A night in Jerusalem, April 2021

#Jerusalem #violence #Damascus Gate #Israel #Palestine #occupation #apartheid

7 May 2021


The last few weeks have been marked by numerous incidents at the gates of the Old City of Jerusalem. Clashes between Jewish ultra-nationalists, young Palestinians and the municipality’s police force have led to numerous arrests and hospitalisations. For many people in France, the announcement of this nightly violence caused unease and incomprehension. Faced with these hordes of extreme right-wing youths storming the outskirts of the Old Town and wanting to “smash Arabs”, the memory of the “ratonnades” (violence against North Africans) of the 1950s and 1960s was superimposed on that of the anti-Semitic pogroms. But behind this disturbing manifestation of hatred, it is the Israeli policy of monopolising the territory of Jerusalem that should worry us.
Gil, a young pacifist, was there and gives us his testimony.

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Damascus Gate

On Thursday 22 April, with two of my friends with whom I regularly protest against apartheid, I went to the Damascus Gate to observe what happens there at the breaking of the Ramadan fast.

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Women selling food for Ramadan.

We arrived about 10 minutes before the police harassment started and were able to observe and experience what the people living in the neighbourhood were going through. Where we were, we had not seen any provocation and yet the police started to harass young people sitting on the steps in front of what is considered the most beautiful gate in the Old City. After a few minutes a water cannon arrived (at one point there were even two) and dozens, even hundreds of sound grenades were thrown at us. Then came the mounted police and we were sprayed with a sickening gas.

At one point, Palestinian youths started throwing stones and water bottles at the police riders and shooting off some fireworks. On Ramadan nights, people usually shoot them for fun, but here they knew there would be another forced eviction from the square, as there has been for the past ten days. This was their response to the violent and inexplicable exhortation to leave. At one point, the police even used rubber bullets.

At first people were allowed to leave, but at one point the police did not allow anyone to leave the area for about an hour. We saw families from the Old City and neighbouring areas in a panic, parents with babies in their arms and their own elderly parents beside them, trying to get out of danger... Finally, a policeman allowed two families to leave. Let’s not forget, in this whole story, that Palestinians in Jerusalem are not citizens... they are residents; they only have a right to vote for municipalities, not for the Israeli parliament.

Crowd at the Damascus gate shouting ’freedom’.
Nir Hasson.

At the same time, about a 5-10 minute walk from the Old City, young Israeli Jews coming from Safra and Zion squares were pouring into the streets near Route 60, having organised what they called a ’national honour’ rally and shouting: “Tonight we will kill Arabs!” [1] Some called out to people in the street: “Are you an Arab?”As the police did not allow them to enter the Damascus Gate, they blocked Sultan Suleiman Square and HaNevi’im Street. We left the square to see if we could help the Palestinian workers leave their workplace, but we couldn’t. We, leftists, they just pepper-sprayed us.

How depressing it was to see so many young ultra-Orthodox men (they were perhaps as much as 80% of the “protesters”), who are part of the somewhat cosmopolitan life of Jerusalem, filled with hatred and racism... This is not something new for people who know Jerusalem and Israeli society. But seeing this hatred come down to the streets leaves a bitter taste, especially because it is done by Israelis who should be put on the same level as fascists and has nothing to do with the traditional ultra-Orthodox communities.

We left Jerusalem around 2am, but the violence continued. At about the same time, Jewish rioters barricaded a fashionable restaurant not far away, in the Mahane Yehuda market. They tried to catch and beat Palestinian workers leaving their place of work. The night ended with dozens of young people injured because of police violence, all of them were Palestinians, none of them were part of those Israeli fascist groups calling for violence.

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Temporary barriers installed at Damascus Gate. Eran Tzidkiyahu.

Police harassment at the Damascus Gate has been ongoing since the beginning of Ramadan. Nir Hasson, a Hierosolymite journalist predicted just a day before the start of the holiday, when he saw the barriers set up around the steps, that there would be unrest, as sitting in front of the gate is part of the traditions of “Ramadan nights”. [2]

But here is the positive side of these events. What is happening in Jerusalem is worrying but perhaps promising: on 25 April the police chief decided to remove the barriers. The police are doing this because of the demonstrations in the West Bank, Gaza and Israel. They are afraid that this could turn into an Intifada, a popular uprising. Certainly, the story of the barriers brought people to the streets, but it is also the nights of Ramadan... the movement could die out... or not...

