Tension continues to flare in Jerusalem’s Old City following several nights of violence between Palestinians and Israel Police officers.
Clashes have taken place almost nightly directly outside Damascus Gate, part of the Old City’s wall, since the start of Ramadan on April 13.
Hundreds of police officers in riot gear, some on horseback, are deployed around Jerusalem. Police officers have confronted the protesters with stun grenades and rubber bullets, while the demonstrators threw water bottles and hurled rocks at police.
The current violence is the worst in years between Israel Police officers and Palestinians in the city holy to Muslims, Christians and Jews.
Palestinians accuse police of keeping them from holding their traditional Ramadan evening gatherings on the steps outside Damascus Gate, something they say they’ve done for years. Police have set up metal barriers in the amphitheater-style plaza.
The Israel Police have used water cannons and stun grenades to disperse the gathering Palestinians after the daily end-of-fast prayer services. More than 100 Palestinians have been wounded, while the Israel Police said at least 20 officers have been injured. At least 40 Palestinians have been arrested.
Palestinian political analyst Rasem Obeidat told The Media Line that the violence will continue unless things change.
“These confrontations will continue as long as the harassment by settlers and extremists and the escalation by the Israeli security establishment continues,” he said.
He accuses Israel of restricting Palestinian movement because it wants to impose its sovereignty and control over the city.
Obeidat said that, with their protests, Palestinian youth “broke the barrier of fear and became more daring and audacious in confronting the extremist settler groups and the occupation army.”
One young Palestinian man who has been involved in the scuffles over the last few nights accused the police of intimidation.
“We have always sat here outside Damascus Gate and there weren’t any problems; the police are causing problems by forcing us to leave,” said Suhaib, 19, a Palestinian from east Jerusalem.
These confrontations will continue as long as the harassment by settlers and extremists and the escalation by the Israeli security establishment continues
Eli Nesan, an Israeli political analyst and expert on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, told The Media Line that the ongoing tension is not beneficial for either side.
“Things should return to normal because the continuing tension between Jews and Arabs in Jerusalem is not in the interest of any party. Merchants in east Jerusalem will suffer if the situation continues,” he said.
The tensions in the city fueled parallel protests throughout the West Bank and Gaza, seeing Palestinians demonstrating in solidarity with their brethren in Jerusalem. Palestinian militants in Gaza launched dozens of rockets toward Israel on Friday night and Saturday. Israel responded with airstrikes targeting Hamas positions in the coastal strip.
Hamas, the Islamist group that governs Gaza, with other Palestinian armed factions issued a joint call for Palestinian armed resistance in Jerusalem.
“After a long series of protests and demonstrations, we have reached the conclusion that without weapons we cannot liberate our land, protect our holy sites, bring back our people to their land or maintain our dignity,” senior Hamas official Mahmoud Zahar said.
Nesan says that there are some who are attempting to take advantage of this tension.
“Hamas is taking advantage of this issue, trying to inflame emotions and tension and escalate the situation in east Jerusalem,” he said. Still, Hamas is not going too far, since it is not interested in a major military escalation with Israel.
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Saturday attended an emergency security meeting with senior defense officials, including army chief of staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, and afterward said that he had instructed security forces to prepare for “any scenario” in Gaza.
“We are maintaining the freedom of worship for all residents and all visitors to Jerusalem as we do every year,” Netanyahu said in a statement on Saturday night. “I call for calm on all sides.”
The head of the far-right Religious Zionism party, Bezalel Smotrich, criticized Netanyahu for his “calm on both sides” statement, saying that: “Maybe it’s time to replace him.”
Nesan says that such rhetoric may be seen as “incitement” and a call for increased violence against the Palestinians, but he says its “just talk, no more” unlike Hamas.
Tension had continued to mount throughout Jerusalem. On Thursday night the Lehava Jewish extremist group held a protest calling for “death to Arabs.”
This is a spontaneous demonstration that came within the framework of defending Jerusalem against the occupation practices and policy in the city, and therefore any Palestinian party trying to ride the wave is wrong and will lose
At the same time, there have been attacks by Palestinians on a number of individual Jews in the city, including a Jewish man beaten by a group of Palestinian youths in east Jerusalem, a Jewish man attacked in a park in west Jerusalem and several attacks on Jews as they walked to prayers at the Western Wall.
Palestinians in Jerusalem were warned against any faction trying to capitalize on the events.
“This is a spontaneous demonstration that came within the framework of defending Jerusalem against the occupation practices and policy in the city, and therefore any Palestinian party trying to ride the wave is wrong and will lose,” said Obeidat.
The office of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas issued a statement condemning “the growing incitement by extremist far-right Israeli settler groups advocating for the killing of Arabs.”
On the other hand, Obeidat says that Netanyahu may use the tense situation to save his political career.
“He is experiencing a deep internal political crisis and is unable to form a fourth government, and thus he may push for escalation as part of an attempt to influence the religious Zionist parties,” he explained.
Early on Saturday, Jordan strongly condemned “the racist attacks on Palestinians.”
Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi tweeted: “As the occupying power under international law, Israel is responsible for stopping these attacks and for the dangerous consequences of failing to do so.