The US Embassy in Jerusalem on Friday issued a rare statement condemning the rising ethnic violence in the city, after major overnight rioting in which hundreds of far-right Jewish activists chanting “death to Arabs” confronted Palestinians protesting coronavirus restrictions at the Damascus Gate during Ramadan.
The embassy statement — issued in English, Hebrew and Arabic — notably avoided singling out either side for the recent violence.
“We are deeply concerned about the incidents of violence in Jerusalem over the last several days,” the embassy said. “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.”
Jordan’s foreign ministry also issued a statement Friday “condemning the incitement and provocations by extremist Jewish groups last night in the Old City of occupied East Jerusalem,” and saying it held Israel responsible for the violence.
Dozens of people were injured when violent clashes erupted at the Damascus Gate of the Old City of Jerusalem late Thursday. Police, trying to keep the groups apart, also clashed with the Palestinians, who threw rocks at the officers.
At least 105 Palestinians were injured, including 22 who were hospitalized, the Palestinian Red Crescent said.
A Statement by U.S. Embassy Jerusalem:
הודעה משגרירות ארצות הברית בירושלים
بيان من سفارة الولايات المتحدة في القدس pic.twitter.com/48QQ08N5YJ
— U.S. Embassy Jerusalem (@usembassyjlm) April 23, 2021
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.
Far-right Jewish activists have responded by taking to the streets in downtown Jerusalem for the past several nights, seeking out Arab passersby and carrying out a number of assaults. The mobs have been filmed chanting “death to Arabs,” “Arabs get out” and “the people demand for your village to burn” among other hateful slogans.
Video posted to social media early Friday morning 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.
In another 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.
The Jewish demonstrations were organized by the anti-miscegenation Lehava group headed by Bentzi Gopstein. Gopstein ran in 2019 on the far-right Otzma Yehudit’s slate but was disqualified by the Central Elections Committee for inciting violence. The party managed to make it into the Knesset for the first time in last month’s election thanks to efforts by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who orchestrated a merger between Otzma Yehudit and Bezalel Smotrich’s Religious Zionism party, which ensured that they would cross the electoral threshold.
Otzma Yehudit chairman Itamar Ben Gvir issued a statement late Thursday night as the riots were ongoing, calling on police to “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.”
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.