Palestinians clash with police at Damascus Gate; 22 arrested, 17 wounded

Tensions have been rising in the area outside Jerusalem’s Old City for weeks, leading to ‘dozens’ of arrests

Palestinians clash with police during a protest at Damascus Gate in Jerusalem's Old City, on October 19, 2021. (Jamal Awad/Flash90)
Palestinians clash with police during a protest at Damascus Gate in Jerusalem's Old City, on October 19, 2021. (Jamal Awad/Flash90)

Palestinians clashed with police on Tuesday at Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate, leading to 22 arrests and 17 reportedly wounded as tensions at the flashpoint site spiked.

According to police, Palestinians violently rioted and threw stones at nearby buses, leading officers to use tear gas and sound grenades against the demonstrators. Police cannons also repeatedly sprayed foul-smelling skunk water over the streets and plaza near the archway in an effort to disperse the Palestinian protesters.

Palestinian Red Crescent medics reported treating 17 wounded Palestinians since Tuesday afternoon around the Damascus Gate area. Ten were hospitalized, while the rest were treated on site, the first-aid organization said.

The clashes were some of the worst in the Old City since May, when violence in the tense area helped ignite the 11-day war between Israel and Hamas.

Earlier, Palestinian media circulated videos on social media which they attested showed apparent Israeli police brutality as they broke up the Palestinian gatherings near Damascus Gate. In videos from the scene, Israeli police could be seen arresting several Palestinians, including children.

In another video, a Palestinian teenager can be alternately backing away from police and scuffling with officers, as they hit him with clubs and subsequently arrested him. An undercover officer also fired live bullets into the air during an arrest.

By late Tuesday evening, calm appeared to have been restored near Damascus Gate. Buses, car and foot traffic were seen flowing freely as police officers idled near the Old City entrance.

Tensions in Jerusalem between Palestinians and Israeli security forces have been rising over the past several days. The two sides have repeatedly clashed near Damascus Gate, leading to “dozens of arrests” over the past few weeks, according to Israel Police.

According to a spokesperson for the Egged bus service, “tens of buses” have been damaged over the past few weeks due to Palestinian stone-throwing in the area.

The recent clashes were ostensibly triggered by Israeli excavations near two Jerusalem cemeteries — the Yusufiyya Cemetery near Herod’s Gate and the Bab al-Rahma cemetery on the other side of the Old City, near the Lion’s Gate.

Palestinian activists have accused Israeli authorities of damaging Palestinian graves at the Yusufiyeh site. An Israeli court rejected the claims, as the land in question had been declared “open public land” and was not within the established boundaries of the cemeteries. An earlier injunction had ordered local Muslim organizations to cease treating the area as a cemetery.

But the clashes appear to have also gathered momentum after nights of repeated violence and arrests near Damascus Gate. On Tuesday morning, an intensive Israeli presence could already be seen deployed across the area, checking cars and searching Palestinian passersby.

“We’re seeing Israel punish Palestinians in our holy city, and this is leading to confrontations on a daily basis near Damascus Gate,” said Nasir al-Qaws, an East Jerusalem Palestinian and activist in the Fatah party.

Other videos on social media showed Jewish passengers in an Israeli bus passing through the area ducking as stones hurled by Palestinians smashed the bus windows. The Magen David Adom ambulance service said it transported two people aboard the bus who were wounded — including the bus driver — to the hospital.

Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Arieh King appeared to call for Palestinian rioters to be shot. “The time has come to shoot at the torso and hurt the terrorists,” King tweeted in response to the videos.

Damascus Gate emerged as a flashpoint in the escalation leading up to the 11-day May conflict between Israel and Gaza terror groups. In mid-April, Israeli police erected barricades on the stone stairway leading towards the archway during the Muslim holiday of Ramadan. The policy sparked violent clashes with Palestinians, for whom sitting on the stairway is a holiday tradition.

Police eventually removed the barricades following public criticism. But the confrontations ignited further violence, and the Jewish supremacist Lehava group held a counter-demonstration on the scene in late April. As the days went by, the nightly clashes at Damascus Gate became a regular event.

In early May, religious-nationalist Israelis planned to hold a traditional march through Damascus Gate on Jerusalem Day to celebrate Israel’s capture of the eastern part of the city in 1967. Security officials warned that the march could ignite tensions with Palestinians or even start a war, and the government rerouted the parade at the last moment.

Hamas terrorists fired rockets towards Israel despite the cancellation, citing recent police raids on the Temple Mount. The hilltop, Judaism’s holiest site, also houses the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam.

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