Institute for Contemporary Affairs
Founded jointly with the Wechsler Family Foundation
- In 1979, Ayatollah Khomeini instituted International Jerusalem Day in Iran as a show of support for the Palestinians and the “liberation of Jerusalem.” Today, this tradition still continues.
- What lies behind Iran’s support of “Palestine”?
- This year, fewer people attended the Jerusalem Day marches in Iran than ever before. Many showed their disgust at Iran investing its support in the Palestinian cause rather than taking care of its own dissatisfied, impoverished population.
- Iranian government figures attempted on social media to make it appear as if the march was a success, but other social media posts tell a different story.
- Hackers in Iran become more daring, even interrupting a live government broadcast with songs by an exiled Iranian woman singer and posting subversive messages on airport signs.
Every year on the last Friday of the month of Ramadan, “World Jerusalem Day” (or Al-Quds Day) marches take place in Iran and also abroad (mainly in Shiite concentrations, but also in some European capitals). This day has been celebrated every year since 1979 following a decision by the revolutionary leader Ayatollah Khomeini. On this day, the Iranian government expresses the desire of all Muslims to “liberate Jerusalem.” Khomeini’s doctrine continues to prevail, defining and shaping the goals of the revolution even today and the proper way to strive toward their realization. This includes preserving hostility and a fundamental hatred of Israel and calls for its destruction.
Al-Quds Day was commemorated this year on Friday, June 8, 2018.
Behind Iran’s support of “Palestine” lies various ideological motives and strategies. “Palestine” (like Syria and Lebanon) is one of the centerpieces of Iran’s national security doctrine. From Iran’s perspective, the Palestinian armed struggle, or “resistance,” is Iran’s first line of defense. This is where Iran’s support for Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), Hamas, and other terror groups emanates, including supplying arms, training, and constant funding. Iran’s doctrine is that if it doesn’t do battle against Israel via its proxies (and also from Syria, using Iranian forces and Shiite militias), it will eventually have to deal with Israel on its own territory.
“Jerusalem Day” is marked by mass marches (usually through conscription and using free transportation provided by the regime and its cohorts) and fiery speeches where slogans denouncing Zionism and Israel are heard (these include: “The regime that is occupying Jerusalem” and “Death to Israel!”). Cries for Israel’s destruction are heard, as well as condemnations of the United States (“death to America!”) and Saudi Arabia (House of Al Saud آل سعود), which also reflect the Iranian scheme of “designs” against the United States and Israel in the region. At this year’s marches, American and Israeli flags were burned, and a Trump effigy was hanged (from a crane normally used for hanging opponents of the regime, homosexuals, drug dealers, and criminals in Iran.) Effigies representing the leaders of Israel and the United States were displayed and burned or hanged.1 Spokesmen for the regime claimed that marches were held in 900 cities, and the national media broadcast the marches and demonstrations live.2
“Not Gaza, Not Lebanon. Our Lives for Iran”
However, this year, despite efforts by the regime to recruit and mobilize participants, the demonstrations were extremely sparse – maybe the sparsest they have ever been in the past 40 years. There was a small number of participants, and the organization, unlike in the past, seemed particularly amateurish. In any case, this year’s “International Jerusalem Day” took place under the slogans, “Support for Palestine, honor for Iran,” “Victory for the Palestinian resistance movement,” and “Down with American conspiracies” – following the transfer of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.
These slogans sounded a little empty and detached from the harsh reality that Iran is entering, considering the fact that over the past few months and also during this year’s Jerusalem Day, other slogans echoed throughout Iran. These dissenting slogans first resounded through the streets of Tehran during the “Green Movement protests” in June 2009: “Not Gaza, not Lebanon. Our lives for Iran.”
In a speech about the concept of Jerusalem Day, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei lambasted this slogan saying, “Anyone who continues to use the slogan, ‘Not Gaza, not Lebanon,’ are lowlifes who serve enemy interests,” and that “Iran will continue to support resistance movements in the region, including Hizbullah, Hamas, and PIJ.”
On social media, several calls of “Death to the leader” could be heard in the background of clips of the marches.3 Social media networks in Iran showed several videos with a slight difference among some of the participants in the marches. One clip, which went viral, showed a young cleric wearing religious garb, holding a sign asking, “Will the day come when we demonstrate for our homeland, Iran, and our nation, which is suffering, and not for others?” He shows the sign to passersby (who were brought to the demonstration against Israel), and they can be heard blessing, praising, and endorsing him.4 Opponents of the regime put up hashtags in a similar spirit: “#NototheIslamicRepublic,” “#Notoal-QudsDay,” attaching them to the video of the demonstrating cleric.5 Additionally, they also put up hashtags such as “#NoGazaNoLebanonLiveforIran.” (#نه_غزه_نه_لبنان_جانم_فدای_ایران), as well as IranRegimeChange #IRGCTerrorists#.
