Palestinians threaten protests over new Damascus Gate watchposts

First of three security structures constructed at entrance to Old City to protect against stabbing attacks, sparking outrage over ‘plan to Judaize Jerusalem’

Khaled Abu Toameh is the Palestinian Affairs correspondent for The Times of Israel

A recently constructed security watchpost outside Damascus Gate in Jerusalem. (Screenshot/Facebook)
A recently constructed security watchpost outside Damascus Gate in Jerusalem. (Screenshot/Facebook)

A security watchpost installed at an entrance to the Old City of Jerusalem on Wednesday night has angered the Palestinians, who are accusing Israel of “changing the Arab and Islamic character” of the city.

Palestinians said Thursday they were planning a series of protests to demand the removal of the two-story structure at the Damascus Gate, the main entrance into the walled city’s Muslim Quarter.

The structure is part of an Israeli plan to improve security measures in the area, following a spate of stabbing and shooting attacks in the past two years.

Two more concrete watchposts are being built at the entrance to Damascus Gate as part of the plan.

The Palestinians also appealed to Arab and Islamic countries to intervene to force Israel to halt the implementation of the new security measures, several months after the installation of metal detectors, after a terror attack in which two Israeli policemen were shot dead outside the ultra-sensitive Temple Mount, sparked days of violent protests.

Any new police or military structure in the flashpoint city has the potential to spark unrest, though, with Palestinians seeing them as an attempt by Israel to solidify its hold on the city.

“This is another Israeli assault on Jerusalem and its Arab population,” charged a senior Fatah official living in the city. “Israel is mistaken if it thinks we will allow it to pursue with its plan to Judaize Jerusalem and empty it of its Arab residents.”

Palestinian residents of Jerusalem who were surprised to see the structure on Thursday morning expressed outrage over the move.

“Damascus Gate has become a military fortress,” complained Ahmad Bukhari, a Palestinian activist and journalist. “Such measures distort the beautiful face of Jerusalem. It’s an ugly scene that’s harmful to the history and heritage of the city.”

Izzat Al Husseini, another resident of East Jerusalem, said he too was “shocked” to see the post.

“This is very sad,” he said. “We’re witnessing an attempt by Israel to alter the city’s Arab and Islamic character. We can’t let this pass quietly.”

Yousef Natsheh, a senior official with the Islamic Waqf Department, denounced the installation of the watchpost as an “assault on Islamic heritage and an attempt to change our history.”

He accused Israel of using security as an excuse to “distort” Damascus Gate and alter the Arab and Islamic character of Jerusalem.

“What’s happening at Damascus Gate,” he added, “is morally, scientifically, and ethically unacceptable.”

Some residents warned that the Israeli security measures could spark another wave of protests similar to those that took place after the installation of security cameras and metal detectors at the entrances to the Temple Mount last year.

That decision, which was later rescinded, came after two policemen were shot dead in a terror attack there.

“Everyone here is shocked by the new Israeli security measures,” said shopkeeper Ahmed Abdeen.

“I doubt if this new watch tower will pass without an Arab and Islamic response. I’m sure there will be strong protests like the ones we had in Jerusalem after Israel put metal detectors at the entrance to al-Haram al-Sharif,” he added, using the Muslim term for the Temple Mount.

He and other merchants predicted that the strict security measures would deter many Palestinians and tourists from visiting the city.

“Business has anyway been very bad for the past few years and the number of visitors has dropped significantly,” said Amjad Abu Khalaf, who works in a souvenir shop in the Christian Quarter. “Hundreds of [Arab-owned] shops in the Old City have closed down because the owners could no longer afford to pay taxes and other expenses,” he said. “If the tensions continue, we will see more businesses shut in the near future.”

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