Tourists visit despite tensions
For the past three years Shai, an ultra-Orthodox man wearing a black suit and black hat despite the oppressive heat, has lived in the Old City of Jerusalem, where his children study. Last month, he was walking on Shalshelet Street in the Muslim quarter, when he says his path was blocked by a group of teenagers, one of whom spat at him.
“I just lost control and shoved him hard, and a fist fight started,” Shai, who asked not to give his last name told The Media Line. “The border police showed up, and they grabbed the teenager and really beat him up. He was knocked unconscious. It was really traumatic for me, and I decided to leave the Old City.”
Earlier this month, Shai said he packed up his family and moved them to the French Hill neighborhood in northern Jerusalem.
“I miss the Old City, but I just couldn’t take it anymore,” he said.
Tensions rose again this week, when police stormed the al-Aqsa mosque after they said that Palestinians had barricaded themselves inside.
“Over the last 72 hours there were disturbances by masked Arabs in and around the Temple Mount. The Israeli police had received specific information about disturbances including attacks on the Temple Mount itself,” Israeli police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld told The Media Line. “Police units were organized and responded and entered the Temple Mount area, at about 6:30 in the morning to prevent those disturbances. We had a full scale riot on the Temple Mount. The Israeli police locked down and shut the entrances to the Temple Mount maintaining the disturbances within a few minutes and regular visits continued by both Arabs and tourists.”
He said two Palestinians, and five policemen were slightly injured.
Palestinians, however, say that the police entered the al-Aqsa mosque without provocation. Palestinian officials said they would submit a complaint to the United Nations Security Council.
“Israeli attempts at changing Jerusalem’s status quo will be met with more Palestinian steadfastness on the ground, including legal and political efforts to end Israel’s culture of impunity,” Palestinian senior official Saeb Erekat said in a statement. “Israeli attempts at turning Jerusalem into an exclusively Jewish city are part of Israel’s attempts at being recognized as a “Jewish State,” something the State of Palestine rejects for this being a clear step toward erasing Palestinian history, consolidating discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel, negating Palestinian refugee rights, and in direct conflict with the principles of democracy.”
On the streets of Jerusalem, locals and tourists said they had not cancelled their plans because of the violence. Some had not even heard of the clashes.
“We’ve been totally out of the loop and haven’t even watched the news,” Sylvia Becker, who is visiting Israel for the first time with her fiancé at the tail end of a six-month trip through Europe, told The Media Line. “It is odd to see the police with heavy machine guns but I guess that means we’re protected.”
Her fiancée Daniel Stein, who has a lot of family in Israel, says his uncle told him to stay out of the Muslim quarter but that visiting Jerusalem and its holy sites was not dangerous.
“We hear bits and pieces but as my fiancée said the whole family is here and they keep us posted,” he said. “We trust them that if they say it’s safe to come, it’s safe to come, but we always have our wits about us.”
The Old City, with its Jewish, Christian and Muslim holy places attracts more than three million tourists each year from abroad, as well as millions of Israelis. Every Israeli soldier visits Jerusalem during his army service, as well as hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren.
Adelina Schanger, a Christian Arab from Nazareth studying to be a tour guide, said she had heard the news of the clashes but was not deterred.
“I had some things to do in Jerusalem and I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to visit the Old City because it’s very special to us,” she told The Media Line.
Tamir Rabina, a Jewish Israeli from northern Israel, was showing his girlfriend from Mexico the sights.
“I heard there were some demonstrations,” he told The Media Line. “But you see, everything here is peaceful and I trust our soldiers to protect us.”