Israel Police arrested two teenagers and two young men in Jaffa, after a firebomb was thrown at a city building, amid intense protests.
The protests against the Tel Aviv Municipality's decision to allow the demolition of an 18th-century Muslim burial ground intensified Friday overnight when a firebomb was hurled at a local government building, causing slight damage.
Two teenagers, one 15 and the other 13, were detained on Saturday overnight on suspicion of burning a garbage bin and possession of dangerous materials.
Following an interrogation, the 15-year-old was arrested. A hearing is scheduled on Sunday at Tel Aviv's youth court to extend his detention, a police statement said.
During the arrest, two young men, aged 19 and 21, allegedly threw stones at the police, which led to a foot chase and their arrest, the police added.
The burial ground was discovered after plans had been made to build a new homeless shelter and commercial space on the site. Earlier this week, the municipality began operating at the site after the Tel Aviv District Court approved the move.
On Friday afternoon, hundreds of people, led by Jaffa's Muslim community, protested across the city. They stepped up the protests throughput the night, torching some 10 garbage bins, several trees in two parks, two cars and a truck. One of the demonstrators threw an improvised firebomb at a building that belongs to the municipality, causing mild damage to the building, according to the municipality, which sees such acts as rioting.
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The Joint List, a left-wing predominantly Arab-Israeli party, released a statement calling for a stop to the plans. “The attempts to erase the signs of the Arab past in Jaffa are attempts to destroy Arab presence there today, a bulldozer that destroys a grave hurts the sensitivity of an entire community that respects its dead and its burial ground,” the statement read. “Those who see the graves being destroyed in their neighbourhood fear their homes and their graves will also be destroyed,” it added.
Calling on the municipality to engage in dialogue with the committee of protestors to find an alternative solution to build the homeless shelter, the party added: “The Tel Aviv-Jaffa Municipality and the mayor Ron Huldai partake in the long-term government plan of dispossession and destruction of the Arab-Palestinian public.”
Protesters calling to protect the al-Is'af burial ground have been taking to the streets over the past five days, alongside some demonstrations following the police killing of autistic Palestinian Eyad Hallaq in Jerusalem. Over the past three days, some protests spilled into violence.
Speaking on Channel 12 News, Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai on Saturday put the blame on police for the protests’ spillover into violence, arguing they should have prepared better. He also downplayed the protesters' demands, stressing that construction plans will be carried out on the site in question.
The Chairman of the Muslim Council in Jaffa Tarek Ashkar told Haaretz: "We are against property damage and certainly against human injury, God forbid. We are the victims of civilian casualties in this case, and instead of the police protecting us or at least allowing us to protest by law, it decides to use excessive force against us. Everyone saw how armed forces from head to toe in guns and weapons – tools that are fit for war – faced off against ordinary civilians, all of whom just wanted to take part in a legitimate protest."
Ashkar continued by asking "why is everyone surprised at the burning of trash cans that cost a single shekel to the municipality, while ignoring all the facts that show the excessive violence practiced against Muslim residents in town? The fortification of the mayor and the executive leadership in their position and distortion, rendering and even lies will not solve the problem, but the complete opposite. We will continue to protest by law and even go above and beyond."
The Abraham Initiative, a non-profit advocating for the advancement of Arab-Jewish equality, said: "The tension in Jaffa is worrying; the mayor, the police and the leaders of the Arab community must prevent the deterioration of their relationship. Non-violent protests must be allowed and they must reach a solution through dialogue."
According to the association, "the police must allow the right of non-violent protest, to avoid over-enforcement and police violence, which we have recently seen its dire consequences."
The protests spread across several streets in the city, and were not limited to Yeffet Street, where most of the demonstrations took place in previous days. The municipality said it views gravely the firebomb incident, carried out as a symbolic act aimed at damaging government property.
"Those who are carrying out these acts are a handful of people who don't represent Jaffa residents, who respect and trust the municipality. We will go ahead with the plan to build a shelter for the homeless as the court authorized. We won't accept any violent acts against municipality employees or vandalism to public property," the Tel Aviv-Jaffa municipality said in a statement.
The Israel Police said that they will "continue working to bring lawbreakers to justice, who not only caused damage to government property and symbols, but whose thuggish behavior is disrupting civilian life, endangers human lives and causes damage to property."
The U.S. Embassy in Israel on Saturday issued a warning to its citizens, calling on them to avoid the Jaffa area and saying that "protests may turn violent."
On Tuesday, about 300 of Jaffa's Arab residents began demonstrating against the decision to demolish the Muslim cemetery and clashes broke out with security forces, which responded with stun grenades. In recent days, authorities say protesters have stepped up acts of violence against police forces and the municipality.
In January, after two years of deliberations between the city and residents of Jaffa and the local Muslim council, the Tel Aviv District Court rejected legal challenges to the plan and cleared the way for the project. Plans call for accommodations for about 80 people at the homeless shelter, to provide initial housing to homeless people who are undergoing drug rehabilitation.