In 1967 Israel conquered the West Bank militarily and unilaterally annexed Jerusalem. In the 48 years since Israel has been using a range of physical, legal and psychological methods to try and force the Palestinian populations from their homes and claim the city as the ethnically pure capital of the Jewish state.
For years the overriding sense in the city has been of constriction, of the noose slowly and irreversibly tightening around the necks of those 370,000 Palestinians.
An enormous concrete ring of Jewish-only settlements has been built around the city. An apartheid wall separates it from the rest of the West Bank. Highways and rail-lines slice through Palestinian neighbourhoods. Houses are demolished and children are jailed while communities are routinely threatened by armed settlers and the soldiers backing them up. Residency permits are revoked at the slightest opportunity so you can’t marry or study or work outside the city. There is strategic diversion of municipal funds and services that keeps schools underperforming and streets dirty and houses disconnected from the water network. There is the daily psychological humiliation of living under the triumphant Israeli flag and hustling in an economy beholden to Israeli tourism.
At the symbolic center of it all is the Noble Sanctuary: a beautiful walled garden that holds two of the most important mosques in the world, al Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock. It is Jerusalem’s centerpiece, it is the ultimate prize.
When I first went to Jerusalem in 2002 I passed a tiny shop in the Old City. In it were models of the Third Temple: a shrine that an extremist group of settlers planned on building in place of the Dome of the Rock.
Today that fringe movement has, with the support of the government, become mainstream. The hole-in-the-wall is now an emporium and throughout the Jewish quarter are postcards and plates and t-shirts for sale emblazoned with the vision of Third Temple.
When you live in Jerusalem, the Noble Sanctuary is exactly that. It is a shield from the daily humiliations of occupation, it is the center of traditional life in the city, it is the psycho-social heart. It is the one place that Israel does not own.
And so it is under attack. Every day groups of settlers are given armed escorts through its gardens, Israeli soldiers loll on the grass and receive lectures from officers while access to Palestinian residents and worshipers is regularly restricted. At the entrance used for the settlers, the police have dozens of riot shields lined up in preparation for the next clash.
The violence, of course, is not concentrated in Jerusalem. Across the West Bank settlers are on the attack. There have been 395 Palestinians injured in the last 24 hours and the Red Crescent has declared a state of emergency after at least 14 ambulance crews were attacked. In Jerusalem a mob tore through the city looking for Arabs, going so far as to stop a tram and ‘check’ everyone on it. The rampage ended with the death of a young Palestinian man whose family say had gone out for a jog. [And today a 13-year-old Palestinian boy was reportedly killed by Israeli forces in the Aida refugee camp near Bethlehem.]
Life in Palestine is a life being pushed to breaking point. Because it is at those breaking points that Israel unleashes itself. When individuals are pushed beyond the line where their lives are worth living, when a Palestinian stabs an Israeli even though he knows, without question, that he will not live for more than a few more minutes – that is the kind of random, unorganised violence that Israel needs to sustain itself and keep alive the cycle of massive retaliations that it believes will ultimately rid it of the Palestinians altogether.