The police expect the recent clashes between Palestinians and right-wing Jews in Jerusalem to die down this week, as fewer acts of violence took place during Saturday’s confrontations at Damascus Gate and Herod’s Gate in the Old City.
At the same time, they fear that the relative calm may be fragile, and that a few isolated incidents may inflame the clashes and cause them to re-ignite in other areas around Jerusalem and the West Bank.
Officers present at the clashes employed more moderate crowd control means than in past days as well, and arrested fewer protesters and less aggression at protest locations. The police, commanded by Jerusalem District Chief Doron Turgeman, brought a water cannon in order to intimidate the protesters, but did not use it. Police also threw far fewer stun grenades Saturday than used during the past week. In a few instances, police used force to quickly clear young Palestinians gathered at the sites, but seemed to be relatively tolerant of the young people present.
About 1,500 police officers were stationed in the city on Saturday, particularly in East Jerusalem, Damascus Gate and Sheikh Jarrah. They were joined by Border Police and special police forces from other Israeli districts. They patrolled sidewalks in order to prevent right-wing activists from attacking Palestinians and left-wing activists.
At the same time, the weekend saw an uptick in the number of assaults on Jewish pedestrians in the Old City and in East Jerusalem. Most of the incidents involved physical and verbal assaults, but some were more malicious. In one case, a group of young men beat a man who was walking his dog, and in others, Palestinians threw stones at cars belonging to Israelis who were driving through East Jerusalem neighborhoods. In the coming days, the police intend to indict a number of Palestinian youth who uploaded a video beating Jews on the social media app TikTok, and police believe that the move will also help calm tensions.
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It has been difficult to pinpoint a direct cause for this round of violence, unlike previous bouts of violence that were sparked by a particular event. In 2014, the murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir and the war in Gaza inflamed tensions; in 2015 and 2017 it was Palestinian fears that the status quo on the Temple Mount would change. In past days, Palestinian locals have cited the closure of Damascus Gate plaza during Ramadan, an increased Jewish presence in the city’s Palestinian neighborhoods, fear of the right-wing extremist group Lehava and their low quality of life. The fact that there is no consensus on this round of violence shows that there might not be one, and engenders optimism that tensions will quell, but a single attack may change the balance.
The Palestinians in Jerusalem have been hard-hit financially by the coronavirus crisis, since many of them work in industries that were shut down by the pandemic, such as tourism, catering and the service sector. For many Muslims, the Ramadan holiday marks a turning point, with renewed hopes for change and a fresh start for businesses, but the past week’s clashes have put a damper on this.
But there is another event that may fan the flames. This year, Laylat al-Qadr, the holiest night of Ramadan and the day when hundreds of thousands of Muslims gather to pray on the Temple Mount, might fall this year on Jerusalem Day. The latter, which celebrates the reunification of following the Six-Day War, usually includes a flag parade in which tens of thousands of religious Zionist youth march through the city. This has been a source of tension with Arab residents in previous years, including in 2019, when Palestinians hurled stones and chairs at security forces for allowing Jews to enter the Temple Mount on Jerusalem Day, which also fell during the final days of Ramadan.