Another “Perfect Storm” in Jerusalem

The combination of violence and the “eviction” narrative became headline stories in the international media, and governmental officials, including in the Biden Administration, issued the standard calls for restraint by all sides.
May 12, 2021
Israeli Police officers run during clashes with Palestinians during the holy month of Ramadan on May 8, 2021 in Jerusalem, Israel. (Photo by Amir Levy/Getty Images)

The periodic explosions of Palestinian violence in Jerusalem, accompanied by manipulated media campaigns and international condemnations of Israel, have a depressing predictability. Since the first riots during Passover in 1920, the event has repeated many times (1929, 1947/8, 1967, 1990, 2000), and the script is basically unchanged. The Palestinians’ battle cry focuses on the supposed threat posed by the Jews or Zionists to the Al Aqsa mosque located on the Temple Mount — erasing 3,000 years of Jewish history — and demands exclusivity for Muslims.

The timing is important — many of the clashes take place during Ramadan, often when it coincides with a Jewish holiday, creating the conditions necessary for whipping up the religious emotions of the masses and turning them towards violent attacks. This is also the situation now.

The latest set of clashes began with a campaign over homes in the Sheik Jarrah neighborhood of Jerusalem. Sheik Jarrah isknown in Hebrew as Shimon HaTzadik, named after the Second Temple High Priest who is buried there. The Israeli Supreme Court was scheduled to issue a decision on the 40-year-old property dispute involving Palestinians living in buildings that had been purchased by Jews in the 19th century. In the 1948 war, the Jews living there were expelled by Jordan, who gave the homes to Palestinians. Although the area was recaptured by Israel in 1967, Arab residents were allowed to stay as long as they paid rent. But they refused to pay or recognize Jewish ownership, and lower courts ruled that the legal owners had the right to reclaim the property. The final court decision was expected to authorize evictions.

A network of influential political NGOs groups, acting under the facade of human rights, predictably twisted the facts beyond recognition and labeled the expected court decision as Israeli “apartheid” and a “war crime.” The Palestinian Al Haq organization (largely funded by European governments) launched a major and successful propaganda campaign to manipulate journalists, diplomats, the U.N. and the International Criminal Court.

A network of influential political NGOs groups predictably twisted the facts beyond recognition.

In parallel, under the rallying cry of “Al Aqsa is in danger” (although Sheik Jarrah is outside the Old City walls and not in the immediate area of the Temple Mount), mobs attacked Jews on their way to pray at the Western Wall, as well as the police assigned to protect them. Young Israelis then came out to confront the Palestinians, and the injuries increased. The combination of violence and the “eviction” narrative became headline stories in the international media, and governmental officials, including in the Biden Administration, issued the standard calls for restraint by all sides.

In order to lower tensions, the Israeli government took the unusual step of asking the court to delay its decision, and the judges agreed. But Palestinians, perhaps interpreting the Israeli caution as weakness, added more fuel to the conflict. Piles of rocks, molotov cocktails and other weapons were stockpiled in mosques, ready for use against Jews.

Monday, May 10, was Jerusalem Day on the Israeli calendar, marking the annual celebration of the re-unification of the city during the 1967 war. The events included a mass march with Israeli flags through the Old City (perceived as a provocation by Palestinians) and ended with an event in the Western Wall plaza. The anniversary coincided with the last days of Ramadan — in other words, a “perfect” Jerusalem storm.

Recognizing an opportunity to exploit the explosive situation, Hamas leaders in Gaza jumped in as the self-proclaimed protector of Al Aqsa. After planned Palestinian elections were cancelled, largely for fear that Hamas would win and take control over the West Bank, this was a chance for Hamas to gain more public recognition and support. Doing what Hamas does best, they fired some rockets at the Israeli communities along the Gaza border and announced that unless their demands were met by 6 PM, they would launch large-scale missile attacks, including at Jerusalem.

Monday morning thus began with a number of clashes in the Old City and on the Temple Mount, accompanied by one-sided images of wounded Palestinians, further inflaming passions. Seeing this, the Israeli leadership belatedly ordered a change in the route of the flag march to avoid the Arab sections of the Old City, signaling further de-escalation efforts.

But the stage was set for another full-fledged conflict. At 6 PM, Hamas launched seven of its largest Iranian-supplied missiles in the direction of Jerusalem, followed by hundreds of rockets aimed at southern communities in the next 24 hours. The sirens went off, and hundreds of thousands of Israelis ran to shelters. A number of Israelis were killed and more injured.

How far this round of fighting will go and how it will end remains to be seen. Many Israelis from left, right and center are calling for a full-fledged military operation to destroy the thousands of missiles stockpiled in Gaza. They are aware of the damage that Hamas could cause by firing these weapons and by killing Israeli soldiers if a ground war becomes necessary. And even if this happens, it will not end the manipulation of the Jerusalem issue. But if a major operation silences the rocket attacks for a number of years and restores deterrence, Israelis will see this as a successful outcome.

Gerald Steinberg is emeritus professor of political science at Bar-Ilan University, and heads the Institute for NGO Research in Jerusalem.

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