The Global March to Jerusalem: Part of the International Campaign to Delegitimize Israel
Over the past few years there has been a Palestinian campaign focusing on the so-called “Judaization” of Jerusalem. A number of related topics have been raised recently in what appears to be an orchestrated campaign initiated by leading figures in the PA,·Hamas, and Muslim Brotherhood.
In January 2012, the European Preparatory Committee for the Global March to Jerusalem published an invitation for participation and support. The organizers are aiming to hold marches to Jerusalem “or the nearest point to it” on March 30, to coincide with the annual Palestinian “Land Day.” Originally, marches were planned in Israel, the·Palestinian Authority, and the four neighboring countries: Egypt,·Lebanon, Jordan, and·Syria.
The European Preparatory Committee is comprised of members of UK Muslim Brotherhood circles and a member of the Free·Gaza movement (founded by the International Solidarity Movement, ISM), this time joined by the anti-imperialist camp. The original idea is said to have come from participants in the December 2010 “Asia to Gaza Solidarity Caravan.”
In February 2012, various national committees began their preparations, including in Jordan,·Turkey, Pakistan, Lebanon, and·Iran. More than twenty Palestinian organizations have endorsed the march.
It is hard to predict the results of these preparations. However, the participation of Sunni-Islamist circles is increasing, encouraged by their rise due to the Arab Spring. Fatah, the PLO, and the PA are becoming more involved as well, as are more Islamist jihadi forces and far-right European elements.
The Political Struggle Against Israel
The political element has always been part of the struggle against Israel, yet less attended to than other, mainly violent sides. However, for more than a decade, the centrality of this element has expanded among those fighting against the existence of Israel as the Jewish state. Two parallel perceptions are gradually becoming the focus of the international campaign to delegitimize Israel – “international mobilization” (“direct action”) and the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement. As previously demonstrated in our research which focused on Britain – one of the main “hubs” of this campaign – these efforts are being undertaken by groups that were never in the center of politics or mainstream public opinion, and therefore turn to places that might serve as bases of mainstreaming and recruitment – the academic world, a natural place for radical views and student activism;1 the widely developing NGO community and “civil society” organizations; trade unions, which by their nature appeal to the more leftist side; various political echelons, sectorial and mass media, as well as religious institutions when relevant.
Several factors have contributed to the advancement of the political struggle:
- The “Durban route” that surfaced at the September 2001 UN-initiated “World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance,” in which Israel was accused of committing genocide. The parallel NGO Forum gave birth to the “NGO Declaration” that spoke about Israel in terms of apartheid and ethnic cleansing.2 The Durban Conference was followed by other UN-led conferences, as well as more joint cooperation among international NGOs where the concept of boycotting Israel, first suggested by South African politicians, was gradually developed.
- The advance of Sunni Islamism in Europe, and its ascendance to the political stage in the second half of the 1990s; the Arab Spring that brought about the rapid rise to power of Sunni Islamism across the Middle East, especially the Muslim Brotherhood, which has already made significant gains in Tunisia, Egypt, Kuwait, Morocco, Libya and Yemen; and simultaneously the growing involvement of Qatar and Turkey which support it in regional and international politics.
- The route taken by Fatah and the Palestinian Authority (PA) in recent months, with attempts to bypass the Oslo Accords and gain international recognition on the path to independence.
- Growing activism of far-left elements around the world, especially (but not exclusively) anarchists, which is intensifying in light of the global financial crisis.
- The ongoing development of social media that facilitates the forging of connections and coalitions.
The result of all this is widening the circles of these coalitions, increasing the role of the Islamist element, while facilitating its fundraising and administrative abilities around the world, alongside the growing involvement of Fatah and Palestinian officials in the same causes. A forthcoming Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs research paper reveals the growing adoption of the BDS movement by European Muslim Brotherhood affiliates, as well as by Fatah and senior PA officials. Both groups started to expend more effort on the political/civilian sides of the struggle immediately following Israel’s Gaza Operation in 2008-2009.
