One, Bread, Two Police Systems
Jerusalem, March 13 2020 — “What is next, a police force for falafel, A police force for Ka’ik?” In a video posted on social media by the Wadi Hilweh Information center, Nitham Abu Ramouz is seen surrounded by military soldiers, and later holding an official document requiring him to pay 475 NIS fine.
The arrest took place on February 14 2020, when Abu Ramouz was targeted for handing out food to muslim worshipers who had gathered at the Al Aqsa Al Haram/Ash-Sharif Mosque for the Friday prayers.
He is just one of the individuals who have been punished for distributing hot drinks and food around the holy site, allegedly without the required license, despite thee goods being distributed free of charge.
The Palestinian watchdog also reported that a local bakery run by the Abu Sneineh family in the neighborhood of Bab Hutta had been forcefully closed down by the Israelis for the same reason.
These systemic arrests have become a weekly occurrence in the muslim quarter of Old City, as the Great Dawn campaign — a peaceful protest against Israel’s repeated violations of the Status Quothat safeguards the muslim custodianship of the cite — is bringing an increasing number of muslim worshippers to gather in an around the Al Aqsa Al Haram/Ash-Sharif compound.
This is not the first time that the Israeli forces have targeted the local food industry and its traditions, in their immediate efforts to contain the occupied population during demonstrations, and within a larger goal of diminishing the Palestinian cultural character of the city of Jerusalem.
For Israel, Jerusalem is the undivided capital of the Jewish State, and while that fact is not recognized by most of the international community with the exception of the United States, the day-to-day realities of this illegal occupation translates in a gradual ‘judaization’ of the Holy City through the structural and legal erasing of Palestinian cultural heritage.
The ka’ik- an oval shaped loaf of bread baked with sesame seeds — is a local delicacy in East Jerusalem, a staple for breakfast in most if not all households, and a favorite for tourists who can hardly resist its smell while getting lost amongst the cobbled streets of the muslim quarter.
Akin to the beaded Challah shaped by jewish people for Shabbat, the distribution of ka’ikafter Friday prayers, is part of Palestinians’ religious and traditional culture, one that is under threat due to the daily workings of Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine, including East Jerusalem.
The charitable gesture of handing out bread then becomes an act of political provocation, but only for one of the monotheist groups existing within the Old City walls.
In fact, the traditional practice of handing out free food during or after religious ceremonies is rather popular amongst the Jewish community.
The Jerusalem municipality has even advertised on its website the distribution of free Shabbat meals at the Western Wall, as part of Eshel’s National Food Security Initiative, a program supported by the Ministry of Social Affairs.
It is in this context that Abu Ramouz’s fine ought to be understood. Exaggerated arrests like these, which cause financial distress for those implicated, are an effective intimidation tactic that seeks to discourage Palestinians from attending religious gatherings in the city. They are a blatant example of how the Jewish and Muslim communities cohabiting in Jerusalem are subject to two very different police systems, and how Israel’s system of apartheid infringes on the rights to religious and cultural expression of Palestinians.