An Urban Intifada Is Underway in Jerusalem - and Israeli Officials Don't Know What to Do

The steps by the government, the municipality and the police only temporarily relieve the tension that leads to protests like stone-throwing.

Amos Harel
Amos Harel
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A Palestinian slings stones at Israeli police in an Arab suburb of Jerusalem
A Palestinian slings stones at Israeli police in an Arab suburb of JerusalemCredit: Reuters
Amos Harel
Amos Harel

The death of Jerusalem resident Alexander Levlovich after a Palestinian threw a stone at his car led to an emergency meeting with the prime minister following Rosh Hashanah. It was the second such meeting in little more than a week.

The agenda was drawn up in light of the many cases of stone-throwing and violence in Jerusalem, including on the Temple Mount and on Route 443 between Jerusalem and Modi’in. Proposals were lodged to stiffen penalties in a bid to deter potential stone-throwers.

But it seems defense and law enforcement officials don’t have many new recommendations. It’s hard to reinvent the wheel after so many years of fighting the phenomenon.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants to win approval of steps against stone-throwers, particularly to create deterrence by aiming at the pockets of parents of minors throwing stones. It’s reasonable to assume that in the coming month, a bit beyond the Jewish holidays, the police presence in and around Jerusalem will be beefed up.

This is especially the case on the Temple Mount and at the Western Wall, which large numbers of Jewish worshippers are expected to visit during Yom Kippur and Sukkot.

Another familiar weak point involves intelligence. The Shin Bet security service tends to focus on threats more severe than stone-throwing, while the police’s intelligence is deficient. Even when relatively large forces are deployed, it’s hard to use them efficiently because of the lack of information.

As always at such emergency meetings, some officials propose a relaxation of the rules on firing at stone-throwers. Most security officials remain dubious on that score. Loosening the reins leads to the killing of both minors who throw stones and uninvolved Palestinians.

Experience shows that a combination of casualties, funerals and more demonstrations all but ensures and escalation longer and more serious than the one before. And a hard line in the West Bank is more difficult in Jerusalem because of the international interest in events in the city.

Stone-throwing has now gained the media’s attention because of Levlovich’s murder in Jerusalem’s Arnona neighborhood. But actually an urban intifada has been underway on and off in East Jerusalem and the seam neighborhoods since the summer of 2014.

This followed the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens in Gush Etzion and the murder of an Arab teen in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Shoafat. The steps by the government, the municipality and the police only temporarily relieve the tension, not produce real calm.

There is also violence on Route 443, taken by more Israelis because of the road work on Route 1 from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv. According to the army’s figures, there has been no rise in stone-throwing on Route 443 compared to previous years, but it’s enough for a general feeling of lower security to increase anxiety and demands for harsh responses.

Meanwhile, the atmosphere is heating up on the Temple Mount as well. Earlier this week the police entered the Al-Aqsa Mosque to break up groups of Arab young men organizing for clashes on the holiday. It’s clear that the commander of the Jerusalem district, Maj. Gen. Moshe Edri, and his officers are taking no unnecessary chances — not after they were burned recently by the murder at the Gay Pride Parade.

The question of violence in Jerusalem, especially on the Temple Mount, is very sensitive politically considering the pressure on Netanyahu from the right. Pressure, in turn, is being put on the police.

The atmosphere on the Temple Mount typically heats up during the High Holy Days amid opposition by Muslims to visits by Jewish worshippers. This time, other elements are contributing to the mix. The decision by Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon to outlaw two Islamic groups operating on the Mount because of their involvement in violence has angered the Palestinians (and taken away convenient side income from the groups).

Another reason has to do with Hamas-Israel relations. For the past few months Hamas in Gaza has been hanging its hopes on efforts by international mediators to forge an agreement for a long-term cease-fire with Israel. Netanyahu and Ya’alon have made clear they don’t seek anything more than a limited cease-fire and an easing of restrictions at the Kerem Shalom crossing. They’re not interested in the broader steps Gaza was hoping for such as approval to establish a port.

It seems the moment Hamas realized that talks with Israel wouldn’t produce much, the group went back to pushing for more violence by Islamic activists linked to in it in Jerusalem and the West Bank.

During Rosh Hashanah, Jordan condemned police action on the Temple Mount. Amman has to issue such statements in keeping with its status as protector of the holy places in Jerusalem, which was bolstered in an unusual agreement with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas a few years ago.

Actually, Jerusalem and Amman continue to share close strategic interests, so it’s doubtful that tensions in Jerusalem — which don’t stem from provocative visits by ministers and Knesset Members to the Mount like last year — will undermine ties between the two countries.

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