Tensions keep rising
ISRAELI police clashed with both Palestinian protesters and far-right Jewish Israelis at the Temple Mount yesterday, kicking off a fraught national holiday that threatened to ignite the latest bout of Israeli-palestinian violence.
The confrontations at the Temple Mount left more than 300 Palestinians injured, including seven who were hospitalised and are in serious condition, according to the Palestinian Red Crescent. Video footage circulated on social media of Israeli police officers brutally beating a detained man whom the Haaretz newspaper identified as a Turkish journalist.
Over the weekend, more than 250 Palestinians were injured in similar clashes.
“The Israelis don’t want us to pray. They want to keep us from our mosque,” said Ahmad, a young Palestinian man who refused to give his last name out of security concerns, standing near several Red Crescent ambulances and a line of Israeli police officers in riot gear.
Seven Israelis were also wounded in the clashes, according to Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem. Among them was a 7-month-old baby who sustained a head injury after a rock was thrown at her family’s car.
“The resistance is ready and motivated and will not stand idly by,” said Ismail Haniyeh, the leader of the Gazabased Islamist militant group Hamas. “Its word will be the final word in the battle, if the occupation does not retreat and put an end to its satanic plans.”
Israeli police have in recent days strengthened their forces in both Jerusalem and the West Bank in anticipation of Jerusalem Day, yesterday’s national holiday that celebrated the 1967 Israeli capture of East Jerusalem and the sacred sites within the Old City walls. The holiday features raucous parades by nationalist Jews through Palestinian neighbourhoods.
The clashes come against the backdrop of a land dispute in the nearby, mostly Palestinian, neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah, where an Israeli settler organisation is advancing a petition through the Israeli Supreme Court to evict six Palestinian families from their homes. Since last week, solidarity protests have erupted across the city and quickly degenerated into bloody confrontations with the police.
“This is a battle between tolerance and intolerance, between lawless violence and order,” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “Elements that want to expropriate our rights periodically force us to stand strong, like Israel’s police officers are doing. I back the officers in this just struggle.”
“The Israeli occupation forces’ brutal storming and assault on worshipers in the blessed al-aqsa Mosque and its courtyards is a new challenge to the international community, especially those efforts being made by the (new) US administration,” said Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a spokesperson for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
The EU’S envoy to the Palestinian territories said the bloc was “extremely concerned” by the continued escalation. The envoy called “for immediate calm” and said that “all must refrain from violence.”
Yesterday morning, Israeli police banned Jewish worshippers from visiting the Temple Mount in an effort to stem the unrest.
But the holy site – the most sacred in Judaism and, as home to al-aqsa Mosque, one of the holiest in Islam – is the focus of both the holy fasting month of Ramadan and Jerusalem Day. The hilltop plaza is controlled by the Jordanian Islamic authorities, which allow Jews with the provision that they refrain from engaging in prayer, although its entrance is controlled by Israeli security forces. Police have yet to announce if they will reroute the provocative Jerusalem Day parade.
Israel is in the midst of a years-long political stalemate that has deprived the country of a fully functioning government, he noted, while relations with the neighbouring Jordanian king, who could have influence on the situation, are at a low point.
In the past, quieting the flames of conflict “required a prime minister in Israel, which we don’t have, a king who’s talking to him, and a Washington that was willing to do something.”
For the majority of his 12 years in office, Netanyahu maintained a relative status quo on the Temple Mount, but experts say that the dynamics have recently changed.
Amid an increasingly dire bid for political survival, Netanyahu has lent prominence to once-fringe, anti-arab activists who vocally call for Jewish control of the Temple Mount, such as Jewish Power leader Itamar Ben-gvir. With the support of Netanyahu, Bengvir joined the Knesset in the last round of elections in March.
In protesting the police decision forbidding Jewish entry to the area, Ben-gvir said he had notified Netanyahu’s Likud party that he would withhold his votes in the Knesset in the coming week.
In a Facebook post, amid a crowd of Jewish worshippers at the entrance to the site, he said Netanyahu and Israel’s security chiefs had “surrendered to terrorists at the Temple Mount.”
His Jewish Power party issued a statement saying that it will go forward with a march through Jerusalem and ending at Damascus Gate, “to display our sovereignty and declare that Jerusalem is ours.”