Arabs across Israel protest Jerusalem clashes; cops block buses to Temple Mount

Massive traffic jams on main highway to capital after police stop worshipers for hours; officials assert some passengers planned to riot at the holy site

Arab Israelis block traffic on Route 1 after the buses they were traveling on were stopped en route to Jerusalem, amid rising violence in the city, on May 8, 2021. (Screen capture)
Arab Israelis block traffic on Route 1 after the buses they were traveling on were stopped en route to Jerusalem, amid rising violence in the city, on May 8, 2021. (Screen capture)

Arab Israelis protested throughout the country Saturday over the government’s actions in Jerusalem, including how it handled major violent clashes on the Temple Mount Friday and the potential eviction of dozens of Palestinians from an East Jerusalem neighborhood.

Largely peaceful protests were held in numerous communities. Protesters briefly blocked traffic on a section of Route 65 in northern Israel. Five people were detained in Umm al-Fahm in the north over suspicions they threw rocks near the city’s police station. In East Jerusalem, two people were arrested on suspicion of throwing rocks at police officers.

Several buses carrying Arab Israelis to Jerusalem’s Temple Mount were held up at a police checkpoint on the major Route 1 highway outside the city, which was bracing for further violence after seeing some of its worst clashes in years on Friday. Saturday night is Laylat al-Qadr, the most sacred night in the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Worshipers were set to gather for nighttime prayers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

The move caused massive traffic jams in both directions on the main highway to the capital.

Video showed passengers getting off the buses and marching along the highway, with some blocking traffic in both directions.

Police said they stopped the buses because they had intelligence indicating some of the passengers were planning to riot on the Temple Mount. They said only “suspicious” passengers would be forced off, while others would be allowed to drive on. The blockages were eventually opened up after some three hours.

The move to stop the buses faced harsh condemnation from Arab MKs. Meretz MK Issawi Frej blasted police for “preventing thousands of Israeli civilians from marking the holiest night in Islam, Laylat al-Qadr… trying to stop them from participating in one of the most important events in Islam.” He accused authorities of “on the one hand allowing [Itamar] Ben Gvir to create provocations in Sheikh Jarrah and on the other preventing Muslim citizens from reaching Al-Aqsa. They’re not trying to calm things down, but to inflame them.”

On Thursday evening, Religious Zionism’s Ben Gvir, a far-right activist, set up what he declared to be a parliamentary office in the East Jerusalem neighborhood — a table under an awning with a sign — in response to what he said was a lack of protection for Jewish families in the area. This was followed by intense clashes between Jewish and Arab residents in the area.

Labor MK Ibtisam Mara’ana tweeted that police were “terribly impeding the freedom of religion and freedom of movement of so many citizens.”

Meanwhile, Saturday evening also saw Jewish demonstrators march through the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City while chanting, in an apparent show of force to locals.

Jerusalem District Police Commander Doron Turgeman predicted Saturday that there would be attempts to provoke violence in the city after major clashes erupted Friday night on the Temple Mount between police and Muslim worshipers, amid rising Israeli-Palestinian tensions and as Ramadan comes to an end.

“We won’t allow rioting,” he was quoted saying by Kan news.

Friday saw some of the worst violence in Jerusalem for years, with 200 Palestinians and 17 Israeli police officers wounded.

Police and the military were preparing for fresh violence on Saturday, and were on heightened alert in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza border, where mass protests were expected in the evening.

According to the Haaretz newspaper, police believe the clashes on the Temple Mount were being led by Hamas operatives, and linked the recent violence at the Jerusalem holy site to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s decision to indefinitely delay legislative elections that were scheduled for later this month.

Former prime minister Ehud Olmert told Kan news Saturday that “a kind of intifada is brewing, which is possible to prevent.” He warned of “extreme elements in the Jewish population who are fanning the fire and adding to the problem [in Sheikh Jarrah], which needs to be decided judicially.”

Hundreds of Arab Israelis marching on Route 1 making their way to Jerusalem, May 8, 2021 (Nowm Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

On Saturday Defense Minister Benny Gantz held an assessment of the security situation with senior officials from the military, police and Shin Bet. At the end of the meeting, the IDF said there would be a reinforcement of troop numbers as part of preparations for a potential escalation.

“Extremists on both sides cannot be allowed to cause an escalation of the situation,” Gantz said in a statement. “Israel will continue to act to preserve freedom of worship at the Temple Mount and at the same time not allow terror to raise its head or harm public order.”

Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai also held a special security assessment in light of the recent tensions in Jerusalem.

A police statement said Shabtai ordered commanders, in particular in the Jerusalem area, to “significantly” boost their forces ahead of the most sacred night of Ramadan on Saturday evening and “another series of expected events over the coming days.” This apparently was referring to Jerusalem Day, a national holiday that begins Sunday night, in which Israel celebrates the unification of Jerusalem and religious nationalists hold parades and other celebrations in the city.

“I stress here that the right to protest will be preserved but rioting will be answered firmly and with zero tolerance. I call on everyone to act with responsibility and restraint,” Shabtai was quoted saying in the statement.

Palestinians in the Gaza Strip and Arab Israelis were expected to hold mass protests on Saturday in the wake of the violence in Jerusalem on Friday night.

Masked Palestinians prepare to launch incendiary balloons across the northern Gaza border toward Israel, on May 8, 2021. (MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)

Saturday saw at least 10 fires in southern Israel caused by balloons carrying incendiary devices. There were no reports of any injuries or danger to nearby towns.

The Hamas terror group’s official media outlet said Gaza-based groups were calling for demonstrations near the border fence with Israel on Saturday in protest of Israeli actions in Jerusalem.

In recent days, Palestinians have held demonstrations in East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood. Over 70 Palestinian residents are threatened with eviction and could be replaced by right-wing Jewish nationalists, in a legal battle being waged in Israel’s judicial system.

An Israeli court has ordered the families to leave, as the property was owned by a Jewish religious association before 1948. A 1970 Israeli law allows Jews to reclaim property in East Jerusalem from before it fell into Jordanian hands; no similar law exists for Palestinians.

Israeli forces carry out a search in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in east Jerusalem, May 7, 2021 (AP Photo/Mahmoud Illean)

Palestinians and their supporters have protested the pending evictions every night for the past week. Police have sought to disperse the protests with stun grenades and water cannons, leading to injuries and arrests.

The families have asked the Israeli Supreme Court to consider an appeal, which it is scheduled to do on Monday.

Additionally, at the beginning of Ramadan, Palestinians repeatedly clashed with Israeli police in Jerusalem in protest of restrictions at the Damascus Gate area. Some videos also circulated on Palestinian social media showing young Arab men attacking ultra-Orthodox passersby.

In response, hundreds of Jewish extremists marched through Jerusalem’s downtown, chanting “Death to Arabs.” Others randomly attacked Palestinians across the city. This then led to severe clashes between police, Jews and Arabs in the city.

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