Far-right MK faints in clash with cops after planning all-nighter in Sheikh Jarrah

Police official says Itamar Ben Gvir made a ‘substantial contribution’ to violence, as Hamas ups threats amid clashes; Shin Bet probes firebombing of Jewish home as terror attack

Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian is The Times of Israel's military correspondent

MK Itamar Ben Gvir faints after clashing with officers in East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, February 13, 2022. (Courtesy/Otzma Yehudit)
MK Itamar Ben Gvir faints after clashing with officers in East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, February 13, 2022. (Courtesy/Otzma Yehudit)

Far-right Knesset member Itamar Ben Gvir fainted during a clash with police officers Sunday night, after vowing to stay in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah through the night.

Ben Gvir, a member of the far-right Religious Zionism party, set up a makeshift office — a table under an awning — following the firebombing of a Jewish home in the flashpoint neighborhood over the weekend.

“I planned on leaving and returning. But I won’t accept the police actions. I’m staying here tonight. They will learn,” Ben Gvir said, after police attempted to dismantle the makeshift office he opened on the scene earlier in the day, and as clashes in the area continued into the night.

Ben Gvir fainted during a scuffle with officers, a video showed. He was taken by medics to Hadassah Ein Kerem Medical Center.

Officials had reportedly approached Ben Gvir to reach a deal that would include him dismantling the office. Ben Gvir is said to be demanding that permanent security forces be stationed at the home of Tal Yushuvayev following the firebombing, and for additional security cameras to be deployed in the area, in return for him leaving.

Officers moved in to dismantle the makeshift office on Sunday evening. It was not fully taken down.

“The police have crossed every possible line tonight,” Ben Gvir tweeted before the scuffle in which he lost consciousness. “While our representatives sat down with the district commander to bring about permanent police security, dozens of police officers come, use severe violence against right-wing activists and me, and try to destroy the parliamentary office. We didn’t plan on it, but we’re going to stay and sleep here tonight.”

A video showed Ben Gvir fall onto the ground and apparently faint as he tried to shove his way past a group of policemen.

Violent clashes erupted in the area on Saturday between right-wing activists and Palestinians and continued throughout Sunday. An unnamed police official told Channel 12 that Ben Gvir had made a “substantial contribution” to the escalating violence.

Hamas meanwhile warned of a “severe” response should Israel continue its “assaults” in East Jerusalem, a spokesperson for the terror group said.

Police officers in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, February 13, 2022. (Israel Police)

“We call upon our people to support the people of Jerusalem by clashing with the occupation at friction points,” Mohammad Hamadeh told official Hamas television, possibly referring to West Bank locations where Palestinians frequently clash with Israeli troops.

A similar escalation at Sheikh Jarrah last May, similarly encouraged by Ben Gvir setting up such an “office” in the neighborhood, contributed to the escalation that sparked an 11-day war between Israel and Hamas and long days of violence between Arabs and Jews throughout the country.

The firebombing of Tal Yushuvayev’s home by unknown assailants on Friday is being investigated by the Shin Bet security agency as a potential terror attack, The Times of Israel has learned. The family was away from home at the time, but a police officer was lightly hurt from smoke inhalation.

Yushuvayev has said he replaced his vehicle at least nine times in recent months, after unknown assailants firebombed his cars.

“They attempted to murder me and my family,” Yushuvayev said after the attack on his home.

“The frustrating and ridiculous thing is that I have warned, spoken, shouted. Time after time they set fire to my cars, tried to burn my home, multiple times,” he said in a video circulated online.

Tal Yushuvayev speaks to the Kan public broadcaster after a firebomb was thrown at his car, January 9, 2022. (Video screenshot)

Clashes erupted after right-wing Jewish activists went to the area of the firebombing on Saturday. On Sunday morning, right-wing Jewish Israelis, including Ben Gvir, gathered in the front yard of a home occupied by the Salems, a Palestinian family.

The 11 residents are set to be evicted in March by the home’s new owner, far-right Jerusalem city council member Yonatan Yosef.

The Salem family arrived in Sheikh Jarrah as refugees from Qaluniya, near Jerusalem, following the 1948 war that saw the establishment of Israel, and moved into a home that had been owned by Jews before 1948.

After Israel captured East Jerusalem in 1967, it passed legislation that transferred Israeli property that had fallen into the hands of the Jordanians to the Israeli government, including the Salem family home. The law obligated the government to return the property to its original Israeli owners wherever possible.

According to videos from the scene on Sunday, Israelis and Palestinians began shoving one another in an altercation that soon devolved into an all-out brawl.

The clashes continued sporadically throughout the day, as some Palestinian protesters chanted slogans in support of the Hamas terror group. Dozens of right-wing Jewish nationalists chanted “Death to Arabs” and “Death to terrorists,” as police fired stun grenades into the crowd of Palestinian demonstrators.

Amid the clashes, right-wing activists and Jerusalem city council member Aryeh King scuffled with Joint List MK Ahmed Tibi, who arrived along with party MKs Ofer Cassif and Osama Saadi to protest against Ben Gvir’s makeshift office.

The Palestinian Red Crescent said 31 Palestinians were wounded, and at least six were hospitalized following the clashes. One Jewish man was lightly hurt from a stun grenade that hit his knee, medics at the scene said.

Police deployed rubber bullets and stun grenades to disperse the crowds.

“In the past day, we have witnessed disinformation and misinformation circulating on social media in relation to various events in the area, along with violent and inflammatory online discourse, and unlawful attempts to ignite the area,” police said in a statement on Sunday evening.

“The Israel Police will continue to act with determination and with zero tolerance against violence of any kind, violation of public order and illegal attempts to harm police officers or civilians,” the statement added.

By evening, police said 12 suspects had been arrested for public disorder, as officers braced for more violence. The nationality of the suspects was not immediately clear.

Police disperse Jewish men protesting in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, February 13, 2022.(Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Sheikh Jarrah, parts of which were historically known as Shimon Hatzadik or Nahalat Shimon, has become one of Jerusalem’s most tense neighborhoods. Far-right Jewish nationalists have sought to evict Palestinian residents in decades-long legal battles that helped touch off violence between Israel and Hamas last May. Scattered acts of violence have taken place in the area for months since then.

Tensions have been rising in the neighborhood for weeks. In January, municipal bulldozers evicted the Salhiya family in the dead of night following a standoff with police. The Jerusalem municipality expropriated the home to build a school on the plot where the Salhiyas lived.

Palestinian protesters gather in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, February 13, 2022. (Arie Leib Abrams/Flash90)

The Israeli Foreign Ministry describes the Sheikh Jarrah struggle in English as a simple real estate dispute. But both the Israelis and the Palestinians involved deem it part of a long-term battle to determine Jerusalem’s political future.

Israel annexed East Jerusalem in 1980 in a move not recognized by the international community. Palestinians hope to see the capital of their yet-unrealized state in East Jerusalem, an aspiration opposed by the Israeli right.

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