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4 arrested in clashes with police in Jaffa over construction on Muslim cemetery

Hundreds protest less than a week after work re-started on homeless shelter; some hurl stones and shoot fireworks at cops, accused by demonstrators of using excessive force

Police prepare to confront protesters in Jaffa on July 19, 2020. (Israel Police)
Police prepare to confront protesters in Jaffa on July 19, 2020. (Israel Police)

Four protesters were arrested during clashes with police in Jaffa Sunday night during renewed demonstrations against the municipality’s plan to build a homeless shelter over an old Muslim cemetery.

Some 200 locals participated in the protested, with some of them lighting dumpsters ablaze and hurling stones and shooting fireworks at officers, police said, while demonstrators accused cops of employing excessive force.

Police, some of them on horseback, chased protesters through the streets and also used water-cannons and stun grenades to disperse the crowds.

The Haaretz daily quoted Jaffa Islamic Council head Tareq Ashkar scolding police, claiming officers used “kid gloves” in containing protesters in Tel Aviv at an anti-government protest over the weekend, while Arab protesters in Jaffa were being bombarded by stun grenades.

The protests took place less than a week after work on the homeless shelter re-started, after a Tel Aviv District Court decision earlier this month to reject a petition by the Jaffa Islamic Council against the construction of the shelter.

The construction atop the cemetery sparked days of demonstrations over the past two month in Jaffa, a predominantly Arab city that is part of the Tel Aviv municipality.

The cemetery, known in Arabic as Maqbarat al-Isaaf, is one of Tel Aviv’s few Muslim burial sites. The graveyard had gone unnoticed for many years until the city decided to build a three-story homeless shelter on its grounds. When bulldozers demolished the structure that was atop the cemetery to make way for the shelter, the bones of at least 30 people were discovered to have been buried under the structure.

The Islamic Council began organizing residents to prevent the demolition, but the municipality rejected the claims that the site constituted a place of special significance to Jaffa’s Muslim community, noting that it had been abandoned for decades, if not centuries. The municipality also argued that the project would be conducted with sensitivity to the remains at the site, which would be moved only “the minimum necessary.”

Recent protests against the demolition by Jaffa residents saw a number of violent clashes with police, as well as several arrests. Vehicles and trashcans were torched, rocks were thrown at policemen and a firebomb was lobbed at a municipality building. In the aftermath, both Arab members of the Tel Aviv-Jaffa city council left the city’s governing coalition.

Aaron Boxerman contributed to this report.

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