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May 13, 2021

A wake-up call

In a statement on the 9th of May, Unicef has highlighted two significant areas of concern in East Jerusalem: the lack of protection of children and the restriction on access of families to places of

worship.

Unicef called for calm and the protection of Palestinian children following reports that 29 had been injured and eight arrested. Not only did the organisation state that Israeli authorities are using violence against children but that some emergency services were prevented from tending to the injured at the scene.

Access to places of worship was highlighted following the use of force by Israeli police against worshippers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, who were marking the last Jummah of Ramadan.

The use of violence against children and violence in a place of worship is a deeply concerning development in the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians which should be a wake-up call to all parties and to the international community.

All people have the right to protection from degrading treatment and a right to religious freedom, which extends to many in Israel. But, as Freedom House have stated, not all people enjoy equal freedoms: “The political leadership and many in society have discriminated against Arab and other minorities, resulting in systemic disparities in areas including political representation, criminal justice, education, and economic opportunity.”

When the violence is given a religious impetus, the issue becomes incredibly complex. Those that justify violence on a religious level by the Israeli authorities turn to biblical precedence for the protection of the Jewish homeland from ‘foreign’ people.

Such justification remains worryingly pertinent today given the mounting tensions as a court, for example, prepares to deliver its ruling on whether Palestinians will be evicted from Jerusalem’s Old City to allow Jewish settlers to inhabit it. Beliefs and actions such as these can be devastating as they blur the distinction between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, which are two entirely separate concepts. Peter Beinart captured this distinction in his article for The Guardian, stating that: “Anti-Zionism is not inherently antisemitic — and claiming it is uses Jewish suffering to erase the Palestinian experience.”

The logic is thus that to criticise the concept of a Jewish homeland or self-determination is not the same as hatred towards Jews and thus should not be shied away from when Israel is in the wrong.

Indeed, someone being Zionist does not always guarantee that they are not anti-Semitic and so the distinction between the two must be maintained.

As Beinart explained, many non-Israelis have been Zionist because they were anti-Semitic and did not want Jews in their own countries.

In the same way, criticism of Israel should not boil over into anti-Semitism. There are numerous Jews who not only condemn the latest violence by Israeli authorities but who are also anti-Zionist. Anti-Semitic stereotypes are just as harmful as Islamophobic stereotypes.

The Al-Aqsa Mosque is located on the Temple Mount on which the First Temple of Judaism stood. Consequently, the site is sacred to all three Abrahamic faiths and thus should be a focal point for how sacred spaces unify rather than divide people of diverse heritages. Rather, one of the holiest of sites has been turned into a locus of conflict.

The violence perpetrated against Muslims in a place of worship at any time, not to mention during the holy month of Ramadan, should be condemned unequivocally. Similarly, the international community should be prepared to criticise Israel over its actions and not shy away from it for fear of accusations of anti-Semitism. With that concern ameliorated, what excuse remains for lack of condemnation?

The writer, now working as a researcher and analyst, will soon be undertaking a PhD. She tweets @MaryFloraHunter