Put Out the Fire in Jerusalem

Haaretz Editorial
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Israeli police in the Old City of Jerusalem on Saturday night.
Israeli police in the Old City of Jerusalem on Saturday night.Credit: Emil Salman
Haaretz Editorial

On Friday, the last Friday of the holy month of Ramadan, tens of thousands of Muslims prayed in the mosques on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. When they finished, Palestinians began throwing rocks at police officers, who responded very aggressively and used force to clear the worshippers from the compound. The clashes there, in the Old City below and in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah went on for hours. More than 200 Palestinians as well as 18 police officers were injured. Videos from the Temple Mount and the Old City show police officers throwing stun grenades at children, attacking journalists and entering and damaging a first-aid station on the Temple Mount. It was the most violent night in Jerusalem for several years.

Watching the events of the past few weeks that led to this violence is like watching a car crash in slow motion. A series of bad decisions as well as aggressive and irresponsible behavior on the part of the police, with the backing of the cabinet, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing coalition partners, all while ignoring the flashing lights and the warnings from the international community – including from Jordan and the United Arab Emirates – ignited the conflagration.

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The chain of errors began when the police blocked the stairs outside the Old City’s Damascus Gate at the start of Ramadan, while ignoring the importance of the site and the sensitivity of the timing, with this being the first Ramadan after the coronavirus crisis; of the postponement of the Palestinian legislative election and of the plan of a private, right-wing organization to drive hundreds of people from their homes in Sheikh Jarrah. To all these must be added the inexplicably aggressive conduct of the police toward the Palestinians throughout the month of Ramadan in and around the Old City; the wanton actions of far right-wing lawmakers Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, who came to the city during this tense time in order to add fuel to the fire; and the march through the city by the far-right organization Lehava, which further exacerbated tensions.

The police commanders did not consider the great sensitivity of Jerusalem’s Palestinian residents during this period. They had the support of Netanyahu, whose many years in office have made him very aware of the Palestinians’ great sensitivity to events in Jerusalem in general and on the Temple Mount in particular. If this behavior continues over the next several days, which include both Jerusalem Day and Eid al-Fitr, Jerusalem and the entire state will be dragged into another round of bloodshed. To avert it, Netanyahu must order the police and politicians to demonstrate patience and caution. An effort should be made to establish a dialogue with heads of the Palestinian community in Jerusalem and with Israel’s Arab lawmakers, with the goal of restoring calm. In addition, consideration should be given to limiting the provocative events of Jerusalem Day, including the deliberately inflammatory Flag March through the Old City’s Muslim Quarter and the visit by Temple Mount activists to the Temple Mount.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.

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