Israel Police Prepare for Ramadan Prayers Amid East Jerusalem Unrest

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An Israeli policeman walks as a car belonging to Jewish settlers burns in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem, yesterday.
An Israeli policeman walks as a car belonging to Jewish settlers burns in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem, yesterday.Credit: AMMAR AWAD/ REUTERS

Police are preparing for a tense weekend as tens of thousands of Muslim worshippers are expected on the Temple Mount to mark the final Friday of the holy month of Ramadan and after a night of clashes in East Jerusalem between Israeli security forces and Palestinians.  

A large police presence has been stationed throughout Jerusalem's Old City to secure the Muslim worshippers. Officers have also set up roadblocks to control movement in the area.

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On Friday afternoon, left-wing organizations will be protesting Jewish settlement in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah. Arab activists are expected to come from northern Israel to rally in support of local Palestinians and to break the Ramadan fast together in the evening. Young Palestinians are being called to join protests in the neighborhood after the nightly prayers, as they have done throughout the week.    

Dozens of Palestinian residents of Sheikh Jarrah have faced potential eviction for years, amid intensified efforts from right-wing settler groups that assert the land was owned by Jews before 1948, when Israel was founded. The threat of eviction has led to frequent protests.

Meanwhile, Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi called on the international community to “prevent the crime of” Israel “evicting Palestinians from their homes” in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah.

Safadi called the Palestinians, whom settlers are trying to evict through the Israeli courts, the “rightful owners of their homes as documents provided by” Jordan to the Palestinian Authority “and home owners prove beyond doubt.” He argued that as the “occupying power, Israel is legally responsible for ensuring these ownership rights are protected.”

He warned that “Israel’s illegal and provocative measures” in East Jerusalem “are pushing tension to dangerous limits” and that Israel is “playing with fire.”

Safadi welcomed a statement by France, German, Italy, Spain and Britain “urging Israel to stop settlement building” in the West Bank. He also called for continued international pressure to prevent the eviction of the Sheikh Jarrah residents.

On Thursday night, police arrested 15 Palestinians in clashes between Palestinians and Jews in Sheikh Jarrah on suspicion of rioting, unruliness, throwing stones and fireworks and attacking officers and civilians. The East Jerusalem neighborhood has become a flashpoint after the far-right, Kahanist lawmaker Itamar Ben-Gvir relocated his office there in what he called a protest against police's failure to protect Jewish residents. 

Over the past week, dozens of Palestinians have gathered nightly for the evening meal breaking the Ramadan fast across from one of the buildings that settlers have moved into, where Ben-Gvir set up his makeshift, outdoor office. Minutes after the meal began, Ben-Gvir's supporters and Palestinian residents began to curse and shout at each other.

One of the Palestinians approached the group of Jews, one of whom sprayed the Palestinian with pepper spray. Palestinians then began to throw chairs, stones and whatever was on hand at the Jews who threw stones back, and were then forced to seek cover inside the building. Police tried to quell the violence for hours.

Two Palestinian men dismantled Ben-Gvir's makeshift office and tore the signs that had been placed there, but it was restored soon after. Over the course of the night, police said, passersby were assaulted near the light rail station and a nearby street.

Clashes intensified after young Palestinian men arrived at Sheikh Jarrah from Damascus Gate when Ramadan prayers ended overnight Thursday. Palestinians then torched a car belonging to a Jewish resident; three Jewish men came outside with guns drawn to wait for police, and one fired towards one of the attackers. No one was hurt by the gunfire. 

Saturday marks Laylat al-Qadr ("Night of Power"), the holiest night in the Islamic calendar. In most years it draws about 200,000 Muslims to the Temple Mount, but the event is expected to be much smaller this year, as fewer West Bank Palestinians will be allowed in due to coronavirus restrictions. The Civil Administration and the Health Ministry are permitting only 10,000 vaccinated worshippers to enter from the territory.

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