Everyone is spellbound by Ukraine. Everyone has reasoned opinions that they’ve acquired over five days. Nobody looks into their own backyard anymore, the one that recently exacted a painful price in blood and led to an oppressive brutality of civilians stupidly entitled “Operation Guardian of the Walls.”
East Jerusalem is a carpet of burning embers. That’s where the disaster will come from.
On Monday this week, Muslims marked the Isra’ and Mi’raj – the two parts of the prophet Muhammad’s Night Journey that, according to Islam, took him to heaven. Salah a-Din street was festive. Wearing their holiday best, families with their children and elderly came out and walked towards Herod’s Gate in the delightful sunshine of an early spring.
Suddenly, opposite the Herod’s Gate square, a police car and a security forces car appeared. Immediately, a crowd gathered around them. People photographed them and looked angrily at the policewoman who was calling out instructions to her colleague over a loudspeaker. But the squad car left shortly afterwards, and then a festive parade with drums, trumpets and jugglers began.
Yes, there was a national-militaristic element to it. Yes, some of the marchers wore capes with drawings of Al-Aqsa on them, and others wore khaki with Palestinian kefiyes. Palestinian flags are always embroidered on lapels.
“Is there Hamas or Northern Islamic Movement presence here?” I asked observers watching on the sidelines.
They laughed in my face. “Those are children in the Scouts movement,” they said.
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Indeed, most of the marchers were children and teenagers. It was a fancy-dress procession that took itself seriously. The police’s wise absence contributed to the event’s remaining exactly that.
I texted Haaretz reporter Nir Hasson, who was at Damascus Gate at the same time. He had reported earlier in the day that the police there had set up a water cannon. Damascus Gate is more problematic because of the chronic friction between Jewish and Muslim worshippers passing through it, so the police beefed up their presence, including erecting a fortified outpost. Hasson said that is what elicited so-called “nationalist chants” (consisting, apparently, mainly of praise for Mohammed Deif) and the sporadic hurling of bottles and stones.
What did the police do in response? Armed with clubs and grenades, they stormed the square, threw stun grenades and fired their water cannon at the crowd.
None of this resulted in the arrests of those who had been throwing bottles and stones, or even those who had chanted such terrible things, but it did result in a deaf 11-year-old girl being hit in the face. Another video clip shows the horrifically violent arrest of a teenage girl, who was brutally grabbed by two policemen. In the background you can hear stun grenades exploding, and women and children screaming. Videos made by people who ran after the water cannon showed hysterical children crying, and elderly and handicapped people on the side of the road who had been hit by the cannon’s powerful water jet. Was that show of force necessary on a holiday whose essence is a family event?
Jerusalem and the Al-Aqsa issue are at the core of Palestinian dignity. That’s the reason people like Itamar Ben-Gvir make pilgrimages to Sheikh Jarrah. This ATM never fails for them: Enter a little provocation or a little bullying, and out comes a riot that is certain to end in bloodshed.
The job of the police should be preventing incitement and putting out fires. The police must be the opposite of everything that Ben-Gvir is.
Ramadan is approaching. Pyromaniacs on both sides are standing by with matches. Before that, Israeli Public Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev must establish a wise and fair policy to govern the security forces’ conduct. Otherwise, what happened on Monday will be just a small preview of the next horror, which will endanger not the poor children in Ukraine but ours here in our home.