On a live broadcast, an Iranian TV reporter encouraged an Iranian child (among those brought with their parents to the demonstrations against Israel) to say that he loves the Palestinian children. “Tell them you love them and support them,” said the reporter. The little boy answered, “No, no, no, I don’t love them.” So the reporter asked another child, “What is your message to the Palestinian children?” This small boy answered with great alertness and decisiveness, “I want to smack the Palestinians in the mouth.”
Supporters of the regime both at home and abroad flooded social media with hashtags in English (“#EndOfIsrael”), Arabic ((#يوم_القدس_مسيرة_العودة #سنصلي_في_القدس – #JerusalemDayMarchofReturn “#WeWillPrayInJerusalem – and Farsi ((#اسرائيل_سقطت – #IsraelHasFallen. They include graphic pictures and caricatures portraying the “murderousness of Israel.” There were tributes to the words of Iran’s Supreme Leader, according to whom Israel would disappear in 25 years, pictures of the al-Aqsa mosque, and portrayals of Iran’s military power (including a picture of a missile in Mashad on which was written Khamenei’s quote that Israel would not last another 25 years).6
It should be noted that in 2009, during “the Green Revolution,” the regime called upon the masses to go to the Jerusalem Day demonstrations, while the leaders of the Reformist camp called on everyone to paint the streets of Iran green. The Iranian leader issued a warning then against “elements maliciously trying to use the masses to divide the nation during Jerusalem Day.”
President: The Liberation of all of Palestine Is the Goal
Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani was not present at the Jerusalem Day Marches. However, he defined al-Quds Day (Jerusalem Day) as “in memory of the period of Imam Khomeini,” adding, “Israel will never feel secure in the place where it is. It has to recognize that it will always be considered a thief and a criminal. It also has to know that even a great nation [Palestine] will never give up the land of its forefathers.” Rouhani also declared, “Today, Muslims will declare that the liberation of Jerusalem and of all Palestine is everyone’s objective [meaning of all Muslims].” In his speech, Rouhani criticized U.S. unilateralism and the withdrawal of the United States from the nuclear deal (JCPOA): “The Americans were always subject to the illusion that they are the leaders of the world, and they make decisions on its behalf. The U.S. departure from the agreement is no excuse for insulting the international community.”
The Iranian press, which supports the president, explained that he did not participate in the Jerusalem Day demonstrations because he was on his way to China to participate in a conference of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), during which he met with the presidents of Russia and China.
”Israel’s Life Has Come to an End”
The elderly Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, chairman of the Assembly of Experts, (which, among other things, is supposed to select the heir to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei) and the Guardian Council, took part in several marches despite his advanced age of 91. He said that the United States and Israel are in the throes of collapse.7 Previously, Jannati said, “I am officially informing you that the life of Israel has come to an end.”8 The head of the judicial system Sadeq Amoli Larijani said that “transferring the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem will not bring stability to the Zionist regime.”
The Guest Appearance of the Famous Singer Googoosh during the Parliamentary Speaker’s Speech – “I Have Arrived”
Parliamentary Speaker of the Majlis, the Iranian Parliament, Ali Larijani alluded to the U.S. peace plan (the “deal of the century”), which is in the pipeline, saying that this deal or any other compromise deal that is based on a formula designed to “humiliate the Palestinian people and sell its honor on a silver platter” is bound to fail. He warned that if Israel and Saudi Arabia continued to put pressure on Iran in an attempt to isolate it, security in the Middle East would be threatened. He asserted that the Israel-United States-Saudi Arabia triumvirate wanted to create chaos in the Middle East.9
As his words were broadcast on Radio Tehran, they were suddenly cut short by a brief audio clip of a song by the famous Iranian woman singer Googoosh (the stage name of Faegheh Atashin) who was popular in Iran before the Revolution, “I have arrived.” The broadcast was cut off and then resumed afterward with Larijani’s speech.10 Googoosh left Iran in 2000 due to harsh restrictions imposed on women singing after the Revolution.
It is not clear who was behind the interruption of the broadcast and if it was an attack by hackers. In this regard, in recent weeks travelers at the airports in Mashhad and Tabriz have been surprised to see expressions of protest against the regime by hackers who hijack computer screens showing flight information. The slogans expressed support for striking truck drivers and their protests against the government. They wrote, “How much longer can the regime ignore the requests of the people for better living conditions? How much time?”11, 12, 13
A bewildering incident also occurred with the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran (AEOI), Ali Akbar Salehi, during an al-Quds Day march. A group of conservative demonstrators attacked him as he marched, yelling curses and insults at him, such as, “Death to the traitor to his homeland,” and “Death to the hypocrite!” Salehi lost his composure, turned around, and shouted at his attackers, “Total liars!” Salehi played a major role in the negotiations of the Iran nuclear deal. His hardline attackers accuse him of causing the freeze of the Iranian nuclear project under the JCPOA agreement14 of 2015.15
“We Will Create the Missiles that We Want, of any Range We Choose”
Ahmad Khatami, Tehran’s Friday preacher, said that “Our march today (Jerusalem Day) is not only against the Zionist regime, but also part of our struggle against America…. America, which is an unconditional supporter of the ‘Zionist occupying regime,’ recently even took an additional measure to complete the occupation, which was to transfer its embassy to Jerusalem.” Khatami added, “Our demonstration is also against the (Sunni Arab) elements that are compromising and eroding away the region, who have created an evil triumvirate against the Muslims: America, the Zionist regime, and Saudi Arabia and its reactionary leaders, who are competing with each other to see who will recognize the corrupt Zionist regime first. But it should know that this competition will become a competition for the end of their rule, and with Allah’s help their people will kick them out of the government….”
