Palestinians and Israelis hurled rocks and chairs at each other in the tense East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah on Thursday before Israeli police moved in to separate them, arresting at least 15 people, all of them Palestinians. In one incident, a Jewish Israeli man fired into the air after a vehicle was set on fire.
Tensions have flared in Sheikh Jarrah over the last week where dozens of Palestinians are at risk of being evicted following a long legal battle with right-wing Jewish Israelis trying to acquire property in the neighborhood, which is just north of Jerusalem’s Old City.
The tensions have raised fears of sparking a wider conflict, with the Hamas terror group in Gaza warning of renewed violence over the issue.
Pro-Palestinian protesters have been meeting for nightly iftars — the meal held after breaking the day-long fast during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan — at long tables set up outside. On Thursday, extreme-right MK Itamar Ben-Gvir set up a makeshift parliamentary office across the street from the iftar meal.
Video circulating online later showed protesters on both sides hurling rocks and chairs at each other, and Palestinians tearing down the awning, before police moved in. There were no reports of serious injuries.
— כאן חדשות (@kann_news) May 6, 2021
Footage also showed an Israeli spraying what appears to be pepper spray at the Palestinian iftar table, apparently leading to the violent clash.
זה התחיל ככה מתנחים מרססים גז לאנשים יושבים לשברת התסום pic.twitter.com/Nr1yJOehGu
— חדשות ממגזר הערבי ירושלים اخبار مقدسية (@Essawi2050) May 6, 2021
“Police and border police are operating to prevent friction between the sides,” the police said in a statement. “At this stage, the event is under control.” It said 15 people were arrested for disturbing the peace and attacking police.
Later on Thursday, a number of vehicles were damaged by Palestinian protestors’ stone-throwing, and one car was set on fire.
— Local Focus – Security Alerts (@LocalFocus1) May 6, 2021
Videos from the scene show Jewish Israeli civilians near the burning car with guns drawn, one fired shots in the air before riot police arrived.
אזרחים עם אקדחים שלופים בשכונת שייח ג'ראח pic.twitter.com/lIvciz2EDt
— גלעד כהן | Gilad Cohen (@GiladCohenJR) May 6, 2021
In recent weeks, Palestinian protesters have also clashed with Israeli police in Jerusalem over restrictions on outdoor gatherings during Ramadan.
Thursday’s clashes followed violence overnight Wednesday, when 22 Palestinians were wounded, according to the Red Crescent. Eleven people were arrested overnight Wednesday, the police said.
“This land is Palestinian land… and we, the inhabitants of the neighborhood, we cannot accept that this land is theirs, this land is ours,” said 77-year-old Nabeel al-Kurd, one of those facing eviction.
Dozens of Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah may be removed from their homes in the coming weeks if the Supreme Court turns down their appeal against a pending eviction. They are likely to be replaced by right-wing Jewish nationalists who say the Palestinian homes were built on land owned by Jewish associations before the establishment of the State of Israel.
According to Ir Amim, a left-wing human rights group focusing on Jerusalem, around 200 families in East Jerusalem are now under threat of eviction, with cases slowly marching through administrative bodies and Israeli courts. Around 70 of those families live in Sheikh Jarrah.
The neighborhood has long been a focal point of Jewish-Arab tensions. A small Jewish community lived in the area before 1948, when East Jerusalem fell under Jordanian control. Home to a shrine revered as the final resting place of Shimon Hatzadik, a 3rd century BCE high priest also known as Simeon the Just, the neighborhood is often visited by Jewish pilgrims.
According to the Association for Human Rights in Israel, around 358,000 Palestinians live in East Jerusalem, the portion of the city captured by Israel from Jordan in 1967, where they have residency rights but generally not Israeli citizenship. Palestinians view East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state. The same area is home to 225,000 Jewish Israelis, most of whom reside in newer Jewish neighborhoods such as Gilo and Ramat Shlomo.
But nationalist Jews have long sought to expand the Jewish presence in East Jerusalem’s Palestinian neighborhoods — whether through covert purchases of Palestinian homes, court-ordered evictions, or the construction of de facto Jewish-only housing projects — creating settlement-like enclaves within the neighborhoods.
In 1967, Israel captured East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza during a six-day war with its Arab neighbors.
Tensions in Jerusalem, specifically around the Old City, reached boiling point last month after police prevented people from congregating outside Damascus Gate at the start of Ramadan, which Arabs said was an inflammatory move that obstructed a long-held tradition of gathering at the site during the Muslim holy month. Authorities later canceled the policy.
After some Palestinians filmed videos in which they attacked ultra-Orthodox passersby, the Jewish supremacist Lehava group responded by marching through Jerusalem’s downtown calling for “Death to Arabs” and searching for Palestinians to attack.
Aaron Boxerman contributed to this report.