Thursday’s events in Jerusalem are a stain on Israel’s leadership, on the Israel Police and on Israeli society. For long hours, hundreds of angry teenagers rampaged through the city center, attacking passersby and journalists, throwing rocks and bottles at police officers and chanting “Death to Arabs” and other racist slogans.
This demonstration, by the abhorrent, racist Lehava organization, came after a long period of incitement by politicians from the Religious Zionism party, who amplified only severe assaults on Jews by Palestinians in the Old City, and not attacks on Arabs. The rest of the politicians, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Public Security Minister Amir Ohana, did not see fit to mention this incitement and violence against Arabs.
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The police, for their part, made the shamefully irresponsible and inexplicable decision to provoke the city’s Palestinian community by closing the steps outside the Damascus Gate at the start of the holy month of Ramadan, which began April 12. It is difficult to overstate how humiliating this decision was to Jerusalem’s Palestinian residents, on top of the daily humiliations that are their lot. In contrast to its tolerant approach to the Lehava protesters, the police also acted with exceptional aggression toward the Palestinians, including the extensive use of crowd dispersal means, which also affect innocent bystanders.
Palestinians have also played a role in the violence that has erupted in Jerusalem in the past two weeks. Young Palestinians committed a number of egregious assaults on Jewish passersby, which were filmed, shared and amplified on social media. But partial responsibility for these developments lies with Israel, which annexed East Jerusalem 54 years ago and has shaped this part of the city ever since.
Residents of East Jerusalem are an anomaly in the world: They constitute 40 percent of the city’s population but are not citizens of the state of which it is the capital – or indeed of any other state. They do not have the right to vote for any parliament that has an impact on their lives. (Israel has not yet decided whether to allow them to vote in the Palestinian legislative election scheduled for May 22.) As a result, and because Israel does everything possible to suppress the Palestinian leadership in the city, these individuals lack all recourse.
Nevertheless, the Palestinian leadership, like its Israeli counterpart, can be expected to condemn attacks on innocent people. As in the past, it seems that the violence in Jerusalem spilled over into the Gaza Strip this weekend – with rocket fire from Gaza into southern Israel, alongside Israeli retaliation – which further exacerbates the frustration with the unsatisfactory way the government and the police are handling the events in the city.
Responsible leadership could have averted the growing danger to Jews in the city by creating a dialogue with its Palestinian residents, cultivating local leadership and instructing the police to act with tolerance in its dealings with the general public and with impartial resolve against violence and incitement.
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The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.