Police used flash grenades and water cannons to disperse demonstrators in Jaffa Sunday night, as some 200 residents gathered to protest the construction of a homeless shelter atop a Muslim cemetery that has inflamed tensions between the Tel Aviv municipality and its Muslim residents.
Four protesters were arrested, according to police.
Police said protesters had blocked roads and lit fires in trash bins on the main throughway of Yefet Street near Jaffa's famed clock tower. They added that large forces were present at the scene, that the police had closed off the street to traffic and requested that protesters disperse.
Protesters marched from the Jabalia Mosque toward the site of the Muslim cemetery, where a large number of officers were waiting. The police corralled some protesters into small alleyways, who started a large fire in more than five trash cans and threw rocks and fireworks in response.
Police threw dozens of flash grenades toward protesters and used water cannons in an attempt to clear the area. Meanwhile, protesters threw stones and other objects as well as setting off fireworks toward police.
Mohammad Edrei, the elected chairman of the board of trustees for Muslim charitable trust properties, said “Yesterday, just hours ago, on Rothschild Boulevard we saw on television how the same police force – even the same department – disperses thousands of protesters,” referring to Saturday’s protests against the prime minister in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. “All the officers were only armed with gloves, not clubs and flash grenades and assault rifles. They want to disperse protesters in Jaffa who are coming to preserve the sanctity of graves with a heavy hand and without patience or tolerance,” he said.
“Yesterday the police turned away protesters with their hands," Edrei added. "I’m embarrassed to put these things into proportion because here it’s several dozen protesters compared to thousands on Rothschild. If this isn’t police racism in action, what is?”
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Tarek Ashkar, director of the Islamic Council, told officers: “Yesterday you handled protesters in Tel Aviv with kid gloves and here you’re throwing flash grenades. Shame on you. Yesterday you gave out 300 masks to protesters and today you threw 300 grenades. You are racists.”
Police said that they had acted with “maximum restraint,” but added that “during the course of the illegal protest four people were arrested for disturbing the peace, violence and attacking officers… stones were thrown toward officers and live fireworks were thrown toward police forces. Police identified criminal actions and the police will act to bring them to justice.”
Jaffa resident Messri Aboudin, who attended the protest, said that “The mayor should be ashamed. The court rules in favor of the mayor. There is no justice in the court … It's a historic place. We need to know our history. [The mayor is] trying to hurt us through history … Where is respect for the dead? Why does he want to destroy the good things in the city? Doesn’t he see what is happening in Jaffa?”
“Shame on the principals of Jaffa schools and the students,” Aboudin added, “It's time for them to come and give us a hand in the demonstrations.”
Numerous protests have taken place in Jaffa throughout the past few months against the Tel Aviv municipality's plans to build on the site, many involving clashes between protesters and police.
In early July, a Tel Aviv court has rejected an appeal to halt the city’s construction of a homeless shelter on the site of a Muslim cemetery in Jaffa, the latest step in a legal battle that has inflamed tensions between the municipality and its Muslim residents.
The Islamic Council had petitioned against the construction, alleging that the permit that the municipality possessed had expired. The court, which had frozen construction, called for an additional hearing on July 22. The hearing was moved up to Sunday because of an urgent request by the municipality, who claimed that the petition-induced delay was causing it financial damage.