Hundreds of Arab citizens are protesting in Jaffa Friday for the fifth consecutive day 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.
The protesters arrived earlier for a mass Friday noon prayer led by Sheikh Akrama Sabri of the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. An hour later, protesters proceeded to the Jaffa Clock Tower roundabout, blocking roads and chanting and calling on the local police chief to resign. Large police forces arrived at the scene.
Abed Abu Shehade, who has attended the protests since the demolition began on Monday, is a well-knwon social activist in Jaffa and a member of the city council and a member of Mayor Ron Huldai's coalition. Following recent events he has decided to leave the coalition.
"The municipality turns council members into bureaucrats struggling for budgets," he said. "I'm not willing to pay the price for a decision I didn't make. I have to be loyal to my constituents, and my job is to deal with public inquiries instead of making decisions."
On Tuesday night, About 300 Arab-Israeli residents of Jaffa began demonstrating against the decision and clashes broke out with security forces, which responded with stun grenades to disperse the crowd.
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.
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.
- Construction on Muslim cemetery brings mistrust between Jaffa's Arabs and Israeli authorities to boiling point
- Jaffa residents clash with police over demolition of Muslim burial ground
- Tel Aviv begins demolition of 18th-century Muslim cemetery to build homeless shelter
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."