A Focus on Jerusalem
Over the past few years there has been a Palestinian campaign which focuses on the so-called “Judaization” of Jerusalem. A number of related topics have been raised recently in what appears to be an orchestrated campaign initiated by leading figures in the PA, Hamas, and Muslim Brotherhood.
On February 24, 2012, Gaza Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh delivered a sermon in Cairo at the prominent Al-Azhar Mosque, in which he reportedly stated: “We paid a lot in blood in order to keep Jerusalem an Arabic and Islamic city. The Arab Spring brought the Islamic nation to the threshold of the city of Jerusalem.”3
On the same weekend, a large conference on the defense of Jerusalem was held in Qatar under the patronage of the Arab League,4 featuring what has been called “an unprecedented coalition against Israel.”5 This is the second Arab League conference on the topic; the first took place in Sirte, Libya, in March 2010, hosted by the country’s late president Gaddafi.6 The current conference reportedly7 featured the Qatari emir, politicians, and diplomats from other Middle East countries, secretaries-general of both the Arab League and Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC), Sheikh Qaradawi and various other figures from the Middle East, Europe, and the U.S. affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood,8 Arab-Israeli MKs, senior Fatah and PA figures including President Abbas, and several rabbis from the anti-Zionist Neturei Karta group. In addition, eight UN officials from various departments attended, as well as Western politicians and academics, representatives of far-left political groups, and at least one Western individual, Prof. Hans KÃ¶chler, president of the Vienna-based International Progress Organization (IPO), tied to both the European far-right and far-left.9
Iran is also involved more than usual, through three delegates representing the Tehran-based Neda Institute for Scientific Political Research. Since at least 2001, Neda has served as the major point of contact bringing together Western Holocaust deniers with their Middle East counterparts. Known Neda activity has included the publication of journals and media articles, sponsorship of conferences, and probably the funding of Holocaust-denial activity in the West.10
Lately, the emir of Qatar has been enjoying the rise of Sunni Islamism across the region, and the growing acceptance of the Muslim Brotherhood by Western officials. The Qatar Foundation (known for its sponsorship of the Barcelona soccer team), chaired by the emir’s second wife, Sheikha Mozah, also launched a second Islamist center in the Qatar Faculty of Islamic Studies, headed by prominent Brotherhood figure Tariq Ramadan (the first center is headed by Sheikh Qaradawi). The launch ceremony of the new center was attended by representatives of U.S. universities as well as many Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated figures, including those close to circles of Union of Good (UoG), Hamas, and al-Qaeda funding.11
Qatar, probably the most important country standing behind Sheikh Qaradawi and the global spread of the Muslim Brotherhood in the last few decades, also currently serves as president of the Arab League. Qatar has been acting as chief mediator between Fatah and Hamas, and it is not far-fetched to assume that it chose to reunite both sides on the basis of attacking Israel. This was hinted at in the first conference held in Libya, in which many Arab leaders were reported to have called to “set aside feuding and unite against Israel.” During the Qatar conference, changes of approach between Fatah and the Islamists were demonstrated when Abbas called on Arabs and Muslims to come visit Jerusalem, while Hamas and Qaradawi stated that non-Palestinian Muslims are not allowed to visit Jerusalem while it remains under occupation. This already raised controversy between the two sides, and PA ministers are now asking Qaradawi to annul this fatwa.12
Parallel to the Qatar conference, a meeting took place in Jordan of the International Committees of the Global March to Jerusalem.13 This, and also the attendance of central British figures previously tied to land convoys to Gaza and flotillas in Qatar, strengthen the impression that the conference in Qatar was timely and had been scheduled to coincide with preparations for the march. It is also noteworthy that several British politicians, like Baroness Jenny Tonge (who quit her position as the Liberal-Democrat Party whip after refusing to apologize over her remarks about Israel),14 were listed as representatives of the Council for European-Palestinian Relations (CEPR), a Belgian-based political front established in 2010 by European Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated figures connected to the Federation of Islamic Organizations in Europe (FIOE), including Dr. Arafat Shukri, head of the European Campaign to End the Siege on Gaza (ECESG) and director of the London-based Palestinian Return Centre (PRC), which Israel sees as affiliated with Hamas.15
The Global March to Jerusalem
In mid-January 2012, the European Preparatory Committee for the Global March to Jerusalem published an invitation for European participation and support, stating: “We say no to Zionism; and to an exclusive Jewish colonial state, which reacts to the legitimate struggle of the indigenous Palestinian people with the expansion of its Apartheid rule.”16
The organizers of the march, which they describe as a “pluralistic initiative transcending cultural and religious borders on a simple political platform,” and was also described elsewhere as a “groundbreaking nonviolent civil resistance initiative,”17 are aiming to hold marches to Jerusalem “or the nearest point to it” on March 30, to coincide with the annual Palestinian “Land Day.” Originally, marches were planned in Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and the four neighboring countries: Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria. From Europe they state: “We join this; carrying further ahead past initiatives. Our intention is to build a bridge for peace between the Arab region, Europe and other parts of the world.”
