By Hamid Dabashi
04 Nov 2015
"The compound, known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif, is the holiest site in Judaism, while the al-Aqsa Mosque is the third holiest site in Islam."
This phrase, here cited from a recent report by BBC about the most recent violence in Jerusalem, is the common leitmotif of much of the commentaries and analyses that seek to address the nature of the current and many previous uprisings of Palestinians against their colonial occupiers.
Echoing this common media refrain, United States Secretary of State John Kerry is reported to have met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and King Abdullah II of Jordan in order to resolve "a dispute over access for prayers at the al-Haram al-Sharif compound, the holiest site in Jerusalem, has led to weeks of unrest".
The single most important consequence of this line of thinking, this dominant narrative prompted by Netanyahu and institutionalised by Kerry's language, and reiterated incessantly by the European and US press, is the systematic and aggressive over-Islamisation of the Palestinian national liberation cause, instigated by the fact that militant Zionism needs to resort to fanatical zealotry to justify its own forms of pure violence.
"My dream is to see the Israeli flag flying over the Temple Mount": this is Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely, declaring her Likud party's triumphalist, Zionist intent on stealing what is left of Palestine.
It is in response to these and many even more violent declarations of colonial thievery that Palestinians revolt. The Palestinian cause is not a religious cause; it is neither Islamic nor Christian nor in any other form rooted in any particular denomination of one group of Palestinians as opposed to another.
Some Palestinians are Muslims, others are Christian, and many more might not even confess to one institutional religion or another.
Reducing the current or any other uprising in Palestine to a dispute over al-Haram al-Sharif is to radically distort the nature of the Palestinian cause - cutting into it with an Israeli cookie cutter that consistently demonises Palestinians by reducing them to their religious denomination.
Palestinians revolt not because they are Muslims, Christians, agnostics, or atheists. They revolt because they are Palestinians and their land is being robbed from under their feet. Like all other Muslims, Palestinian Muslims for sure hold al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock in a particularly sanctified light. But irrespective of being Muslim, for Palestinians at large, Haram al-Sharif is also the symbolic summation of their homeland.
Palestinians are Palestinians not just by virtue of their historic rootedness in their ancestral homeland of Palestine, but also by a sustained course of resistance to the Zionist theft of their homeland and the collective and the cultural memory that resistance has generated. Dividing and reducing Palestinians to their religious affiliation is a Zionist trap inaugurated by their own fanatical entrapment within a militant zealotry that sees the whole world in its own image.
In a recent appearance on what passes for "hard talk" on BBC with Stephen Sackur of Hardtalk, Yair Lapid, a former minister and leader of the Yesh Atid party who had openly called on Israelis "to shoot to kill" Palestinians at the first sign of danger, openly opined that the current rise of violence in Palestine was entirely to be understood in "more religious" terms.
"This is about Islam and Jews," Lapid announced. "This is not a national dispute or conflict. These are Islamic assassins who want to kill Jews because they are Jews."
This is a deliberately false and falsifying characterisation of Palestinians and the Palestinian cause. These are not "Islamic assassins" who want "to kill Jews" because they are Jews. These are Palestinians revolting against generations of dispossession and in defiance of the systemic ethnic cleansing of their homeland, opposing "the incremental genocide" of Palestinians, as Israeli historian Ilan Pappe calls it.
Striking a deal between Israel and Jordan to install more cameras on the compound of al-Haram al-Sharif and falsely trying to assure the world and the Palestinians that Israel does not intend to steal that site as it has stolen the rest of Palestine flies in the face of historical facts.
Zionism has one project and one project only: to steal the entirety of Palestine and establish a military garrison state as a hardware in the US imperial militarism in the region. Systematically altering the dominant discourse to this purpose is a key propaganda instrument in their arsenal. The Palestinians, of course, know this in the blood and bones of their resistance, generation after generation. But the world at large must never fall into this trap.
The Palestinian cause is an anticolonial, national liberation movement, irreducible to any religious denomination. Al-Haram al-Sharif, of course, has historic and sacred significance for all Muslims around the world. But its significance in Palestine and for Palestinians is a matter of national pride and territorial integrity: systematically, consistently, invariably violated by the entire Zionist colonial project from the very beginning to this day.
Hamid Dabashi is Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University in New York.