Where The 'Battle For Jerusalem' May Have Already Begun
In Jabel Mukaber, in East Jerusalem, relatives of Oday and Ghassan, the two Palestinians who attacked a synagogue this week, are ready to continue their fight.
JERUSALEM — Palestinian flags hung on electrical poles, pro-jihad graffiti on peeling walls, garbage cans on fire, and a large tent with a green-and-red carpet — all mark the community's loss in a public way.
We're in Jabel Mukaber, an East Jerusalem neighborhood, in a house belonging to the Abu Jamal family — where Oday and Ghassan, 22 and 32, lived before they stormed the B'nei Torah synagogue this week, the city's deadliest attack in more than six years. The two cousins entered the synagogue in Har Nof wielding meat cleavers, knives and a handgun, killing four people attending early morning prayers, and a police officer, before they were killed by police.
So, two days later, relatives and friends had set up the tents and chairs to welcome mourner of the deaths of the two Palestinian men.
Greeting everyone on behalf of the family is Aladin Abu Jamal, 32. "I'm the cousin of the two Shaheed," he says, "And contrary to what everyone says I don't believe that they're dead. They have become martyrs, honoring those who love them."
Wearing a black-and-white keffiyeh around his neck, a black T-shirt and jeans, Aladin speaks to the small crowd surrounding him. "Oday and Ghassan loved this land, they did what they did for the Al-Aqsa mosque and to make the world understand that this is our home and the Jews have taken it away," he adds.
Pausing between sentences for loud applause, he's receiving admiring glances from the shabab — young people — who just a few hours earlier had battled Israeli soldiers who arrived to arrest other relatives of the attackers.
Mahmoud, uncle of Oday and Ghassan, accused the military of "having taken 14 relatives, including Oday's wife." Agents from Shin Bet, the Israeli Security Agency, came looking for information on possible accomplices of the two "lone wolves," but just one look around Jabel Mukaber is enough to realize that support for the attackers is everywhere.
A woman dressed in black, about 40 years old, approaches, raising her hands to the heavens and shouted, "Oday and Ghassan are all our children, we hope that Allah will give us many like them."
Just five minutes away by car is the heart of Jewish Jerusalem. The Abu Jamal family — like the other 14,000 residents of Jabel Mukaber — have Israeli documents and between this Palestinian nationalist stronghold and the Jewish quarter of East Talpiot there aren't any barriers or blockades. More than 300,000 Palestinians in East Jerusalem are a weak point for the security of the Jewish state because they live mixed among 600,000 Jewish residents.
Yoav Nissim, a taxi driver in East Talpiot, knows Aladin Abu Jamal and on Saturdays brings his children to play on the green grass around a United Nations office, which marks the division of the two districts. "This Saturday I will not go because the atmosphere in the city has changed," he says.
Palestinians in East Jerusalem may have kept lower profiles during the First and Second Intifadas than those in the West Bank and Gaza, but they're now on the front line. As Mahmoud puts it, "If you want to know why I have two nephews who are martyrs, ask Netanyahu whether he wants to destroy the Al-Aqsa." The reference is to the growing tensions over how the mosque in Jerusalem, the third holiest site in Islam, is managed.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said after the attack Monday: "This is the battle for Jerusalem. They want to throw us out but we will not go." When I quote this to Aladin, he quips: "There's a lot of us, we have a lot of energy and faith in Allah which are unbeatable weapons to fight against those who occupy us."
So, the battle for Jerusalem will begin. And the people in this district are offering security to the Abu Jamal family as they pay homage to their sons, winding through the streets of their neighborhood — just a few meters away from the square where the Israeli military have set up their base. Among their anti-riot equipment is the aerostat — it's considered more efficient than drones.