Unsurprisingly, the European Preparatory Committee is comprised of members of UK Muslim Brotherhood circles and a member of the Free Gaza movement (FGM, founded by the International Solidarity Movement, ISM), this time joined by the anti-imperialist camp. The original idea is said to have come from participants in the December 2010 “Asia to Gaza Solidarity Caravan,”18 which included various anti-Israel, far-left, and Islamist activists from Asia, as well as the FGM’s liaison in India.19
Later in January, the Central Committee for the march, comprised of 40-42 members, held a conference in Beirut. The committee is headed by anti-imperialist former Lebanese Prime Minister Salim el-Hoss, who also served as honorary president of the International Campaign to End the Siege on Gaza (ICESG).20 The closing statement of the committee’s first meeting highlighted the political and cultural importance of Jerusalem for the Palestinians and all humanity; called on all “free people of the world” to protect Jerusalem, its sanctuaries, and historical sites; stated that the attempt to change Jerusalem’s Arab, historical, and cultural identity is a “crime against humanity”; condemned the “Judaization” of Jerusalem and “ethnic cleansing” performed by Israel in the city and the ongoing building of the “racist separation wall”; and restated the Palestinians’ right of return and self-determination. Further, the declaration emphasized the “non-political” and “diverse” nature of the march’s participants, and its commitment to non-violence.21
In the committee’s second meeting, the Jordan-based Dr. Rebhi Halloum was elected to head the global march. Halloum is a former Fatah and PLO senior official, who left due to his rejection of the Madrid peace talks and the Oslo Accords.22 The committee’s coordinator is Mohammed Sawalha, who previously filled such positions in the flotillas and was also connected to the land convoys as deputy head of the ICESG. The meeting was also attended by others who took part in organizing the land convoys and flotillas23 including former UK MP George Galloway, Dr. Paul Larudee, one of the original founders of the ISM, and delegates from Europe, India, and the U.S. It was agreed to change the concept of the previous “mobilizations” in the Viva Palestina and Miles of Smiles land convoys and the flotillas from “breaking the siege on Gaza” to “breaking the occupation.” Halloum asserted that masses of people coming from all sides will render the Israeli army unable to decide on a course of action. He also stressed that peaceful mobilization is not a substitute for resistance [muqawama].24
Another important figure who attended is Dr. Mustafa Barghouti, a PA oppositionist who heads the Palestinian National Initiative. Barghouti is deeply involved in promoting the BDS movement and has had ties with European Muslim Brotherhood circles for many years. Barghouti was quoted by Al-Quds Al-Arabi in April 2008 sending his blessings to the residents of the West Bank village of Bilin and the foreign activists who take part in demonstrations against Israel’s security fence, stating that the struggle has to continue until the entire “separation wall” is taken down. In the same article, published at the peak of peace talks between PA President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, the intentions of PA figures and NGOs to open a third “peaceful intifada” in case the talks fail – “under the patronage” of Israeli and international peace activists – were presented. Those behind the initiative were said to have taken an example from Bilin, whose struggle led to changing the route of the fence next to the village, unlike the armed intifada that led to no achievements.25
