian community, and share in the GMJ activities.
“It is a right we must obtain, we are all on the side of justice,” he insisted.
International community on the march
The GMJ’s call for people and organisations everywhere, from all political and religious perspectives, to stand up on June 6 to Israel’s abuses appears to have struck a chord around the world.
With a policy of non-violent civil resistance in the form of annual marches towards Jerusalem, or the nearest possible point in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, the GMJ aim is “…to end the Zionist policies of apartheid, ethnic cleansing and Judaisation, which all harm the people, land and sanctity of Jerusalem.”
The first GMJ in 2012 saw 25 countries march with Palestine – this number has now almost doubled.
The range of high-profile endorsements is equally wide-ranging and impressive. From Nobel laureates such as Ireland’s Roman Catholic Mairead Maguire and South Africa’s retired Anglican Bishop Desmond Tutu to the Society of Iranian Jews, from world-renowned Italian catholic theologian Giulio Girardi to American Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb and the Islamic Forum of Europe, the GMJ seems to be achieving its goal of getting widespread solidarity and support for this peaceful grassroots initiative to demand justice for Jerusalem and its inhabitants.
“We are sending a strong – and peaceful – message to Israel that we will defend Jerusalem, and our rights, and we call on people everywhere who have suffered abuse of their rights to join us,” Halabiya concluded.