Khatami referred to the leader of the Israeli government as “the enemy of Allah, who collected alms during his last visit to Europe and asked the UK prime minister to prohibit calls of ‘death to Israel’ in the streets of London.” He defined Iran’s missile plan as “the winning card,” and said, “We will create however many missiles we want and will increase their range as much as we want.” The preacher concluded, “Due to the depletion of oil reserves, the future lies within nuclear energy.”16
The Revolutionary Guard Presents Its Strategy: “Palestine from the Sea to the River”
The Revolutionary Guard (IRGC), whose al-Quds force is a vital conduit of aid to Palestinian terrorist organizations, published a message of its own in honor of Al-Quds Day. In it, it referred to the “return marches” at the border fence in Gaza. In the message it wrote, “The victims on their way to fulfill their aspiration of liberating the holy city of Jerusalem are bringing the struggle closer, inspiring the wonder of the Palestinians at its final levels…. The Revolutionary Guard calls upon the people of Iran to attend in their masses the Jerusalem Day demonstrations and to positively obey the call of the Muslim leader of the world [Khamenei] to express their revulsion for Trump’s satanic move in transferring the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and recognizing it as the capital of the Zionist regime, with the support of a few miserable, wretched countries.”
Included in the IRGC message was that the Jerusalem Day march would prove that “conspiracies like the deal of the century [Trump’s peace plan] and normalizing relations with the thieves of heroic Palestine will fail and won’t yield any result other than hastening the downfall and removal of the criminal Israel from the face of the Earth. It will also prove that the only efficient and acceptable strategy for a solution to the Palestinian question is the strategy of ‘Palestine from the sea to the river,’ the return of the Palestinians to their homeland, holding free elections, and deciding the future fate of this country [Palestine] according to the will of its people.” (The actual meaning of this program is the destruction of the State of Israel.17 Other versions of the Iranian plan called upon the Jews who moved to Israel to go back to their birthplaces.)
A few days later Iran’s leader repeated this “peace plan” while addressing a group of university professors, intellectuals, and researchers in Tehran:
The Islamic Republic acts logically on all matters. On the matter of the Zionist Regime, Gamal Abdul-Nasser proclaimed they would throw the Jewish people into the sea. We never made such remarks: from day one, we announced a plan. We said, for decision making on the historical country of Palestine, refer to the Palestinian people. This plan is registered with the United Nations as the statement of the Islamic Republic. Those who are true Palestinians and have been living in Palestine over a hundred years ago – Muslims, Christians and Jews – where ever they are, either in the occupied lands or outside of them. They should be surveyed. Their vote should be applied. Is this a bad opinion?18
“There Is No Other Way than the Elimination of Israel and the United States”
Mohammad Reza Naqdi, vice-commander of the Revolutionary Guard for cultural and social affairs, (formerly a commander of the Basij – the volunteer arm of the Revolutionary Guard), said that the enemy, through various plans, wants to block the determination and will of the Iranian people. However, if they want to progress as a people, there is no other way but to eliminate Israel and the United States. Naqdi recalled that also Supreme Leader Khamenei said that Israel would be destroyed and “we will pray very soon in Quds.”19
In the end, Iran marked Jerusalem Day in the shadows of an internal crisis that has hit the country and growing domestic protests at the same time as renewed U.S. sanctions. The masses did not fill the Iranian squares to march on al-Quds day. International Jerusalem Day only sharpened the internal disputes in Iran and brought to the surface the disputes about the regime’s problematic set of priorities – its preference to handle distant crises at the expense of the Iranian people.
On June 14, 2018, the World Cup opens in Moscow, Russia. Soccer is like a second religion in Iran, and the Iranian team has been placed, by the luck of the draw, into the “death group B” of Spain, Portugal, and Morocco teams. It will grab considerable public attention over the next few weeks, or at least while the Iranian team is still playing. Protests against the government are also forecast to be seen during the Iranian team’s matches, carried out by many Iranian exiles who are expected in Russia. The local Iranians themselves have no money to travel to Moscow due to soaring dollar rates.
The Iranian regime puts Jerusalem at the top of its priorities, but the Iranian people are only interested in its growing economic crisis and their inability to watch its team play up close.
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