By Shelley Neese
This week, on Monday, Israel celebrated Jerusalem Day, the 54th anniversary of the 1967 Six-Day War and the reunification of Jerusalem after defeating the Jordanian army in the battle for the Old City. But as the events over the last seven days have shown, Jerusalem has yet to know lasting peace.
For the last several weeks, there have been regular bouts of fighting between Palestinians and police in Jerusalem, especially the Old City. Ramadan is always witness to escalating tensions in Jerusalem, but this April little sparks ignited larger fires on the daily. It is as if a year of quarantines and social distancing for the pandemic put the conflict to sleep and now it is reawakening with a vengeance.
The background to the violence in April is blamed on a few things. Palestinian grievances point to a case being heard by the Jerusalem Magistrate Court over a real estate dispute in a neighborhood in east Jerusalem. The court has postponed a ruling on evicting four Palestinian families from Jewish owned properties so as not to further ignite the current situation. Also, Palestinians have been protesting in even larger numbers in Jaffa under the accusation that Israel is trying to Judaize the historically mixed town.
From the perspective of Israel, the pretext to the current violence started over the last few weeks in what they have labeled TikTok Terror. Palestinian youth have been assaulting Haredi Jews in public spaces, like pouring coffee on visibly religious Jews on the lightrail or slapping them. They post their abuse on the social media app. This has created a copycat effect that is hard to see as anything other than vile antisemitism, regardless if it is renegade youth or not. Haredi Jews do not usually serve in the IDF and many are not even Zionist. The only reason they are being targeted for these videos is because they are visibly Jewish. Some Islamic leaders have come out and condemned the behavior as unIslamic, but the Palestinian Authority was silent on the matter.
But mostly, like always, tension in Jerusalem surrounds and abounds on the Temple Mount. At the start of Ramadan, Israeli police put up barricades around the Damascus gate to try and do some crowd control for the expected surge of Muslims attending the Friday prayers on the holiday. The Israeli municipal authority said it always puts up barricades at Ramadan, but the Arab authorities claimed that was not true and that the barricades were all part of Israel’s grander plan of changing the status quo on the Temple Mount. Rioting commenced. The Israelis backed down and ended up removing the barricade, but it was too late to quell the uprising.
Jerusalem Day coincided with the last Friday of Ramadan. Israel decided to ban Jews from visiting the Temple Mount on Jerusalem Day, a move that garnered a lot of criticism from those who believed Israeli officials were just rewarding the rioters and punishing Jewish Israelis.
On that day almost 90,000 Muslim worshipers ascended the Temple Mount. Riots soon broke out on the Temple Mount and Israeli Temple Mount police tried to gain control of the situation. Wearing riot gear, the police fired tear gas ganisters (some of which fell in the mosque), stun grenades, and rubber bullets at the rioters. Pictures were posted of smoke coming out of the mosque and immediately alarms were sounded that Israel was “storming the Al-Aqsa Mosque.” Mahmoud Abbas declared his “full support for our heroes in Aqsa.” The rioters, for their part, had stockpiled stones in the mosque in preparation for a standoff. The Western Wall Plaza was cleared out when rioters started throwing rocks and fireworks at the Jews praying at the wall. 300 Palestinians were injured and 21 Israeli officers were hurt as well. No one died.
By Sunday night, the Israeli government made a few serious moves to try and calm the mounting violence. They stopped a march by a small group of right-wing Israelis that usually routes through the Muslim part of the Old City for Jerusalem Day. They also banned any Israelis from ascending the Temple Mount on Jerusalem Day. The police closed the Damascus Gate to try and keep out more rioters from ascending the Temple Mount.
Hamas and Islamic Jihad could not stay quiet. They issued an ultimatum: Israel had to remove all security forces from the Temple Mount, evacuate east Jerusalem, and release any rioters being detained. They gave Israel until 6pm. Hamas leader Fathi Hammad even put out a video announcement calling on Palestinians in Jerusalem to buy knives and cut the heads off Jews. When their deadline passed, rockets started in from Gaza on Monday. They were not just aiming at vulnerable border towns like Sderot; they aimed for Jerusalem. As of this recording, hundreds of rockets have already launched from Gaza into Israel. One rocket hit a home in Jerusalem. The Knesset was evacuated once the warning sirens began. Just across the border, Hamas sent over their signature fiery balloons to set ablaze Israeli fields and forests. Israel responded to all of this with targeted air strikes on Gaza. On Tuesday night over a million Israeli families bunked in their bomb shelters as hundreds more rockets fell on not just Israeli towns bordering Gaza but also Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. As of now, Hamas rockets have targeted Tel Aviv, Herzliya, Yavne, Ashkelon, Jerusalem, Holon, Netanya and basically all of Israel’s south. Hamas is reporting deaths on their side from the Israeli air raids but the press is wise to question their numbers.
World leaders have criticized Israel and called for Israel’s restraint from the start for retaliating on the Temple Mount. Even though Israel has been through four elections in two years, and there is no clear end in site to settle the leadership crisis, there is a unified and determined voice coming from all the party leaders right now in Israel. Perhaps Hamas and the Palestinian Authority were hoping to capture a moment of discord that would allow their reign of terror to go unpunished. The one thing that Israel’s political leaders do agree on right now is that Hamas and the rioters’ aggression must be stopped.
For the Palestinian Authority’s part, they canceled on May 22 what was supposed to be their first election in fifteen years. The Palestinian Authority blamed Israel in some way for not making it convenient enough for Palestinians in Jerusalem to vote. However, Israel does not interfere with Palestinian elections. Mahmoud Abbas is more concerned about Hamas’s showing in any fair election. Abbas is in his 16th year of what should have been a four-year term.
Please join me in your prayer time today and pray the words of Psalms 122: 6-9:
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: “May those who love you be secure. May there be peace within your walls and security within your citadels.” For the sake of my family and friends, I will say, “Peace be within you.” For the sake of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek your prosperity.