The Palestinian cause and international law

AlJazeera, EPA

The Palestinian quest for international recognition took another major step forward when 107 nations voted to admit Palestine as a full member to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

At the meeting, the United States, Canada, Germany, Israel, and 10 other countries opposed the motion, while 52 countries, including Great Britain, abstained from voting. In addition to opposing the motion, the US government moved swiftly to withhold $60m in financial support from UNESCO due to a long-standing congressional resolution mandating such an action if Palestine were admitted as a full member.

US state department spokeswoman, Victoria Nuland, called the vote “regrettable, premature and undermines our shared goal of a comprehensive just and lasting peace in the Middle East”.
Israeli ambassador to UNESCO, Carmel Shama Hacohen, described the move as adding “fuel to the fire” and accusing the Palestinian Authority “of incitement and ongoing terror”.

Not surprising

The US and Israeli responses to the Palestinians’ move are not surprising, considering the utter failure of the peace process and the ability of successive US administrations to change or slow down the pernicious and violent nature of the occupation.

Aside from providing Israel with $3bn annually in funding and military hardware, the US accords the Zionist state maximum protection and opposes measures introduced by the Palestinians to draw further attention and bring a possible end to the occupation.
As Palestinians move to join a host of UN commissions, organisations and legal bodies, the Israeli government is leaning on the US to punish international agencies by withholding funding and threatening Palestinians with the same.

The dispute over the Buraq Plaza is not new and was the subject of a full investigatory commission by the British Mandatory Power in the aftermath of the 1929 riots.
This move to join UNESCO is a part of broader Palestinian efforts to seek alternatives to the already failed “peace process” that has been under US auspices, which witnessed a massive expansion of settlements and an entrenchment of Israeli occupation in every aspect of daily life.

Next on UNESCO’s agenda for Palestine is a resolution sponsored by Algeria, Egypt, Kuwait, Morocco, Tunisia, and the United Arab Emirates, calling on the UN body “to declare and confirm that the Western Wall is part of Al-Aqsa Mosque and is called Buraq Plaza. The same applies to the Mughrabi Gate”.

The proposed resolution calls on UNESCO to condemn “Israeli aggression and illegal measures taken against the freedom of worship and access of Muslims to Al-Aqsa Mosque and Israel’s attempts to break the status quo since 1967”.

The dispute over the Buraq Plaza is not new and was the subject of a full investigatory commission by the British Mandatory Power in the aftermath of the 1929 riots.

As Zionist settlers gained recognition under the British Mandate authorities, an effort was afoot directed at changing the agreed-upon Ottoman status quo and advancing claims for ownership.

After a fact-finding investigation and testimonies of representatives from the Jewish and Muslim communities in Palestine, the commission concluded that: “… to the Muslims belong the sole ownership of, and the sole proprietary right to, the Western Wall”.

In addition, the Maghrebi Waqf in Jerusalem wholly owned the pavement and adjacent courtyard area used at the time by the Jewish community for prayers outside the wall.
Focal point 
Simone Ricca points out in her article, Heritage, Nationalism and the Shifting Symbolism of the Wailing Wall, that the focal point for Jewish “pilgrims and travellers in the 15th century … was not the Wailing Wall, but the Mount of Olives outside the Old City that was dedicated once a year to the commemoration of the destruction of the Temple”.

The area known as the Wailing Wall was not defined until the time of the Ottoman Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent, who commissioned a number of Waqf projects and the repair of Jerusalem’s walls.

Evidence shows that Ottoman architect Koca Sinan, who designed the current site and excavated further down so as to give the wall more height, had also planned the construction of another wall parallel to it to separate it from the Maghrebi Quarter, creating an alley about 3.5m wide.
Immediately after the Six Day War, Israel moved to claim the Buraq area as a Jewish property as well as confiscating and demolishing 131 properties that constituted the Maghrebi Quarter on June 11, 1967.

The open courtyard in front of the Western Wall that we see in photos today is, in reality, the location of the historical Maghrebi Quarter in Jerusalem, which began to take shape in the 10th century.

The demolished buildings were all part of the extensive Waqf infrastructure that was built over time to accommodate pilgrims, Sufi centres, schools and other religious-oriented functions.

Muhammed Abdel-Haq, mukhtar of the Maghrebi Quarter, describes the trauma his and other displaced families have experienced, both in the wake of their forced removal in 1967 and since.

Judaising Jerusalem

“In the days after the demolition,” he relates, “my wife and child would return to the site of our home and wait for the Israeli bulldozers to clear the rubble somewhat so that we might retrieve clothes and other belongings which we did not have time to take with us”.

Palestinians seeking to claim their rights and property is the right step, despite the challenges and opposition from the US. As Israel’s right wing attempts to Judaise Jerusalem, the Palestinian response has been to shift emphasis and pursue an international effort intended to put pressure on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government and bring accountability to the wholesale dispossession of the occupied population.

The move to join UNESCO comes on the heels of its UN General Assembly membership and International Criminal Court membership, which collectively will bring to bear international law on Israel’s occupation. Whether this will bring any change on the ground for the Palestinians is yet to be seen, but one should not underestimate the significance of these steps in the long run.

“A right is never lost as long as a demand for it is sustained.” This is a very famous proverb and Palestinians are persistent in demanding their rights to their land, homes and sacred sites.