Incidents in Al Berih.

The Bab-el-A’mud (Damascus Gate) story is actually insignificant when compared to Israel’s illegal occupation practices in Jerusalem. It is simply part of its occupation policy. While police harassment is common in some parts of Jerusalem and in villages on the outskirts, what happened at the Damascus Gate is actually symbolic.

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Nibbling. Municipal boundaries of Jerusalem-Al Quds. Map: Jan de Jong, 2000.

For this month of May, a major eviction plan is scheduled to be carried out in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood, on the northern outskirts of the Old City. [3] The same thing has been happening for a long time in the Silwan neighbourhood, south of the city. [4] After Ramadan and Eid, the eviction is expected to take full effect and we need to stop it. And for that we need the support and attention of the international community.

This Sunday is Laylat al-Qadr and Zionist Jerusalem Day. So we can expect some very tense nights between Saturday and Monday.

↬ Gil Hammerschlag

They dream of a new “Jerusalem Nakba”

by Dominique Vidal, journalist and historian

Thanks to Gil. His testimony is all the more valuable because, with rare exceptions, the French mainstream media respect the scandalous omertà on these “ratonnades” - an expression common in Paris during the Algerian war and which is well suited to characterise what is happening in Jerusalem.
Allow me to make four remarks by way of contextualising this story:
1) Those who have been carrying out the violence for the past two weeks, which Gil describes very well, are not isolated thugs: they belong to groups organised and armed to spread anti-Arab terror in the Palestinian part of Jerusalem, notably the Damascus Gate, the Old City and the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood. Some of them are ultra-Orthodox and participate for the first time in such a massive way in these pogroms. The others claim to be followers of the fascist Rabbi Meir Kahane, whose party was banned by the Knesset as “racist” in 1994.
2) Benyamin Netanyahu has made formal alliances with these parties. Unified Torah Judaism (Ashkenazi) and Shas (Sephardic) have long belonged to his governments. And, in the hope of saving his “throne”, he allowed the Religious Zionist Party - including the homophobic Noam and the kahanist Jewish Force, also supporters of the eventual expulsion of Arabs from “Greater Israel” - to enter the Knesset in force on 23 March: he even promised it ministries. Unless he publicly breaks these alliances, the ex-Prime Minister bears a political responsibility for the violence.
3) Gil is right: neither the racist attacks against Palestinians nor the complicity of the police with their leaders are a new phenomenon. What makes it a new event is its scale, its duration, the direct involvement of parties linked to Netanyahu and above all its objective. It is not only about violence triggered to “kill Arabs”: it is also and probably above all about accelerating the Judaization of East Jerusalem, by taking over new houses in the Old City and Sheikh Jarrah on the model of what is happening in Silwan. These people are enraged that, more than fifty years after the Six-Day War, Jerusalem is nearly 40 percent Palestinian, compared to 17 percent at the time. Led by the fascist MP Itamar Ben Gvir, who openly directs operations in Sheikh Jarrah, they dream of what could be called a “new Jerusalem Nakba”.
4) Triggered symbolically on the occasion of Ramadan, this eruption of violence obviously occurs in a very particular context. Benyamin Netanyahu has just failed to form a new government uniting the right, the extreme right and the ultra-Orthodox. President Reuven Rivlin has entrusted the centrist Yair Lapid to form a coalition. No doubt the racist far right and the “men in black” (who are no less racist) fear that tomorrow they will no longer have such free hands for their ethnic cleansing. This implies that the new Prime Minister must radically change his policy, while he must necessarily ally himself with Naftali Bennett - a man who declared: “I have killed many Arabs in my life. And there’s nothing wrong with that.” [5]
The weekend that begins in Jerusalem is one of great danger. Let us not forget the warning of the much-lamented Zeev Sternhell: “There is a racism growing in Israel that is close to Nazism in its early days.” [6]

↬ Dominique Vidal