Israeli Police Investigating Muslim-Christian Brawl on Jerusalem's Mount of Olives

The brawl started when dozens of young Muslims stormed a housing complex built for young couples by Jerusalem's Christian community on land owned by the Catholic Church

Police said they are investigating a massive brawl between Muslims and Christians on the Mount of Olives in East Jerusalem.  The battle, involving dozens of participants throwing stones and wielding iron bars, took place on Monday, August 20.  A number of people were injured, homes were damaged and cars vandalized in the rampage, which lasted about 90 minutes.

The brawl started when dozens of young Muslims stormed a housing complex built for young couples by Jerusalem's Christian community on land owned by the Catholic Church and sold to them for nominal sums.  The attack was stopped when other Muslim residents of the area intervened, forcing the attackers away. Christian residents say Israel Police arrived only after the incident had ended, though they had called several times and there is a Border Police base near the neighborhood.

One resident said that police told callers that the incident had been noted, but that no force would be dispatched to the scene.  “Every day there are Border Police around here, but suddenly when there's an attack like this no one comes.  It would have been enough for a Jeep to arrive, honk its horn, and they would have gone away.  If people from the village hadn't intervened there would have been murder here, that's clear.”   

A sulha reconciliation ceremony between the two sides, at which heads of families from the area apologized, was held on Saturday, August 25.  The event was attended by dignitaries from the West Bank and officials of the Palestinian Authority, who acted as sponsors.

During the past year there have been a number of confrontations between the Christian residents and a young Muslims squatting in an abandoned building near the Christian complex. This latest, most serious attack occurred when one of the young Muslims apparently made an insulting remark to a woman who lives in the Christian neighborhood. Her husband beat up the Muslim, who went back to his enclave and returned a short time later with what eyewitnesses say were between a 100 and 150 young Muslim men.

According to witnesses the attackers first went after cars, causing considerable damage. They then started to climb onto the balconies of the homes and threw rocks into them.

“They woke me up; I’m looking at the window and suddenly see dozens of guys climbing in, jumping between the balconies, breaking things and screaming “allahu akhbar,” and “jihad,” said one resident, who declined to be identified. “It could have been a massacre.”

After about an hour and a half, and after several residents had been hurt by stones and suffered damage to their property, the heads of  prominent Mount of Olives families intervened and forced the attackers to leave.

Residents say that only when the wounded were being evacuated did two policemen arrive in a patrol car, and even that was only to accompany the Magen David Adom ambulance that had come to take the injured.

In recent years, the Christian Palestinian population has been declining rapidly in Jerusalem and its environs. Christians say one reason is that they fear for their safety.

“We don’t have clans to protect us; we take the blows and move on,” said a Christian resident. “We want protection, which we can get only from the Israel Police. If the state won’t protect us, we’re doomed.”

Israel Police said that they had received a report of a massive brawl involving stones and iron bars at 22:23 that evening, and that a large force arrived after 19 minutes to separate the hotheads and calm things down.

It was not the first time, police said, that they’d been called in to deal with large confrontation and had been attacked by those involved, making it necessary to organize and equip a large force to be dispatched to the scene. Despite being attacked, police said that they had separated the two sides and helped Magen David Adom evacuate the wounded.