Clashes between Palestinian Arabs and Israeli police in Jerusalem resumed promptly at 8:00 AM this morning, following a weekend of violence.
Today marks the 54th anniversary since Jerusalem was reunified in the 1967 Six Day War, after capturing the eastern side of the divided city from Jordan, which had occupied the territory since 1948. Israel regards the holy city as its eternal and indivisible capital.
Palestinians demand the eastern section as a capital of a future state. Muslims, who built the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque atop the ruins of both biblical temples on the Temple Mount revered by Jews and Christians, refer to the contested area as Haram al Sharif, or the Noble Sanctuary, regarded as Islam’s third holiest place.
Palestinian rioters hurled rocks and bottles at Israeli security forces at the holy site, who responded with the firing of tear gas and stun grenades. Others were reportedly hurt when a Jewish driver on a nearby road plowed into the rioters after coming under rock attack.
Palestinians declared victory after police withdrew from the Temple Mount. The Police Spokesperson’s Unit said 21 officers were injured during the clashes, while Palestinians sources said over 300 protestors were hurt.
Annual observance of “Jerusalem Day” has been severely curtailed due to the escalation. Jews have been banned from visiting the Temple Mount in the Old City, the holiest site in Judaism; and the annual flag waving parade now appears likely to be suspended.
“We will continue to allow the freedom of worship, but we will not allow any disturbances,” said Police Commissioner Yaakov “Kobi” Shabtai.
East Jerusalem has seen nightly clashes during observance by Muslims of their holy month of Ramadan, which began 13 April. Israeli police attempted to maintain order by preventing evening gatherings at the walled Old City’s Damascus Gate after Iftar, the breaking of the daytime fast; which Palestinians regarded as a restriction on their freedom to assemble.
Today’s protests spread as far north as Arab areas of Haifa and Nazareth.
The IDF has boosted troop presence in the West Bank, as well as along the border with Gaza – which fired at least 1 rockets and has stepped up arson attacks on the Jewish State in recent days. Following the ignition of at least 20 blazes on Israeli territory yesterday, a military spokesman said extra forces there would largely be firefighting ones.
Police Commissioner Shabtai announced that additional officers were being deployed in Jerusalem on Saturday to “enable freedom of worship and maintain order and security” during Islam’s holy night of Laylat al-Qadr. He went on to stress, “At the same time, we will not allow violent riots, lawbreaking or the harming of police officers. We ask everyone to calm the spirits and violence, particularly on such an important day for the Muslim religion.”
Despite the appeal for calm, Palestinian youth threw stones, lighted fires and tore down police barricades in the streets leading to the Old City, where tens of thousands of Muslim worshippers prayed at the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
Many of the rioters chanted support of the Hamas terror group, which reiterated threats to attack Israel over Jerusalem, shouting “Strike Tel Aviv” and “In spirit and in blood, we will redeem al-Aqsa.” Similar slogans were heard during disturbances including the lighting of fires at the Damascus Gate and the nearby streets leading to the Old City.
Police units on horseback and in riot gear used stun grenades and water cannons to repel them. At least 80 people and 1 Israeli officer were reportedly injured.
Other violence erupted on the main highway into the city when barricades blocked busloads of Arab Israelis from entering Jerusalem by police, who said they were trying to prevent further riots. As soon as word of the roadblock spread on social media, hundreds of young men from nearby Arab villages flocked to the site. Dozens drove their cars the wrong way down the now-empty Jerusalem-bound lanes, picking up fellow Muslims who had abandoned their own vehicles to start the uphill trek on foot. Some chanted in Arabic: “With our souls and our blood, we will redeem you, Al-Aqsa!” Officers responded with the firing of stun grenades to quell the clashes, which resulted in hours of traffic jams to and from the city.
In Gaza, hundreds of Palestinians rioted at multiple sites along the security fence with Israel, where they set fire to tires and hurled improvised incendiary devices at IDF units. At least one rocket was fired into Israel, which landed in an open area.
“We salute the ppl. of Al-Aqsa, who oppose the arrogance of the Zionists & we call on our ppl. in Palestine to support their brothers by all means,” Moussa Abu Marzouk, a leader of the armed Islamist group Hamas that rules Gaza, wrote on Twitter.
At least 205 Palestinians and 18 Israeli officers were injured in confrontations, as tens of thousands of Palestinian worshippers packed the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound for Islamic prayers on the final Friday of Ramadan. Once again, many waved Palestinian flags while chanting they would “redeem” the mosque with “our soul and blood.”
Police responded with fired rubber bullets and stun grenades towards rock-hurling Palestinian mobs.
The protest again spread outside the Old City, where Palestinians hurled rocks at police to express fury over the contested neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah.
Volatility had been further exacerbated by an impending High Court decision over homes in the nearby Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, which the Israeli Foreign Ministry described as a “real-estate dispute between private parties.”
Several Palestinian families appealed lower court verdicts ordering their eviction, upon findings that the land was owned by Jews who had been displaced in the 1948 division of the city.
Palestinians and their supporters as well as right-wing Israelis have been holding demonstrations in the area, which has been a flashpoint of violence by Jewish visits to the tomb of an High Priest, Simon the Just.
