Clashes continue at Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate

On Sunday morning, all seemed quiet at the Damascus Gate, with a small group of hijab-clad women standing and talking. On the stairs leading into the Muslim Quarter of the Old City, the shops were open and some customers were hanging around. But within minutes, the atmosphere changed dramatically, when a group of four teenagers arrived and began taking photos of the policemen standing upstairs with their smartphones.

The four seemed to encourage each other to get closer and closer to the position of the police located on the stairs to the door. Amin, the owner of a store across the street from Sultan Suleiman along the gate, who walked me there, told me to look closely at the group of young people. “Look at them, soon they will start throwing stones or approaching the police, provoking them and trying to make them leave the post, and the riot will start again.”

Fortunately, that morning nothing happened, as the four of them finally left and returned to the interior of the Old City. But for Amin and those in the neighboring shops, it was just a short break from what has become their unpleasant daily life.

In recent months, the Damascus Gate has become the scene of a violent ritual that, more than once, has caused changes in bus routes for fear of the safety of passengers. Palestinian youths arrive in groups, instantly creating a confrontation with the police stationed there. NGOs and journalists complain that, in too many cases, police officers respond with excessive brutality, leading to additional rounds of violence by these young people. There is no organization behind these outbreaks of violence, as no Palestinian organization has taken responsibility for them; Old Town merchants think it’s bad for business, but so far there are no signs that calm has been restored.

At first, about four months ago, the riots in Jerusalem were seen as part of the riots that were occurring across Israel as a result of the Palestinian Authority elections, Hamas intervention, and the complex political situation. Most of the riots took place in the Damascus Gate area, as well as on the Temple Mount. But today it seems that things have gotten out of control and the riots, starring and led exclusively by very young boys, some of them just 13 or 14 years old, do not seem to fade away. The reasons behind these riots are unclear and they do not appear to serve the interests of any of the parties involved, but nothing puts an end to them.

In Jerusalem, the first incident took place on the light rail on April 15: the “TikTok” case of an assault on a young Haredi was soon followed by more of these violent actions, carried out by Arab teenagers armed with their smartphones. and connected. to many social media platforms. On May 6, after no agreement was reached on the ownership of the apartments in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem, and the Supreme Court asked both parties to appear before it again, the atmosphere turned more tense. And then came the celebrations of the Night of al-Qadr (the 27 night of the month of Ramadan, which brings together hundreds of thousands of Muslims in the al-Aqsa Mosque) immediately followed by Jerusalem Day and its controversial parade of flags. inside the Muslim Quarter.

Following the riots, the court hearing on the Sheikh Jarrah affair was postponed 30 days, a decision that led to another round of riots, as on May 10, Palestinian protesters lit fireworks and set fire to a tree on Mount Del Temple, creating a fire in parallel with the parade of flags on Jerusalem Day. Twenty-two Palestinian youths were arrested with great force, while a bus was stoned with stones and bricks; Two weeks ago, Egged decided to stop the passage of the line to the Western Wall on Sultan Suleiman Street, near the gate. The company said that “in recent weeks, Egged buses have been [affected by] violent stone-throwing attacks in the area. Due to the danger, it was decided to drop the passengers off in front of the Western Wall station. We hope the police will help keep the passengers safe. ”This did not stop the violence, and in the following days, until last week, buses were stoned almost regularly every night, while violent clashes took place at the Damascus Gate. between these young people and the policemen.

But what is behind these events is still not very clear. While no one admits to being behind or leading the violence, the frustration and anger of the traders in the area increases daily. “We had the coronavirus, we had the military events and we still don’t have tourists,” Amin lamented. “We barely survived the situation, and these brats are destroying the last hope we have of getting back to normal life.”

For Odeh, another shop owner in Damascus Gate, this is simply a matter of lack of parental and educational authority. “They take photos of themselves provoking the police, they spread the videos on social networks and they realize that they are heroes. They are not afraid of the powerful Israeli police. That is what it is all about, for them it is a game, but the damage for us is enormous ”.

When asked if these riots could escalate into more organized violent activities, Amin said the chances are nil: “Who will organize another intifada these days? We all remember the terrible price we paid last time. Furthermore, we all know that we Palestinians in Jerusalem do not matter to all Palestinian organizations, Abu Mazen. [Mahmoud Abbas]The PA doesn’t care about us. Hamas doesn’t care about us. Israel doesn’t care about us, so we have to take care of ourselves.

Israeli police are seen spraying skunk water outside the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem, on June 17, 2021 (credit: JAMAL AWAD / FLASH90).

“We need calm, to be able to earn a living. It is difficult enough after the pandemic and the lack of tourists, do we also need an intifada in addition to this, so that the Israeli right-wing parties use it as an excuse to violate the few rights that have?

When asked why parents and educators are not influencing young people, Amin sighs and remarks: “The Israeli police are no less violent towards them, but frankly none of these children would dare provoke a police officer from the police. Palestinian Authority, that would be too much. ” dangerous. So here they are arrested, they beat them hard, and the more they beat them, the more ‘heroic’ they become in the eyes of their friends, but that’s all that can happen to them.

“They have no idea of ​​the consequences for us adults.”

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