US Congress and Knesset celebrate ‘reunification’ of Jerusalem in joint event

In the latest event celebrating the “reunification” of Jerusalem in Israel, the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, and the US Congress held a joint live broadcast event marking the occasion on Wednesday, in which leaders from both countries celebrated their shared colonial histories and applauded Israel’s control over occupied East Jerusalem.

During each year that Israelis celebrate the “reunification” of Jerusalem to mark the Israeli military takeover of the territory decades ago, Palestinians, in contrast, have commemorated the Naksa, meaning “setback,” marking the Israeli invasion and occupation of the West Bank — including East Jerusalem — Gaza, Sinai, and the Golan Heights that began on June 5, 1967 during the Six-Day War, displacing some 300,000 Palestinians, as well as thousands of Syrians, from their homes.

Since 1967, Israel has stood accused of committing major violations of human rights and humanitarian law in the occupied Palestinian territory, including excessive and deadly use of violence; forced displacement; the blockade of the Gaza Strip; unjustified restrictions on movement; and the expansion of illegal settlements.

“For the sake of Jerusalem, let us not remain silent. Let us promise that support for unified Jerusalem remains high on both sides of the aisle, across the political spectrum, and throughout the United States,” Speaker of the Knesset Yuli-Yoel Edelstein said during the event.

“Looking around the world, and especially at this region, one thing becomes crystal clear: Only Israeli sovereignty will ensure that the city’s holy sites remain open, free, and safe for members of every religion,” he added.

However, while Israelis are permitted freedom of movement in Jerusalem and even in the majority of the occupied West Bank, most Palestinians are not permitted to enter Jerusalem without Israeli-issued permits, which means that the city is a rare sight and far from being “open and free.”

Edelstein also applauded the US’ own colonial history, saying that “your country was settled by pilgrims building a city upon the hill,” and developed a “just society based on the values that the Hebrew Prophets preached right here thousands of years ago,” without mentioning the mass killings and displacement of the indigenous peoples of that land; some academics have noted that some 20 million indigenous peoples died as a result of the European invasion and subsequent colonization of the Americas.

US Speaker of the House Paul Ryan also reiterated a similar point of equal rights at the holy sites, before saying that ”without Jerusalem, the Israel we know today would simply not exist” and called members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) “terrorists” for taking Israeli hostages in exchange for the release of Palestinians imprisoned by Israel in 1976.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu greeted the leaders by once again stating that Jerusalem is “the eternal, undivided capital of the Jewish state,” in contravention of international law, which, according to the Fourth Geneva Convention, prohibits Israel from transferring any of its population to occupied East Jerusalem.

Meanwhile, while Israel officially annexed East Jerusalem in 1980, in a move never recognized by the international community, according to Palestinians and the international community the city has remained an intricate part of the occupied Palestinian territory and would be considered the capital of any future Palestinian state.

Netanyahu also said that Israel had “made sure that the holy sites for Judaism, Christianity and Islam were available to all,” again failing to mention the millions of Palestinians who do not have free access to Jerusalem.

“In this great convulsion that is taking place around us, there is one free city, where Christians, Jews and Muslims are free to worship undisturbed, and that’s in the free, united city of Jerusalem, and that’s how it will stay,” Netanyahu added.

In response to the event, Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Executive Committee Member Hanan Ashrawi said in a statement last week that the move was “unprecedented” and “provocative” and that the US Congress was “singularly contravening longstanding American policy and becoming party to Israel’s egregious violation of international law and international humanitarian law.”

“If the US wants to play a constructive role as a peacemaker rather than as a supporter of an illegal occupation, it must demonstrate respect for the law and recognition of equal rights for all peoples, foremost the Palestinian right to self-determination and freedom,” Ashrawi concluded.

Meanwhile, the US Senate passed a resolution on Monday declaring Jerusalem the “undivided” capital of Israel.

The Senate reportedly passed the nonbinding resolution in order to express its support for the Jerusalem Embassy Act of 1995, which would move the US embassy to Jerusalem. US President Donald Trump signed a presidential waiver to prevent the act’s implementation last week, following on the footsteps of every US president since the act’s introduction.

However, on the issue of Palestine, Trump has remained largely elusive, saying in February that when it came to a solution for the decades-long Israeli-Palestinian conflict he could “live with either” a one- or two-state solution, in a significant departure from the US’ publicly held position in favor of a two-state solution to the conflict.

Nevertheless, his elusiveness has not belied the fact that Trump and his administration have maintained their pro-Israel stance, despite stated efforts to renew the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, which he said in the past was “not as difficult as people have thought over the years.”