Jews living in the Arab areas of East Jerusalem have faced a sharp increase in violence since the murder of Arab teen Muhammad Abu Khdeir of Jerusalem’s Shoafat neighborhood about six weeks ago.
There were 360 violent incidents last month, compared to fewer than 200 last July, according to official statistics. Both periods included the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, when tension always increases in Jerusalem.
On a single night three weeks ago – the night of Laylat al-Qadr, when Muslim tradition holds the Koran was revealed to Mohammed – there were 72 violent incidents, compared to a typical average of five or six per day, according the Housing Ministry, which provides security for the settler enclaves in East Jerusalem. The violence generally starts after 9 P.M. and dies out by morning. On the worst nights there were as many as 30 different incidents involving thousands of Arab youths.
Aside from stones and firebombs, Arab youths have thrown fireworks into homes or at policemen and there have been three incidents of shooting - in the enclave of Ma’aleh Zeitim, in the A-Tur neighborhood, in Nof Zion, which abuts Jebel Mukaber, and in Wadi Joz last Thursday. A soldier was seriously injured in the last incident.
Residents of the Jewish enclaves in East Jerusalem are bitterly critical of the police, saying they do not act forcefully enough against Arab rioters. In response, the police cite the nearly 500 arrests they have made and note that no policeman or demonstrator has been killed or even badly wounded in any of the incidents. Nor, they say, did any of the violent demonstrations spill out of the Arab neighborhoods into the main roads or into Jewish neighborhoods. Security procedures were adjusted in some areas, and the Housing Ministry security guards were augmented by police forces.
Jerusalem police attributed the increased violence to the convergence of three issues – the murder of Abu Khdeir, the fighting in Gaza and Ramadan.
The imposition of age restrictions on access to the Temple Mount, based on intelligence information about plans by worshipers to riot at Al-Aqsa mosque, has also caused scuffles and violent confrontations in the areas around the Temple Mount.
Over the past month, the Nof Zion neighborhood has become a flash point for Arab violence.
“We’ve had terrible outbursts, they’ve tried to set the neighborhood aflame,” said Uri Doplat, a neighborhood resident. “They’ve burned cars, blocked roads, things that we aren’t used to.” He also told of “five or six firebombs that came flying over our heads,” when a number of residents left the local synagogue last week. “One hit a store, another set a garbage can alight, and the police came after 20 minutes with a squeal of brakes but didn’t arrest anyone, even though it was clear from which house they’d been thrown. The police aren’t demonstrating who’s boss. The police approach is to let them let off steam and they’ll calm down, but it doesn’t work. The police seem rather helpless.”
Right-wing city councilor Arieh King, who lives in Ma’aleh Zeitim and holds the city’s emergency and security portfolio, is furious at the police. “During the first meeting of the municipal emergency committee the [police] district commander said that what went on last year with fireworks wouldn’t repeat itself,” said King. “Indeed, it hasn’t repeated itself; it’s gotten a lot worse. Last year [the fireworks were] just a problem of noise, now it’s a weapon.”
On his Facebook page, King called for the dismissal of Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch, saying, “Since he assumed his post, the personal security of Israeli residents in general and in Jerusalem in particular has deteriorated, as a result of instructions to the Jerusalem police to limit confrontations with the Muslim enemy at home at the expense of the security of the rest of Jerusalem’s residents.”
The Jerusalem police responded that it was “operating for more than a month with bolstered forces against the serious disturbances in East Jerusalem neighborhoods, in an effort to preserve the residents’ security and quality of life... To date, 482 rioters have been arrested, 179 indictments have been filed and more arrests are expected. During the operations, the district police and border police officers demonstrated determination and courage and defended Jewish homes in East Jerusalem with their bodies, with more than 100 policemen lightly wounded.”
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