Israel Decides Against Jerusalem Barriers During Ramadan Following Clashes Last Year

Senior police officials say decision shows placement of barriers last year, which led to escalating unrest, was a serious mistake

Police detain a protester near the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem, last April.
Police detain a protester near the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem, last April.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Police have decided not to place crowd-control barriers opposite the Damascus Gate of Jerusalem’s Old City during the Muslim holiday month of Ramadan, after heavy clashes erupted over the barriers during the holiday last year.

Ramadan is set to begin in about six weeks. This year, officials from the Jerusalem Municipality plan on holding cultural events at the site for the city’s Muslim community, a move that has the support of Jerusalem District police commander Doron Turgeman. Last year, it was Turgeman who proposed the use of the barriers which led to clashes at the site.

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Ramadan is expected to begin on April 2 and end May 2, and police are already preparing for the Muslim holy month, during which observant Muslims fast during daytime hours. Members of the public gather at the plaza in front of the Damascus Gate during the holiday, as tens of thousand of people sit at the site or pass through it every evening.

Last April, police put up the barricades to prevent young people from sitting at the gate after the nightly meal which breaks the daytime fast. The barriers prompted clashes between Palestinians and the police on a nearly nightly basis until the police decided to remove them a few days later. Those clashes were followed by the firing of rockets from Gaza at Jerusalem, which precipitated May's military conflict with Hamas and violent rioting in Israeli cities with mixed Jewish and Arab populations.

Like in previous years, the city is planning events for the Muslim community at Damascus Gate, hoping to attract families. In a meeting last week at Mayor Moshe Leon’s office, Turgeman backed the plan to hold events and put food stalls at Damascus Gate during Ramadan. City officials criticized the police’s decision to put up fences last year, claiming it led to the escalation.

Israeli police near the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem, last May.

Senior police officials backed the decision, and said it shows that "last year, there was no logic behind preventing youth from sitting in the area of the Damascus Gate, which eventually led to Operation Guardian of the Walls and the security escalation.” They added that “this year’s decision shows how bad of a mistake the fences were.”

Meanwhile, tensions have been simmering in Jerusalem ahead of the planned eviction of the Salem family from their home in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, which authorities say is expected to occur anywhere between March 1 and April 1. Police are likely to seek an earlier or later eviction, to avoid it coinciding with Ramadan.

However, due to the proximity of Ramadan to Passover and the recent events in Sheikh Jarrah, police estimate that there will be clashes in Jerusalem as well as in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip this year.

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