Hundreds of Palestinian protesters and around 20 policemen were injured in clashes with Israeli security forces in east Jerusalem over the weekend. Tensions in the city, the worst in years, continue to rise amid Israeli plans to evict Palestinian families from homes on land claimed by Jews in a neighborhood 1 kilometer north of the Old City.
Mkhaimar Abusada, a professor of political science at Al-Azhar University in Gaza City, told The Media Line the blame for the increased tension and violence in the city falls on Israel.
“This is the result of Israeli provocation against Palestinian nonviolent resistance and the attempt to force an expulsion of Palestinians from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, and the continued Israeli brutality and acts of violence and incursions against Al-Aqsa Mosque and Haram al-Sharif [the ‘Noble Sanctuary,’ also known as the Temple Mount].”
Yaakov Lappin, a research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University, near Tel Aviv, told The Media Line the latest violence can be attributed to several factors.
“These include localized Jerusalem tensions that flared up, sensitive Islamic religious dates, and Hamas’ power struggle with Fatah, which has led Hamas to try to set Jerusalem and the West Bank on fire,” Lappin said.
Hamas, the Islamist movement that rules the Gaza Strip, has threatened attacks against Israel if the Palestinian families are forced out of their homes, which lower Israeli courts ruled belonged to Jews before the 1948 war.
Violence in east Jerusalem erupted at the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan on April 13. Israeli police closed off the steps outside the Old City’s Damascus Gate, where Palestinians traditionally gather to break the daytime fast, leading to clashes. The police said the measure was intended to facilitate the flow of pedestrians into the Old City during Ramadan.
On April 25, in an effort to reduce violence, police dropped the restrictions on congregating in the area.
On Sunday, Israeli security forces were on high alert, with additional police deployed in anticipation of additional protests and an escalation in violence ahead of Israel’s Jerusalem Day on Monday. Israelis mark the day, on the Hebrew calendar, that east Jerusalem was conquered in 1967, with a march from the city’s west through the Old City to the Western Wall.
The route taken by the male, mostly Orthodox teenage marchers enters the Old City through Damascus Gate, while women and girls enter via Jaffa Gate.
“This intersection of events in a single day forms the potential for a new escalation point. It therefore forms a major challenge to Israel’s security forces, who can be expected to make every effort to de-escalate the day’s events and prevent them from turning into clashes with deaths and serious injuries,” said Lappin.
A Justice Ministry spokesman said Israel’s attorney-general on Sunday asked the Supreme Court to delay a hearing scheduled for Monday on the planned evictions.
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit asked the court for a deferral of at least two weeks so he might weigh taking part in the case, the spokesman said.
The court gave Mandelblit until June 8 to consider his position.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas blamed the Israeli government for the deteriorating situation while expressing “full support for our heroes in Al-Aqsa.”
Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu defended the police actions.
“Israel is acting responsibly to ensure respect for law and order in Jerusalem while allowing freedom of worship,” Netanyahu said in a meeting of security officials.
The growing violence drew harsh criticism across the Arab and Muslim world.
Four Arab countries that last year normalized ties with Israel have condemned the violence.
The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain condemned what they called the weekend’s “storming of Al-Aqsa Mosque” by Israeli security forces, in a reference to the wider area. No officers entered the mosque.
Abu Dhabi called on Israeli authorities to “take responsibility for de-escalation” of violence at the holy site, while Manama urged the Israeli government “to stop these rejected provocations against the people of Jerusalem.”
Lappin said that despite the strongly worded statements, there is no threat to the normalization deals.
“The Gulf states that signed the Abraham Accords with Israel were guided by core national interests that are broader than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” he said, adding that common concerns of these countries are what shape their ties.
“These include the threat of Iran and the desire to shape a new regional order ahead of a likely US departure from the Middle East. As a result, the current level of violence is unlikely to impact the long-term relationship between the UAE, Bahrain and Israel,” Lappin said.
Abusada warned that not canceling the Israeli celebration near Damascus Gate, and the “iron fist policy” toward the Palestinians, may lead to events spiraling out of control.
The response of the Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip is conditioned on Israeli “acts and activities,” he said.
“If Israeli acts of violence against Palestinians in east Jerusalem continue, that will definitely provoke further retaliation. It seems to me that today and tomorrow it will be detrimental because thousands of Israelis are trying to storm Haram Al-Sharif and Al-Aqsa Mosque. That’s why I think we are on our way to further escalation and further violence between the Palestinians and Israeli occupation forces,” Abusada said.
Jordan condemned Israel’s “barbaric attack” and Egypt, Turkey, Tunisia, Pakistan and Qatar were among the Muslim countries that rebuked Israeli forces for the violence.
The US Department of State said in a statement it was “extremely concerned” and urged both sides to “avoid steps that exacerbate tensions or take us farther away from peace.”
A meeting of the Arab League is scheduled for Tuesday.