In a bid to lower tensions, yesterday the High Court of Justice granted a last-minute legal appeal by the appellants for the rendering of a legal opinion on the matter by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit. The move delayed ruling slated for today until a new session is scheduled within 30 days.
The Israeli government’s efforts to defuse a tinderbox situation in Jerusalem has done little to allay concern in Europe and among regional powers like Jordan and United Arab Emirates, which condemned Israel’s conduct in east Jerusalem.
A Palestinian official said Egypt was mediating between the sides to prevent further escalation, saying that Saturday’s violence appeared less pronounced than fierce confrontations on Friday.
The Middle East Quartet expressed concern over the violence and potential Jerusalem evictions.
“We call upon Israeli authorities to exercise restraint and to avoid measures that would further escalate the situation during this period of Muslim Holy Days,” mediators from the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations said in a statement.
The US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan expressed “serious concerns about the potential evictions of Palestinian families from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood” during a conversation with Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi during a phone call yesterday, according to a White House statement.
State Department Spokesperson Ned Price released a press communique, stressing that “The United States is extremely concerned about ongoing confrontations in Jerusalem, including on the Haram al-Sharif / Temple Mount and in Sheikh Jarrah, which have reportedly resulted in scores of injured people. There is no excuse for violence, but such bloodshed is especially disturbing now, coming as it does on the last days of Ramadan.:
Price went on to say, “We call on Israeli and Palestinian officials to act decisively to deescalate tensions and bring a halt to the violence. It is absolutely critical that all sides exercise restraint, refrain from provocative actions and rhetoric, and preserve the historic status quo on the Haram al-Sharif / Temple Mount – in word and in practice. Leaders across the spectrum must denounce all violent acts. Security services must ensure the safety of all of Jerusalem’s residents and hold all perpetrators to account.”
He added that the US is “deeply concerned about the potential eviction of Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan neighborhoods of Jerusalem,” and said “it is critical to avoid steps that exacerbate tensions or take us farther away from peace. This includes evictions in East Jerusalem, settlement activity, home demolitions, and acts of terrorism.”
Price closed his statement by sayin that Washington “is in touch” with senior leaders in Jerusalem and Ramallah “to work to deescalate the situation. The United States urges both sides to exercise decisive leadership and work cooperatively together to lower tensions, end the violence, and reinvigorate long-standing coordination mechanisms and relationships that have served their shared interests over the decades.”
United Nations Spokesman Stephane Dujarric said yesterday that Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expressed “his deep concern over the continuing violence in occupied East Jerusalem, as well as the possible evictions of Palestinian families from their homes.” The UN Security Council is set to hold a special session on the unrest later today.
The European Union, which regards East Jerusalem as “occupied Palestinian territory,” has expressed alarm over the situation.
Israeli Prime Minister’s Response
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly insisted that law and order would be maintained in Jerusalem along with the right to worship.
At the start of the special Cabinet meeting yesterday held at Jerusalem City Hall in honor of Jerusalem Day, he made no direct mention of the Sheikh Jarrah dispute but underscored that the government firmly rejects pressure to end construction in Jerusalem.
Excerpts from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s 9 May remarks:
“We are currently witnessing violent disturbances in Jerusalem under the influence of agitators.
Over the weekend, I held ongoing assessments of the situation with the Defense Minister, Public Security Minister, the IDF Chief-of-Staff, the Israel Police Inspector General, the head of the ISA, the head of the National Security Council and other officials.
We will not allow any extremist element to undermine the quiet in Jerusalem. We will uphold law and order – vigorously and responsibly. We will continue to guard freedom of worship for all faiths, but we will not allow violent disturbances.
In the same breath, I say to the terrorist organizations: Israel will respond powerfully to any act of aggression from the Gaza Strip.
Jerusalem has been the capital of the Jewish people for thousands of years. Our roots in Jerusalem go back to Biblical times. Our continuous link with Jerusalem has been maintained in all generations.
Every archaeological find attests to the strength of this link. We are uncovering Jerusalem’s past even as we ensure its future.
For 54 years, Jerusalem has been united under the rule of the democratic State of Israel. When one looks back over thousands of years of Jewish rule and the foreign rule, and today again under the state of the Jews, only under the sovereignty of Israel has full and consistent freedom of worship been ensured for all faiths, and thus we will continue.
At the same time, we are developing Jerusalem in every sphere: Construction, transportation infrastructure, employment, high-tech and science, heritage, culture, the arts and more.
We emphatically reject the pressures not to build in Jerusalem. Unfortunately, these pressures have been increasing of late. I say to our best friends as well: Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. Just as every people builds its capital and in its capital, so too do we reserve the right to build Jerusalem and in Jerusalem. This is what we have done and what we will continue to do.
The State of Israel has been rightly known over the years as a country that that cares for and looks after its soldiers who have served in defense of its security and who have been wounded during their service, whether in battle or during their service.
Our reputation in the world was completely justified because it genuinely expressed this true relationship, which is rooted deep in the heart of the citizens of Israel. But on the other hand, one cannot deny that over the years there has been a certain slackening as happens in every bureaucratic establishment and it has become necessary to reinvigorate our commitment in both reforms and budgets.”