About 300 Arab-Israeli residents of Jaffa demonstrated on Tuesday night against the decision by the Tel Aviv-Jaffa Municipality to demolish an 18th century Muslim burial ground that was discovered after plans had been made to build a new homeless shelter and commercial space on the site. Clashes broke out with security forces that used stun grenades to disperse the crowd.
Demonstrators marched north from Ajami in southern Jaffa toward the site, where they intended to carry out a mass prayer against the demolition which started Monday. Police say the march swiftly turned violent with demonstrators setting fire on garbage bins and throwing them in the middle of Yefet street, one of the main Jaffa thoroughfares. A helicopter with a search light pointed on Jaffa's streets could be seen circling above the area throughout the protest.
"Rioters set garbage bins and cars on fire, burned tires and threw stones at a bus," the police statement said. Video footage provided by police shows a bus from Egged, which runs public transportation in Tel Aviv, on the side of the road, its windows shattered. The driver was not hurt. The police statement added that "rioters targeted a police car, fired fireworks at a group of officers and threw stones at them." One demonstrator was arrested while several were detained and then released.
One protestor named Abed said: "We marched in an orderly manner and just wanted to express our pain, and police threw stun grenades to disperse us. Violence started because we were prevented from reaching the site. Little kids fell on the ground, that's disgusting."
City officials have given assurances that the graves at the site would not be damaged and that if there is a need to remove the bones of the dead, they will be reinterred elsewhere at the site.
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Nevertheless, after the discovery of the burial ground protesting residents displayed a large sign with a reference to Mayor Ron Huldai that read: “Huldai is desecrating Muslim graves.”
The chairman of the Jaffa Muslim Council, Tarek Ashqar, told Haaretz that the protests would be stepped up. “Huldai is as stubborn as a mule. He had an opportunity to make peace with the Muslims and the Arab community, but he’s a bully.”
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.