Israeli police are determined to escalate the violence in Jerusalem

From Sheikh Jarrah to Damascus Gate to Al-Aqsa Compound, the police have initiated and intensified a campaign of suppression against Palestinians.

Palestinian demonstrators flee after Israeli security forces fire tear gas outside Damascus Gate, Jerusalem, May 8, 2021.

For four straight days last week, Israeli police dispersed young Palestinians who had come to Sheikh Jarrah to show support for families facing forcible expulsion by settlers in the East Jerusalem neighborhood. The police labeled the nightly vigils “clashes” and “riots.” In reality, however, it was the police that had resorted to violence.

Over the last three days, Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah have begun to actively confront the police and the settlers, including by setting fire to a settler’s car. Palestinians in the neighborhood are protesting the pending eviction of four families from their homes and their replacement by Israeli settlers. Just like when the police tried to ban Palestinians from gathering at the Damascus Gate plaza in the Old City during the first half of Ramadan, the officers in Sheikh Jarrah used unnecessary force, which was followed by more force. When Palestinians confronted the police, the officers used it as an excuse to ramp up the violence.

On Friday, during the weekly demonstration in Sheikh Jarrah, policemen threw stun grenades at a crowd of mostly Israeli left-wing activists. Later in the evening, Palestinians who had arrived from Umm al-Fahem in Israel’s north were barred by police from entering the neighborhood and forced to hold their Iftar meal — the nightly feast that breaks the Ramadan fast — on the sidewalk.

Suddenly, Sheikh Jarrah’s Uthman ibn Affan Street began to resemble Hebron’s segregated Shuhada Street, with a large number of roadblocks, hundreds of armed policemen, cavalry, commanders walking around with maps, and settlers entering and exiting relatively freely. Meanwhile, Palestinians and left-wing activists were blocked from entering Sheikh Jarrah without being given any legal justification.

While Palestinian families in danger of eviction held their Iftar meal in front of the Ghawi family’s home — which settlers took over in 2009 — settlers outside the house danced and sang Shabbat songs under the protection of dozens of armed police officers.

The previous night, a settler shot pepper spray at the Palestinians breaking their fast across from the Ghawi family home. The incident quickly turned into a brawl, with Palestinians and settlers throwing chairs and other objects at one another while the police retreated. Unsurprisingly, a day later, Salah Diab, one of the leaders of the struggle against the settlers in the neighborhood, was arrested for “nationalist-motivated assault.” Not a single settler involved in the melee was taken into custody.

That same night, I filmed Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Aryeh King telling prominent Palestinian activist Muhammed Abu Hummus — who had come to Sheikh Jarrah to show his solidarity with the residents — that it is a shame he didn’t take a bullet to the head. As Orly Noy reported, the Jerusalem Municipality decided to treat King’s remarks, directed at a resident of a city he is responsible for, as a “personal matter.”

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