Ahead of Ramadan prayers on Friday afternoon, police were gearing up for possible unrest around Jerusalem’s Old City, after a night of violent clashes involving Jewish extremists and Palestinians in the area.
The Muslim holy month of Ramadan normally sees increased tensions around the Old City, which houses the flashpoint Temple Mount site, holy to both Jews and Muslims.
Dozens of people were injured when violent clashes erupted at the Damascus Gate of the Old City of Jerusalem late Thursday as Palestinian protesters confronted a group of some 300 extreme-right Jewish activists who marched to the scene chanting “Death to Arabs.” Police, trying to keep the groups apart, also clashed with the Palestinians, who threw rocks at the officers.
“The violent extremists, Arabs and Jews, that are acting unruly in Jerusalem are attempting to drag us back to the hate and rage. We won’t let them,” Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid said Friday.
Officers used riot dispersal means including stun grenades, tear gas, and water cannons to break up the Arab protestors, the sounds from the explosions rolling across the center of the capital. At least 105 Palestinians were injured, including 22 who were hospitalized, the Palestinian Red Crescent said.
Police said some 20 officers were injured in the clashes, including a mounted officer hit in the face by a rock. Three were taken for medical treatment.
Police also said over 50 people were arrested for throwing rocks, launching fireworks, assaulting cops and other violent acts during the rioting, which carried into early Friday.
“Arab riots against Jews have become a common sight recently in Israel. Police and the courts should use an iron fist against the rioters and restore order and governability,” MK Ayelet Shaked of the right-wing Yamina party tweeted, without mentioning the Jewish extremists.
Jerusalem has seen several days of violence after a number of assaults on Jews that were filmed and later uploaded to the TikTok video-sharing app, including one of an East Jerusalem teenager slapping two ultra-Orthodox boys on the light rail.
Responding to Shaked, far-right Religious Zionism leader Bezalel Smotrich lashed out at Yamina, which has come under fire from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing religious bloc amid the premier’s struggles to form a new government after the March 23 elections. Yamina has said it will back a right-wing government if Netanyahu can achieve a majority, but a key obstacle to him doing so is his inability to convince Smotrich to back a minority government propped up by the Islamist Ra’am party.
“Ayelet, let’s start with the fact that you will not form a reckless left-wing government that will rely on the political patrons of the perpetrators of these disturbances and lynchings, and make Israel their hostage,” Smotrich said.
He added: “The Arab enemy riots across the country in recent days take us back many years to the 1936 great Arab uprising.”
Smotrich’s Religious Zionism includes the Otzma Yehudit sub-faction, one of whose most senior members, Bentzi Gopstein, is the head of the extremist Lehava group behind the march
Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion said the violence “needs to end” and that he was in talks with neighborhood leaders in East Jerusalem.
“We talk to anyone who can stop this unnecessary violence,” he told Kan public radio on Friday.
Meanwhile, the US Embassy in Jerusalem said it was “deeply concerned” about the recent violence in the city.
“We hope all responsible voices will promote an end to incitement, a return to calm, and respect for the safety and dignity of everyone in Jerusalem,” the embassy said in a statement issued in English, Hebrew and Arabic.
In one incident overnight, police said a Jewish motorist was attacked in East Jerusalem and stones were thrown at his car. When he tried to flee on foot, he was caught and beaten by several people. His car was later set on fire.
Video on social media showed him being repeatedly kicked as he lay on the floor. Police said he had been hospitalized, but no details were given on his condition.
ערבים בועטים ביהודי שרוע כל הקרקע בשער שכם pic.twitter.com/zmAaAnUXdm
— גלעד כהן | Gilad Cohen (@GiladCohenJR) April 22, 2021
Police said they were searching for suspects.
The motorist who was attacked, 46-year-old Yahya Jardi, recalled thinking he wouldn’t make it out alive.
“I stood in a traffic jam and they started throwing stones at me, at the window, they beat me, they wanted to kill me. I thought I would die,” he told the Ynet news site from his hospital bed.
Hadassah Hospital said 16 people injured in the riots were taken to its medical centers, including Jardi. All were said to have suffered light injuries, suffering from various physical traumas.
“A night that began with a lynch on Palestinians ended with a violent attack on a Jew and the burning of his car,” Ayman Odeh, head of the predominantly Arab Joint List party, wrote on Twitter.
He also blamed Otmza Yehudit and Lehava for the recent violence.
“The Kahanaists in the Knesset and the street are fanning the violence and hate because they serve their goal: Deepening the hatred between Jews and Arabs and sabotaging the chance of a future of peace and equality,” Odeh said.
