Clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli police erupted once again in East Jerusalem after days of unrest triggered by plans to evict Palestinians from land claimed by Jewish settlers.
Palestinian medics said 90 Palestinians were wounded in skirmishes in the early hours of Sunday in which police used stun grenades, rubber bullets and water cannon in response to stone-throwing by demonstrators. Israeli police said at least one officer had been injured.
Israel has come under growing international pressure to rein in right-wing Jewish settlers and halt planned evictions from the East Jerusalem neighbourhood that houses al-Aqsa mosque, one of Islam’s most revered sites.
The mosque stands in an area controlled by Israel, which captured East Jerusalem from Jordanian control in 1967, but administered by an Islamic foundation.
Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, both of which signed a peace treaty with Israel last year, condemned Israel, while the US – the Jewish state’s staunchest ally – said it was deeply concerned about the plan to evict several Palestinian families that have lived in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood for generations. Turkey called Israel’s actions “terrorism”.
“It is critical to avoid steps that exacerbate tensions or take us further away from peace,” the US state department said, listing Israeli expansion activities in the occupied West Bank, which includes East Jerusalem, as triggers.
Thousands of young Palestinians protested near the hilltops surrounding al-Aqsa mosque compound on Friday evening, and Israeli police fired rubber bullets and stun grenades to disperse crowds after the breaking of the daily Ramadan fast. Some 200 Palestinians were hurt, none fatally, and 17 police officers were injured, Palestinian and Israeli medics said.
Police said Palestinians had thrown rocks, fireworks and other objects at officers. Videos posted online showed police hurling stun grenades into crowds, including one that entered the mosque, the third holiest site in Islam.
Turkey condemned Israel for the confrontation. “Cruel Israel, the terrorist state Israel, is brutally and unethically attacking Muslims in Jerusalem,” Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said in televised remarks. “It is the duty of every Muslim to protect the hour, dignity and pride of Jerusalem. Every attack on Jerusalem’s places of worship and on Muslims is an attack on us.”
The area the mosque sits on, called the Temple Mount by Jews, is the holiest site in Judaism – the original home of the second temple destroyed by the Romans in AD70. Many Jews worship at the Western Wall, the surviving part of the temple, and face its direction during prayers.
Jewish settlers have for decades targeted Sheikh Jarrah, a middle-class Arab neighbourhood between East and West Jerusalem, aiming to turn it into a majority Jewish area.
Sheikh Jarra, is home to a relatively affluent Arab middle-class population, and ends close to the ancient Damascus Gate, an entrance to the walled Old City of Jerusalem. It also houses an ancient tomb to a Jewish high priest Simon the Just.
Long-running court cases involving the homes of several Palestinian families are expected to reach a verdict soon, with lawyers for the families bracing for a ruling that will hand their homes over to settlers.
At the centre of the dispute is whether the families legally owned the homes before 1967, when the neighbourhood was controlled by Jordan, or whether the land belonged to a Jewish trust that had legally purchased it from Arab families in 1876 during the Ottoman era.
Large parts of the neighbourhood had been razed while under Jordanian control between 1948 and 1967. The trust eventually sold its ownership to Jewish settlers, while the Arab families stayed on in their homes and have submitted documents to the courts challenging the trust’s purchase on parts of the land in dispute.
The private property rights of Palestinians living in the occupied territories are recognised by Israeli law, but human rights groups have documented that Palestinians regularly lose court cases involving these rights.
Jordan’s foreign minister Ayman Safadi said they had already provided documentation that the families were the “legitimate owners” of their homes.
A hearing on the case is scheduled for Monday, which is also Jerusalem Day, the anniversary of Israel’s victory in the 1967 war when it captured the Gaza Strip, the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
While relatively peaceful in the rest of the country, Jerusalem Day is a regular flashpoint between East Jerusalem Palestinians and right-wing Israelis. – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2021