Analysis

To Quell Palestinian Protests, Israel Divides and Conquers in Jerusalem

Despite the police's relative successes in quelling widespread violence around Jerusalem, it could start anew

Israeli border guards attempt to disperse Palestinian Muslim worshippers outside Lions' Gate, a main entrance to the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem's Old City, on July 22, 2017, as they gather in protest against new Israeli security measures implemented at the holy site following an attack that killed two Israeli policemen the previous week.
AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP

Thousands of people took part in demonstrations and clashes with the police around the Old City of Jerusalem after Muslim prayers on Friday. Such large numbers of protesters have not been seen in Jerusalem since the murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir by Jewish extremists in the summer of 2014.

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More clashes were anticipated later Saturday night. Despite the numbers of protesters, the Jerusalem police have managed to contain the events and keep them from turning into major riots.

The Jerusalem police have in recent years developed a sophisticated doctrine for dealing with mass unrest that combines crowd dispersal means and crowd control using barriers. The goal is to contain the protest, to keep it from spilling into West Jerusalem and onto the capital’s main arteries, and it was accomplished this weekend.

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But the large number of personnel the police had to deploy to and the measures they took disrupted life in East Jerusalem and, to some extent, throughout the city. Police checkpoints to keep prospective Muslim worshippers out of the city have been deployed, and every vehicle is checked. Nearly all streets in East Jerusalem’s business districts, and the shops in them, were closed.

The police tactic was to divide the Palestinians into groups as small as possible. Hence, the numerous roadblocks, to keep people from gathering in one place. Moreover, it seems that police officers were instructed to forcibly disperse crowds of worshippers, even without provocation.

In Wadi Joz, for example, it could not be determined whether so much as a bottle of water was thrown at police before officers charged. In any case, stones were thrown only after mounted police charged the crowd, deploying vehicle-mounted water cannons, stun grenades and sponge grenades, after which the crowd quickly dispersed.

The problems began after the initial dispersal of the crowd, when small groups of protesters continued to clash with police. Two protesters were shot and killed, one in Ras al Amud and another in A-Tur. According to the Palestinians, at least one was shot with live rounds. The bodies were removed quickly from the hospital for hasty burial after a Border Police contingent surrounded it, apparently to take the bodies for autopsy.

Omar al-Abed, the lone-wolf attacker at Halamish, may not be the last. In nearly all of the dozens of such attacks over the past three years, including stabbings, shootings and car rammings, the assailants said (either on Facebook or under questioning) they had acted in order to protect Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque, and in this Abed was no different.

The Facebook post of Omar al-Abed, posted hours before he killed three Israelis in the West Bank settlement of Halamish.