11 July 2024

Adnan, a Palestinian from east Jerusalem, vowed rubber bullets fired by Israeli police would not deter him: “Silence is not an option” in defence of Arabs in the Holy City, he said. 

East Jerusalem, the majority Palestinian part of the city annexed by Israel in 1967, has been hit by some of its worst unrest in years.

Hundreds of Palestinians have been wounded and dozens arrested in confrontations with police who have been hit with stones and other projectiles hurled by mainly young and male Palestinian protesters, who have also torched cars and dumpsters.

Friday night saw violent clashes following evening Ramadan prayers at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, Islam’s third holiest site, a flashpoint area also sacred to Jews — who call it the Temple Mount — where tensions trigger swift global alarm.

For 20 year-old-Adnan, who like many Palestinians in east Jerusalem refused to give his name for fear of Israeli police retribution, protesters are responding to what he said was as a persistent effort by Jewish settlers to expel them from the city.

“We are here, in the street, to say that we are not going leave,” he told AFP.

“For years, settlers have attacked us and taken our land but silence is no longer an option.”

Protesters hold Palestine and Turkish national flags and chant slogans during a demonstration against Israel in front of the Israeli Consulate in Istanbul on May 9, 2021. (Photo by Ozan KOSE / AFP)

– ‘Don’t want us to live here’ –

Several events have triggered the flare up in east Jerusalem, which Palestinians claim as the capital of their future state.

Protester Mohammed, who also refused to give his last name, argued each incident is linked to an unavoidable reality facing Palestinians in the city.

“The Israelis want us to work for them, but they don’t want us to live here,” he said.

Earlier this year, an Israeli court ruled in favour of Jewish settlers seeking to evict Palestinian families from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood, just north of the Old City.

The court said the Jewish families had proven a decades-old claim to the land, infuriating Palestinians and triggering months of protests that have intensified in recent nights.

Other incidents have fanned the flames.

Last month, Israeli police closed the staired plaza outside the Old City’s Damascus Gate, a traditional gathering spot for Palestinians following evening Ramadan evening prayers.

The closure triggered violent clashes with police who removed the barricades after several nights of unrest.

Next came the clashes at the Al-Aqsa plaza following Ramadan’s final Friday prayers, which wounded more than 200 people.

Police said they were responding to projectiles hurled by “thousands” of rioters.

Mohammed said he was among thousands of people at Al-Aqsa who were breaking the fast, eating a date and drinking water, “when the police starting attacking us”.

Prayers at Al-Aqsa on Saturday for Laylat al-Qadr (Night of Destiny), a peak of Ramadan believed to be the night when the Koran was revealed to the Prophet Mohammed, were largely peacefully.

But unrest persisted in Sheikh Jarrah, where hostilities could heighten further in the days ahead depending on the Supreme Court’s next moves.

Protesters hold up their phones with the light on, alonside Palestinian and Turkish flags during a demonstration against Israel in front of the Israeli Consulate in Istanbul on May 9, 2021. (Photo by Ozan KOSE / AFP)

– All of Palestine –

The court could decide, as early as Monday, whether the Palestinian families facing eviction can appeal the lower court ruling.

“The Sheikh Jarrah case is the case for all of Palestine,” said Malak Orok, 23, who was demonstrating Saturday with friends in Jerusalem.

“Today it is them (the four families). Tomorrow it will be us.”

The area has for years been focal point of intense real-estate battles between well-funded Jewish settler organisations and Palestinians.

Far-right Israeli lawmaker Itamar Ben-Gvir has embroiled himself into the crisis, visiting Sheikh Jarrah to declare that its houses belong to Jews and called on police to “open fire” on protesters.

AFP reporters have seen Jewish settlers in Sheikh Jarrah armed with revolvers and assault rifles.

– Palestinian elections –

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas has condemned Israel over the violence but he too has drawn the ire of some protesters.

Abbas’s decision to postpone Palestinian elections, citing Israel’s refusal to guarantee east Jerusalem voting, has been slammed by some critics as a ploy to delay a vote in which his Fatah movement faced setbacks.

Hamas Islamists who control the Gaza Strip had agreed to the vote and blasted the postponement as a “coup” against its new partnership with Fatah.

Hamas banners were on display during Friday’s Al-Aqsa clashes and some east Jerusalem protesters have branded Abbas as a “traitor”.

Jaad Assad, 24, told AFP many fellow protesters believe Abbas loyalists were corrupt and “are collaborating with Israelis”.

Assad said generations of Palestinians have faced powerful rivals seeking their ouster but had outlasted all of them.

“With God’s help, we will stay,” he vowed.