Hundreds of Palestinians clashed with Israel Police by the Damascus Gate of the Old City of Jerusalem on Sunday night during protests against restrictions in the area.
Police deployed water cannons and stun grenades, and mounted officers fanned out across the area in an attempt to disperse the crowd. Three Palestinians were arrested, with police accusing them of attacking officers on the scene.
According to the Palestinian Red Crescent, four Palestinians were wounded during the clashes and received medical treatment.
Police said Palestinians hurled stones at officers. A reporter on the scene for the Haaretz daily disputed the account, attesting that no stones were thrown and that “most protesters remained nonviolent.”
Nightly clashes between Palestinians and police have broken out close to Damascus Gate since the beginning of the Ramadan holiday last Tuesday. East Jerusalem Palestinians have thrown stones at buses and shot fireworks at police, according to police. At least one officer has been lightly injured in the clashes.
A handful of East Jerusalem Palestinians have circulated videos in which they can be seen striking apparently uninvolved ultra-Orthodox and religious Jewish passersby. The clips, uploaded to the social network TikTok, have evoked widespread condemnation by both Jewish and Arab MKs.
The Islamic holy month, which often sees nighttime mass gatherings, has been a flashpoint for violence between young Palestinians and Israeli security forces.
The recent clashes appear to have been sparked by a decision by Jerusalem police to prevent Palestinians from sitting on the steps of Damascus Gate. In an unofficial Jerusalem tradition, thousands of Palestinians often sit in the area following nighttime prayers during Ramadan.
This year, however, police set up blocks in the area to funnel worshipers out of the area and banned Palestinians from sitting on the steps at night.
In a phone call with The Times of Israel, a Jerusalem police spokesperson argued that cordoning off the area was actually intended as a means of riot control.
“There are always riots. Now, they’re just using the barriers as an excuse. So if there weren’t barriers, what would we have then?” the spokesperson said.
Sunday night saw dozens of Israeli riot police run down the main thoroughfare next to Damascus Gate, flanked by mounted police and water cannons.
פרשים, מכתזית ורימוני גז לפיזור ההמון. אבל בלי הרבה בלגן שקדם לזה. pic.twitter.com/k1ebSQa9Kd
— نير حسون Nir Hasson ניר חסון (@nirhasson) April 18, 2021
Some initial reports in Palestinian media said the young Palestinians clashing with police were worshipers returning from al-Aqsa Mosque. But officials in the Waqf, which administers the Islamic holy site, as well as police, have rejected the claim.
Police officers have responded forcefully to the crowds. In one video widely distributed on social media, an officer can be seen brutally striking a subdued Palestinian man in the head, seemingly without being provoked.
אלימות משטרתית: לפני מספר ימים שוטר מכה עצור פלסטיני בירושלים המזרחית ולאחר מכן הוא וחבריו השוטרים למעלה מפילים את העציר ומכים ובועטים בו. המשטרה אוסרת על התקהלויות בבאב אלעאמוד כמקובל ברמדאן. pic.twitter.com/OIS4jKe5Mm
— Ahmad Tibi (@Ahmad_tibi) April 18, 2021
The Justice Ministry’s Police Internal Investigations Division — the body charged with overseeing police misconduct — announced on Sunday that it would open an investigation into the incident.
Around midnight on Sunday, Religious Zionism MKs Itamar Ben Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich arrived at Damascus Gate to speak with police.
“This arrogance, this brazenness, cannot simply be ignored. We are in a sovereign Jewish state,” Smotrich told reporters at the scene.
In a video from the scene, far-right Jewish activists were seen dancing in a circle, singing a song calling for revenge against Palestinians.
In a confrontation in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah on Friday, a right-wing activist challenged Arab Israeli parliamentarian Ahmad Tibi to condemn the apparent attacks on ultra-Orthodox bystanders.
Tibi did so, and added that violence against East Jerusalem Palestinians should also be condemned. “We must uproot all nationalist violence,” he said.