In February 2012, various national committees began their preparations for the march, whether in Jordan, where the Syndicates (professional associations that are Muslim Brotherhood strongholds) seem to be taking the lead again;26 in Turkey, as reported by a Union of Good website, where a two-day conference on the “Arab-Turkish Spring” also “explored avenues and mechanisms to support Al-Quds [Jerusalem] and its people and to break the blockade on Gaza people”;27 Pakistan, in which the Mawdudist Jamaat-e-Islami held a conference on the subject;28 or Lebanon, in which more meetings were held with representatives of far-left elements in the country like the Nasserist militia Al-Murabitun.29 At least some of these meetings were held in local Fatah headquarters, also featuring representatives from the PLO, jihadist movements like Ansar Allah, and more.30 An advisory board for the march was also formed in Iran.31 Interestingly, the march’s official web domain also connected with the UK-based Shiite missionary organization AhlulBayt Islamic Mission,32 part of the UK “red-green alliance.”
Among more than twenty Palestinian organizations endorsing the march33 are the “popular resistance committees” that come under the umbrella of the Ramallah-based Palestinian Grassroots Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign.34 The committees stand behind the demonstrations and clashes with the IDF in various Palestinian villages, with the participation of Israeli anarchists, movements such as Taayush, and others. Jamal Jum’a, head of that campaign, is also the registrant of the domain of the BDS National Committee, BNC.35 Other groups include the Palestinian ISM branch, the Badil Resource Center, involved in organizing Israel Apartheid Week in Europe, and the Israeli Alternative Information Center (AIC).
The Global March now has a twelve-member International Executive Committee (IEC), featuring Halloum, Sawalha, and others connected to Islamist and Muslim Brotherhood Middle Eastern, European, Asian, and South African circles, as well as leading far-left Western figures connected to the “red-green alliance” like Sarah Colborne, director of the UK Palestine Solidarity Campaign, and Paul Larudee, a founder of the ISM.36Above it stands an International Central Committee (ICC) consisting of 35 members, including the IEC members “representing the five continents.”37
It is hard to predict the results of the preparations for the march. A few points, however, are noticeable, reflecting the structure of the international campaign to delegitimize Israel:
- For most participants in the campaign, the gradually adopted idea of “non-violence” does not replace its violent nature, rather it is in addition to it.
- The participation of Sunni-Islamist circles, bringing in their resources, is increasing, encouraged by their rise due to the Arab Spring. On the other hand, Fatah, the PLO, and the PA are also becoming more involved in the campaign, both officially and unofficially, as part of their encouragement of any civilian, non-violent efforts.
- The circles of those taking part in the campaign are widening to include more Islamist jihadi forces, more far-right European elements than before, and new participants from more countries.
- These tendencies and the coalition-structured nature of the campaign are also bringing about growing disputes between various elements.
Lara Friedman of Americans for Peace Now, who attended the aforementioned conference in Qatar, said after its first day that she came to the conference thinking that the Arab League wanted to look into the full complexity of the issue, and include “openly pro-Israel, pro-peace voices.” “However, it seems that virtually every conversation I am having here involves me, to a greater or lesser degree, having to defend the two-state solution and having to assert and defend the Jewish stake in Jerusalem.”38
Furthermore, Norman Finkelstein, one of the most vocal critics of Israel, recently stated that the BDS movement was a “cult” and that those who run it are dishonest. He concluded by saying: “At least be honest what you want – ‘we want to abolish Israel and this is our strategy for doing it.'”39
Ehud Rosen specializes in modern political Islam, focusing on the ideology and history of the Muslim Brotherhood. He is currently a senior researcher at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and teaches at Bar-Ilan University.