Jerusalem photoshopped

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Already furious over last week’s transfer of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and after Washington recognized the city as the capital of Israel, Palestinian anger has been further inflamed by a photo illustration depicting an artist’s impression of a Jewish temple in Jerusalem in place of Al-Aqsa Mosque. The alteration demonstrates in black and white terms the radical Jewish claims and beliefs about Al-Aqsa and the city of Jerusalem.

During a tour of Bnei Brak, an ultra-religious Jewish area near Tel Aviv, US Ambassador David Friedman can be seen grinning broadly while standing next to an aerial view of the digitally altered poster which had been gifted to him by an activist who works with a Jewish charity organization.

The explanations and apologies came flying soon after. The charity spokesman offered an apology on behalf of his organization and called the incident a “cheap political stunt”. Apparently, one of its staffers presented the picture to the ambassador that had not been cleared.

Just as quickly, the incident forced the US embassy in Israel to issue a swift response, insisting Friedman was “not aware of the image that was thrust in front of him when the photo was taken”.

Considering the recent bloodbaths of Palestinian protesters at the Israeli-Gaza border, it is wise of the embassy to take the potential fallout of this photo op seriously and respond in kind.

The employee responsible for supposedly having duped Friedman has been identified and has offered his apologies. Still, the incident should never have happened, and its explanation remains unconvincing.

It is not clear from the photograph whether Friedman noticed that the image had been digitally altered but it is difficult to believe he was not aware. Friedman is a longstanding supporter of Jewish settlements in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. Since entering office, he has taken an overly pro-Israeli stance on a number of issues, such as overseeing the move of the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. He has announced his disdain for the two-state solution, the internationally recognized solution. He has accused former US President Barack Obama of being an “anti-Semite” and compared American Jews who oppose the half-century occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, to prisoners who served as guards in Nazi concentration camps.

The other half of the US embassy statement - that US policy is absolutely clear: “We support the status quo at the Haram Al-Sharif/Temple Mount” – does not allay Palestinians’ long-held fears that Israel has been attempting to shake up the status quo at the holy site in the shape of routine Jewish incursions on the site and right-wing Israeli calls to demolish the mosque and replace it with a third Jewish temple.

Haram Al-Sharif is home to Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third holiest site and a powerful symbol for Palestinian national identity. The second Palestinian intifada broke out in 2000 after right-wing Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon visited the site.

The doctored photo episode is part of the wider picture of Jerusalem’s status. While a country has the right to select any of its cities as its capital, Jerusalem is exempt because it is occupied territory. From UN Resolution 478 of 1980 that declared that all measures adopted by Israel altering Jerusalem are null and void, to December 2017, when the UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly in favor of a resolution calling on member states to avoid moving their diplomatic missions to Jerusalem, the status of Jerusalem can only be determined in negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. With the opening of its embassy in Jerusalem, the US is confusing the issue: The status of Jerusalem under international law and UN resolutions is one thing while the terms of a permanent agreement between the Palestinians and Israel is another. A peace agreement cannot be based on an illegal precept.


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