He added: “The answer to the attempts to divide is a joint and uncompromising struggle for peace, equality and democracy for all.”
In another late-night incident, a Jewish man opened fire in the air, after he allegedly came under attack near the Department of Justice in Jerusalem. Video on social media showed the moment he began to shoot a number of times, before driving off.
— כאן חדשות (@kann_news) April 23, 2021
Arab protesters also set a dumpster and a bus stop on fire.
According to the Israel Police, far-right Jewish extremists also hurled stones and set a trash can ablaze at a Jerusalem intersection.
Video posted to social media from the scene showed Jewish youths attacking an Arab home just inside the Old City.
The sounds of children crying can be heard as a woman, unseen, shouts “Stop” in Arabic while several youths throw objects at the home.
יהודים תוקפים בית בעיר העתיקה. אם תדליקו את הרמקולים תשמעו את הבכי של הילדים. pic.twitter.com/lgR5HaXe1s
— نير حسون Nir Hasson ניר חסון (@nirhasson) April 22, 2021
The clashes came a day after running street battles between Jews and Arabs in downtown Jerusalem.
In response, the Jewish supremacist Lehava group had called for a protest Thursday in a show of “national honor.”
Some 300 activists from the Lehava group took part in the march that brought them to within a few dozen meters of Damascus Gate where Palestinians had gathered in a counter-protest.
Lehava protestors chanted “Death to the Arabs!” and “Arabs get out!” as police tried to keep the two sides apart while also dealing with attacks from the Palestinian protestors, who had gathered at the gate to counter the expected march and began throwing rocks and bottles at police.
MK Itamar Ben Gvir, the head of Otzma Yehudit, said Thursday that “police must allow the Lehava protestors freedom of movement and freedom of demonstration, and anyone who throws stones and tries to disrupt the Lehava demonstration should be arrested.”
Though police had deployed hundreds of officers ahead of the march to prevent it from reaching its destination, dozens of Lehava protesters were able to reach the Palestinian crowd and the two sides began throwing objects at each other, Channel 12 News reported.
Police eventually moved in to separate the crowds, positioning mounted officers to hold back the Lehava demonstration that was led by Gopstein, the group’s chief.
“We allow protest in the name of freedom of expression, but we will take action against any form of violence,” police said ahead of the march.
After being blocked by police forces from reaching the Old City, several dozen Lehava supporters marched up to the nearby Mahane Yehuda market where they attacked several Arab workers, police said. Police officers rescued the workers who took refuge in a shop.
Hebrew media reported that Lehava activists and Palestinians had both used social media to encourage their supporters to reach the area.
The Kan public broadcaster reported that right-wing activists had shared information for planned violence in Whatsapp messages with one writing, “Today we will burn Arabs, the Molotov cocktails are already in the bag.”
On Wednesday several people were arrested following a brawl in downtown Jerusalem between dozens of Jews and Arabs, according to Hebrew media reports. One person was lightly hurt and received medical treatment at the scene.
In addition, a 15-year-old Jewish Israeli was stabbed in the leg, suffering light injuries.
Jerusalem has seen several days of violence after a number of assaults on Jews that were filmed and later uploaded to the TikTok video-sharing app, including one of an East Jerusalem teenager slapping two ultra-Orthodox boys on the light rail. Along with the recent violence in Jerusalem toward Jews, there have also been attacks on Arabs, with chants of “Death to Arabs” heard during the assaults.
בשער שכם פלסטינים מיידים אבנים וחפצים על שוטרים, ולא רחוק משם מאות בני נוער וצעירים יהודים שצועקים בין היתר "מוות לערבים ו"עוד כהנא חי". רצו להגיע לרחבה, אבל המשטרה חוצצת pic.twitter.com/ZFUnn7GwTE
— Maya Horodniceanu (@mayahorodnicean) April 22, 2021
Along with the ethnic tensions, Jerusalem has seen regular clashes over the past week between Palestinian residents and police who have been blocking Palestinians from sitting on the steps of Damascus Gate. In an unofficial Jerusalem tradition, thousands of Palestinians sit in the area following nighttime prayers during Ramadan.
Police have deployed water cannons and stun grenades to disperse crowds while rioters have hurled stones and set off fireworks at cops.
Lehava opposes intermarriage and assimilation of Jews with non-Jews, as well as LGBT rights, and tries to stifle any public activity by non-Jews in Israel, including coexistence events. Lawmakers across the political spectrum have tried to designate it a terrorist group and its leader has been barred from running for the Knesset.