JERUSALEM – Clashes between Israelis and Palestinians erupted overnight in Jerusalem when hundreds of supporters of an extremist group of Jewish supremacy organized a march, chanting “Death to the Arabs”, near the Old City.
The violence was the culmination of rising tensions between Jews and Arabs in Jerusalem and elsewhere in the past two weeks. Palestinian media reported that 78 Palestinians were injured and 15 of them were treated in hospitals. About 20 Israeli police officers and at least 16 Israeli civilians were also injured.
According to the police, more than 50 people were arrested in the fray, both in East Jerusalem, mainly Palestinian, and in West Jerusalem, largely Jewish. The mayor of the city, Moshe Lion, said he asked the police to ban the extremist group’s demonstration, but was told it was impossible.
“There is no doubt that it was superfluous,” Mr. Lion told Kan, Israeli public radio. “It hasn’t added to the quiet we need now.”
One of the main sticking points of the violence was the march of hundreds of mostly young religious supporters of the Jewish supremacist organization Lehava. They intended to confront young Palestinians who clashed with police every night in the vicinity of the Old City.
The US embassy in Jerusalem said it was “deeply concerned” about the violence and called in a statement for “responsible voices” to call for an end to the incitement and restore calm in the city.
Arab-Israeli tensions have increased since the beginning of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, about 10 days ago. Fueling the friction, in recent days Palestinian youth posted clips on the TikTok video sharing app that showed attacks on religious Jews, including one being slapped while traveling on the light rail in Jerusalem. Another had a drink while walking in the Old City.
In the ancient port of Jaffa near Tel Aviv, an Orthodox Jewish man was beaten by Arab residents, sparking protests and clashes this week.
In response, young Jews attacked Palestinians in central West Jerusalem and Lehava called for a Thursday evening march to restore Jewish “honor”.
Palestinians have been clashing with Israeli police in East Jerusalem for several nights, after police prevented them from gathering on the steps in front of the Damascus Gate, which form a kind of amphitheater at an entrance to the Old City. The steps have traditionally served as a festive meeting place for young people during the night following the breaking of the daily fast during Ramadan.
On the night between Thursday and Friday, hundreds of police officers, some on horseback, created a buffer between the Jewish and Palestinian protesters, and both camps clashed with police, who dispersed the crowd with stun grenades and cannons. water.
Jews and Palestinians then split into gangs and wandered the streets on their respective sides of the city in search of potential victims.
Police formed a tight ring around Jerusalem’s Old City on Friday, fearing further violence.
Israel annexed East Jerusalem after conquering it during the 1967 Middle East War and claims sovereignty over the entire city. Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state and most of the world considers it occupied territory.
Video clips circulating on social media at night showed scenes of crowd violence such as Palestinians viciously beating up a Jewish driver whose car was set on fire and Jewish youths stoning a Palestinian home while children cried inside.
At noon on Friday, a tense calm prevailed in Jerusalem. The main evidence of the night’s violence, besides the massive police presence, were dozens of stones scattered along the streets, including a major thoroughfare running along the demarcation line between East and West Jerusalem.
The mayor said the violence came after months of what he called exceptional cooperation between Jewish and Palestinian representatives in West and East Jerusalem in efforts to contain the coronavirus pandemic.
Palestinian leaders blamed Jewish extremists and the Israeli government for the outbreak of violence.
“East Jerusalem is the eternal capital of Palestine and it is a red line,” the office of Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority based in the West Bank, said in a statement on Thursday.
Fatah, the main Palestinian party that dominates the authority, praised the Palestinian residents of Jerusalem for defending the city and the mosque of Aqsa, the revered Muslim holy place in the Old City, “bare-chested”.
Video footage showed Palestinians pouring into the mosque for prayer on Friday chanting “Allahu akbar”, or God is great, and “martyrs are marching in Jerusalem by the millions”, a Palestinian rallying cry.
Myra Noveck helped create reports.