At least two people were injured and six arrested during clashes in the flashpoint East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah in the predawn hours of Sunday morning.
Fighting broke out between police and protesters, and between Jews and Palestinians, following an alleged firebomb attack against a Jewish home and a vow to respond by the far-right lawmaker Itamar Ben Gvir.
The neighborhood has long been explosively controversial, with Jewish nationalists attempting to evict Palestinians in a decades-long legal battle that helped touch off a war between Israel and Hamas last year.
A Jewish man was moderately injured by an Arab driver in the neighborhood around midnight. Police arrested the driver, who claimed he had been pepper-sprayed prior to the collision, apparently by Jewish protesters.
The incident was initially suspected to be a ramming attack, the Ynet news site then said police had ruled that out, but Army Radio said Sunday that the possibility was still being checked.
Video said to be from the scene appeared to show skirmishes between Jews and Palestinians, and several Jewish youths carrying a man and shouting, “Ramming attack.”
Video from the moments after the alleged ramming attack in East Jerusalem's Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, amid clashes between Jewish and Palestinian residents, and police. pic.twitter.com/Nleq3P8Vmn
— Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian (@manniefabian) February 12, 2022
The Magen David Adom emergency services group said the injured man had been treated at the scene, then rushed to Hadassah Hospital.
Another man, around age 20, suffered a mild head injury in the same area when he was hit with a rock, Magen David Adom said.
— כאן חדשות (@kann_news) February 12, 2022
Ynet said that a Palestinian man had also been injured.
Police said in a statement that riots had broken out in the neighborhood, with participants clashing with officers and throwing stones.
Officers used riot dispersal measures against the rioters after issuing warnings, police said.
“A number of civilians were injured and evacuated for medical treatment,” police said.
Jews and Arabs were also clashing in the neighborhood, including by throwing stones and other objects at each other, Army Radio reported.
On Friday night, a firebomb was allegedly thrown at a Jewish family home in a part of Sheikh Jarrah referred to as Shimon Hatzadik.
No one was home at the time of the suspected firebombing. The house was badly damaged and police said an officer was lightly hurt from smoke inhalation after entering the home.
Citing initial findings from the scene that raised suspicions of arson, police said the Jerusalem district commander ordered a “substantial” increase in operations in Sheikh Jarrah, including of undercover officers.
Right-wing Jewish activists went to the area of the firebombing on Saturday to protect the house, saying it had been repeatedly targeted and blaming police for failing to protect the family. Palestinian protesters arrived at the scene and threw stones at them.
Religious Zionism MK Ben Gvir on Saturday tweeted video he said showed the house burning the previous night. He said the family had been repeatedly attacked and accused the police of neglect.
זהו ביתו של טל ישובייב, פורעים ערבים שרפו את מכוניתו כבר 9 פעמים, ובמהלך השבת הם שרפו את ביתו. בנס המשפחה לא שהתה בביתה השבת, ובכך חייה ניצלו. היכן אתם אבירי זכויות האדם שעכשיו אתם שותקים? היכן משטרת ישראל והמפכ"ל הכושל התולגותייה? למה אתם מחכים שיקרה אסון? חיי יהודים הפכו הפקר! pic.twitter.com/x78dF72mMK
— איתמר בן גביר (@itamarbengvir) February 12, 2022
He said he would set up a makeshift “office” in Sheikh Jarrah in response.
“I’m bringing back my parliamentary office in Shimon Hatzadik. If terrorists wanted to burn a Jewish family alive and there are no cops, then I’m arriving on the scene,” he said.
The fighting broke out in the neighborhood shortly after Ben Gvir released the statement.
Mossi Raz, a lawmaker for the left-wing Meretz party, accused Ben Gvir of “trying to set the area ablaze and stir up a war, just as he did in May,” referring to the fighting that erupted from in and around Gaza after the Hamas terror group fired rockets toward Jerusalem amid tensions over Sheikh Jarrah and the nearby Temple Mount. Israel’s police chief reportedly blamed Ben Gvir for fanning the flames of intercommunal violence that erupted inside Israel at the time.
In May 2021, before fighting broke out between Israel and Hamas, Ben Gvir set up what he declared to be a parliamentary office in the 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.
He vacated the neighborhood after police said they would increase protection for Jews in the area.
At the time, Sheikh Jarrah saw tensions skyrocket over the potential eviction of dozens of Palestinians, following a long legal battle with right-wing Jewish Israelis trying to acquire property in the neighborhood. The legal dispute involves claims stretching back to Israel’s founding in 1948.
Hamas launched the war by firing barrages of rockets at Israeli cities amid tensions over Sheikh Jarrah and Jerusalem’s Temple Mount.
The neighborhood, a 10-minute train ride away from Jerusalem’s city center, has emerged as a symbolic flashpoint in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Over the past few years, a handful of Jewish nationalists have moved into the mostly Palestinian neighborhood, mostly through complex eviction cases.
An eviction last month in the neighborhood was the first in Sheikh Jarrah since 2017.
Ben Gvir is a disciple of the late extremist rabbi Meir Kahane and head of the neo-Kahanist Otzma Yehudit party, which merged into Religious Zionism before last year’s election. He spent many hours in court as a defendant in his youth before passing the bar and going on to represent ultra-nationalist Jews accused of perpetrating racially motivated attacks against Arab Israelis and Palestinians.