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Tunnel Symbolizes Disparity Over Occupied Territory

It seems that Israel's current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu '76 has a very strange conception of causality. His comments earlier this week that the outbreak of violence in Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip were unrelated to Israel's opening of a tunnel in the old city of Jerusalem, are a fine example of Orwellian logic.

The ongoing violence in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza was directly provoked by the Israeli opening of a tunnel which borders the foundations of Al-Haram Al-Sharif - the third holiest site to Muslims around the world. The proximity of the tunnel to Al-Haram Al-Sharif, coupled with previous attempts at undermining the Islamic character of the shrine has caused angry responses all around the Arab and Islamic worlds.

The opening of the tunnel came unilaterally without prior consultation with the Palestinian Authority. The right-wing mayor of Jerusalem, Ehud Olmert, proudly declared that "the time has come to show that such a decision would be made without seeking Palestinian permission." Israel claims that the tunnel does not infringe on the Islamic holy sites and is for "touristic purposes only." Does this mean that the current Israeli government is willing to sacrifice so much blood, and endanger the whole peace process for the sake of a "touristic project?" Highly unlikely.

Israel's latest move is of great symbolic importance. East Jerusalem remains under international law as an occupied territory indistinguishable in status from West Bank and Gaza Strip. Israel stands virtually alone in the international community (with the exception of El Salvador, Zaire, and Costa Rica) in declaring the city as its unified capital. In the midst of Israeli rhetoric, Netanyahu confirms the real motives behind the opening of the tunnel as an "expression of our [Israeli] sovereignty over Jerusalem."

Furthermore, the current move violates Israeli assurances under the Oslo Accords that no changes will be made in the disputed city until final status negotiations are concluded.

Israel's attempts to change the demographic nature of the city are illegal under the provision of the Geneva Conventions which prohibit occupiers from changing the demographics of occupied territories. Israel continues to expand its settlements in and around East Jerusalem and confiscate Palestinian property in the city.

During the last week, 55 Palestinians and 11 Israeli-Jews were killed during clashes between Palestinian civilians and certain elements of the Palestinian police on the one side, and the Israeli army on the other. The outbreak of violence also comes after months of Israeli violations which included expansion of settlements on the West Bank, delay of the re-deployment from Hebron and the continued closure of Jerusalem from the territories. Although sparked by the opening of the tunnel, the unrest came as a result of Palestinian disillusionment with the peace process.

Netanyahu's slogan of "peace with security" rings hollow. His actions have demonstrated that he lacks both the vision for peace and the will to attain it.

Ramy M. Tadros

President, Harvard Society of Arab Students

and Mohamad M. Al-Ississ