Riots in Jerusalem © Andrea Krogmann (KNA)
The images of the last days from Jerusalem brought back bad memories. But what are the old or new conflicts behind it?? Is there a threat of civil war or a third intifada??
Ramadan and Jerusalem Day, which Israel commemorates the annexation of East Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day War: Both are potentially tense moments for the city. If they coincide, as they did this year, the likelihood of the unresolved Israeli-Palestinian conflict erupting into violence increases.
Add to this inexperienced police leadership, everyday racist violence by extremists on both sides, and the threat of forced evictions in an Arab neighborhood in East Jerusalem, and the danger of conflagration grows. A heat wave and the aftermath of a year-long pandemic are doing their part.
Israel is in the midst of crippling coalition talks after four elections in two years. The Palestinian leadership, without renewed legitimacy for 15 years, briefly postponed the for 22. Elections scheduled for May.
Officially, a dispute with Israel over the participation of East Jerusalem Palestinians is the reason, but fear of loss of power by rulers may also have played a role. Extremists, Hamas and Islamist forces on the Palestinian side, and right-wing extremist groups such as the "Otzmah Jehudit" party and the "Lehava" organization against "assimilation in the Holy Land" on the Israeli side, profit from the weak governments.
Holidays and property claims collide
Holidays on both sides collide, and with them the claim to access to the Old City and Temple Mount. Likewise, clashing property claims in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood have become a core of the current confrontations.
Palestinians have lived there for some 70 years, fleeing in the wake of Israeli independence in 1948. East Jerusalem was then under Jordanian control. The Jordanians and the UN settled the refugees in Sheikh Jarrah, not far from the site revered by devout Jews as the burial place of Simon the Righteous, a Jewish high priest from the Second Temple period.
Symbolic meaning for both sides
The problem: The country had belonged to the. Century Jews. A U.S.-registered organization, Nachalat Shimon, bought the land from its former owners and has been pursuing eviction for some 30 years so that Israeli settlers can move in there. While Israelis can claim land lost in 1948 even if they have no personal ties to it, Israel denies Palestinians any rights of reclamation.
Symbolically, the neighborhood is significant for both sides. While right-wing national-religious forces in Israel want to draw a continuous settlement belt around the city to prevent its partition in the event of a peace settlement, Palestinians seek territorial continuity for their future state: from the Old City to East Jerusalem to Ramallah.
Hundreds injured in riots
For weeks now Jerusalem does not come to rest. At first, police barriers in the square in front of Damascus Gate, particularly popular during Ramadan, stoked tensions. They have become a symbol of Israeli control, against which hundreds of Palestinian youths have protested, sometimes violently, every evening. Tough police crackdown and restrictions on participation in Friday prayers further fanned the flames.
Violence went into another round with a TikTok video of a Palestinian slapping an Orthodox Jew on a streetcar. Radical Lehava supporters marched "to restore Jewish dignity" and openly chanted violent slogans. From the Gaza Strip, people responded with dozens of rockets fired at Israel and incendiary balloon attacks.
On the last Friday of Ramadan (7. May) the situation escalated. The riots have been going on for four days, hundreds of Palestinians and dozens of Israeli police officers have been injured so far. The Jerusalem Day flag march, repeatedly the cause of violent clashes in previous years, was nevertheless approved.
Observers do not expect a third intifada
Both intifadas began in comparable situations. But while observers expect further violence, none of the parties involved has any interest in a third intifada, according to their assessments. For the Palestinian leadership, the fear of losing control in favor of Hamas is also in the foreground here. The in turn could benefit from a spillover of unrest into the West Bank, but appears to be trying to avoid a war in Gaza.
Meanwhile, Israel is striving to prevent further escalations. Israel's Supreme Court postponed a hearing scheduled for Monday on the Sheikh Jarrah case by 30 days at the request of Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit. Palestinian families may remain in their homes until the hearing. Access to the Temple Mount remains closed to Jews until further notice — even on Jerusalem Day. But the situation remains delicate. Should the ongoing protests claim a life, the situation could quickly escalate further.