Lighting a Fire in Jerusalem

Haaretz Editorial
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Police respond to protests in the Damascus Gate area of Jerusalem, three days ago.
Haaretz Editorial

Violence has returned to Jerusalem’s streets. As in previous waves of violence, it’s hard to put a finger on the exact moment when it began or to identify a single guilty party. But just as they have in the past, Israel’s government and police are acting irresponsibly and aggressively and thereby contributing to the violence.

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At the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, police decided that East Jerusalem residents should be prevented, at any cost, from sitting on the steps leading to the Old City’s Damascus Gate. They therefore closed off the area with police barriers. And they did so even though this is the most important public plaza in East Jerusalem, the Palestinian community’s main city square. The police provided no satisfactory explanation for this decision, and many East Jerusalem residents viewed the closure of the steps as one humiliation too many. Demonstrations began at Damascus Gate, and even though they were largely nonviolent police dispersed them forcibly. At the same time, an ugly practice began in which young Palestinians assaulted Jews in order to post videos of the attacks on social media.

Then, as if tensions were not high enough, lawmakers from the far-right Religious Zionism party went to Damascus Gate Sunday to scold police officers for not doing enough to protect Jews. They were accompanied by a group of young people who sang songs of anti-Palestinian hatred and vengeance against. Two hours later, Mohammed Abu Ziyadeh, 17, was attacked at a light rail station on Jaffa Street. And on Monday, the assaults on random Arabs escalated. Dozens of young Jews rampaged through central Jerusalem for hours, looking for Arabs to assault. The police arrested six of them, but most of the assailants were left in peace.

The scenes in Jerusalem in recent days recall the terrible days of 2014 and 2015. And these attacks are being promoted by cynical, extremist politicians. Moreover, police are behaving aggressively toward Palestinians while displaying indifference to Jewish assailants. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is busy fighting for his own political survival, and Public Security Minister Amir Ohana have also played a role in the violent, racist atmosphere spreading throughout the country. The fact that for years they did not see fit to condemn attacks by Jews, combined with their incitement against the Arab community, means they bear responsibility.

The police must back down, remove the barriers on the stairs, begin a dialogue with East Jerusalem residents and ensure the safety of all the capital’s residents in every part of the city. And Ohana and Netanyahu must stop playing with fire. Politicians are expected to demonstrate restraint and responsibility, not to add fuel to the flames.

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

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