JERUSALEM – Israelis and Palestinians clashed overnight in Jerusalem when hundreds of supporters of an extremist Jewish supremacy group marched near the Old City and sang “Death to the Arabs.”
The violence was the culmination of tension building between Jews and Arabs in Jerusalem and elsewhere in recent weeks. Palestinian media reported that 78 Palestinians were injured and 15 of them were treated in hospitals. About 20 Israeli police officers and at least 16 Israeli civilians were also injured.
According to the police, more than 50 people were arrested in hand-to-hand combat, both in the predominantly Palestinian East Jerusalem and in the predominantly Jewish West Jerusalem. The city’s mayor, Moshe Lion, said he had asked the police to ban the extremist group’s demonstration but was told it was impossible.
“There is no doubt that it was redundant,” Lion told Kan, Israel’s public radio. “It didn’t add to the calm we need now.”
One of the main hotspots of violence was the march of hundreds of mostly young religious supporters of the Jewish supremacist organization Lehava. They intended to confront young Palestinians who clashed with police every evening near the old city.
The US embassy in Jerusalem said it was “deeply concerned” about the violence and called for a statement for “responsible voices” to call for an end to the incitement and restore calm to the city.
Israeli-Arab tensions have increased since the Muslim holy month of Ramadan began about 10 days ago. The Palestinian youth have posted some clips on the TikTok video-sharing app in the past few days showing attacks on religious Jews, including one who was slapped in the face while riding the light rail in Jerusalem. Another had thrown a drink at him as he was walking in the old town.
In the old port of Jaffa near Tel Aviv, an Orthodox Jewish man was beaten by Arab residents, leading to protests and clashes this week.
In response, Jewish youths attacked Palestinians in downtown West Jerusalem, and Lehava is calling for the Thursday evening march to restore Jewish “honor”.
The Palestinians had already bumped into Israeli police in East Jerusalem for several nights after police prevented them from gathering on the steps of the Damascus Gate, which form a kind of amphitheater at an entrance to the Old City. The steps traditionally served as a festive meeting place for teenagers on the night after breaking the daily fast during Ramadan.
Overnight between Thursday and Friday, hundreds of police officers, some on horseback, created a buffer between the Jewish and Palestinian protesters, and both camps eventually clashed with police, who dispersed the crowd with tranquilizers and water cannons.
Jews and Palestinians then split into gangs and roamed the streets on their respective sides of the city in search of potential victims.
On Friday, police formed a tight ring around Jerusalem’s old city for fear of further violence.
Israel annexed East Jerusalem after capturing the 1967 Middle East War and claimed sovereignty over the entire city. The Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state, and most of the world sees it as an occupied territory.
Video clips posted overnight on social media showed scenes of mob violence such as Palestinians severely beating a Jewish driver whose car had been set on fire and Jewish youths stoning a Palestinian house while children were inside cried.
On Friday noon there was a tense calm in Jerusalem. The main evidence of the violence at night, in addition to the heavy police presence, was dozens of stones scattered along the streets, including a main road that runs along the dividing line between East and West Jerusalem.
The mayor said the violence came after months of what he described as exceptional collaboration between Jewish and Palestinian officials in west and east Jerusalem to contain the coronavirus pandemic.
Palestinian leaders accused Jewish extremists and the Israeli government of breaking out violence.
“East Jerusalem is the eternal capital of Palestine and a red line,” said the office of Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, in a statement on Thursday.
Fatah, the mainstream Palestinian party that dominates authority, praised the Palestinian residents of Jerusalem for defending the city and the Aqsa Mosque, the revered Muslim holy place in the Old City, “with their bare boxes”.
Video images showed Palestinians pouring into the mosque for prayer on Friday chanting “Allahu akbar” or “God is great”, and “Martyrs marching millions into Jerusalem,” a Palestinian rallying cry.
Myra Noveck contributed to the coverage.