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Israel Police work to keep Jews, Arabs from clashing – reporter’s notebook

CM 23/04/2021


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A week of tensions in Jerusalem culminated on Thursday night in a mass march by right wing and religious Jewish Israelis near the Old City. At the same time hundreds of Arabs also gathered near Damascus Gate. The two sides would have clashed in bloody battles had Israeli police, including specially training anti-riot police and mounted horse units, not worked to calm tensions and push back the participants looking for a fight. The clashes on April 22 were not unique in Jerusalem. Far-right Israeli rallies have taken place in the past, including by groups linked to Lehava and pro-Kahane activists. The hundreds of mostly young men who gathered on April 22 came out after more than a year of lockdowns during the pandemic. They also came out after clashes between Jewish and Arab youth on Wednesday night. Most who came were not hard core activists, but hangers on, young men and teens who were brought together through friends and social media, some shouting racist slogans, and others looking for something to do. Most, when they thought violence might break out, ran away. Others, more extreme, sought out violence.  At the same time hundreds of Arabs gathered near Damascus gate, where there have been clashes with Israeli police for a week since Ramadan began. They threw some stones at police and police used flash-bang explosives and water cannons from “stink tanks” to remove the people. Fires were lit on the streets leading to Damascus Gate. Elsewhere in the city at least one Jewish man was nearly lynched. Video showed an Arab home in the Old City also being attacked by Jewish youth. Like most things, a few videos don’t tell the whole story. I’ve covered protests, riots and clashes in Jerusalem for more than a decade, including the very serious clashes that took place in 2014 after the murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir. There were also the mass prayers and tensions in 2017 after a terror attack led to metal detectors being installed near the entrances to the Temple Mount and al-Aqsa compound. And there was the “stabbing intifada” in 2015-2016.  All of these kinds of clashes have similar elements. There is a psychology of crowds and masses of people. While a simple narrative will tell us that far-right Israeli racists gathered and shouted “death to the Arabs” and police attacked Arabs near Damascus Gate, what actually happened is more complex. Police worked to corral the Jewish marchers who began walking toward the Old City from the municipality in Jerusalem. They walked down a deserted light rail line and the police had set up a road block on Route 1, forcing the hundreds of Jews, most of whom were teenagers, to walk along the Old City walls, passing the New Gate to an area where they were corralled. Police were serious in keeping the Jewish activists in a closed area, so that all they could do was go back to Jaffa street and away from the Old City. This meant their desire to fight with Arabs at Damascus Gate was prevented. Lines of police barricades and layers of police kept them away. At the same time, while the Jewish marchers shouted anti-Arab slogans, most of them ran when there were rumors of clashes with police. Although a few tried to break through the police cordon, they were intimidated by the chance of violence. They wanted the police between them and the Arabs of East Jerusalem. Most came to smoke and talk, with some teenage women among them. Most were religious and many Ultra-Orthodox teens came out around midnight to be onlookers. Eventually, corralled and unable to get to Damascus Gate, they went back towards the municipality. The overall feeling was similar to the Jerusalem Day marchers, which also include some of the religious far-right and anti-Arab hatred.  The Jewish marchers argued with those they accused of being “leftists” who had come to oppose the march. In previous nights these hooligans had also harassed journalists with cameras. Some young men brought pepper spray and on April 22 video said they had attacked Arabs on Hillel street in Jerusalem.  

It’s worth noting that the large march and clashes on April 22 did not come spontaneously. Over the week since Ramadan began, there were several TikTok videos that showed Arabs attacking Orthodox Jews near the Old City. Clashes in Jaffa and near Damascus Gate frame the tensions. The fact that large numbers of people can once again gather at bars in West Jerusalem, with the vaccination program leading to an end of restrictions, and the gatherings on Ramadan near Damascus Gate, have helped provide the masses of people that fuel the exploitative tensions by religious right wing troublemakers on both sides.  Around the police cordon, near Damascus Gate on Thursday night, hundreds of Arab men gathered mostly to watch police and to watch the fifty journalists who had also come. These kinds of groups have their own dynamics. Because of the cameras and police presence there is a tendency for the police to become a magnet for altercations. That is what happened on Thursday night. Some youths threw stones at the two large “stink tanks,” kind of white whale-like trucks that can spray water mixed with stink substance on people. It was not clear if both the vehicles had the stinky cannons, because it appears water was also used. Riot police chased young men around the streets and shops near Damascus Gate. For the most part they didn’t appear to detain anyone. But a dumpster was set on fire and a fire was begun between Damascus and Herod’s Gate. This gave the evening a bit of a hellish feeling, with smoke billowing and flash-bang grenades, used to scare the crowd, bursting with fire-work like intensity. From where I was only one person was lightly wounded. Reports said that dozens were detained in injured elsewhere.  The police, without a massive presence but using metal barriers effectively, used the water cannons, several mounted horse police and crowd control measures to keep the crowds away from each other. The potential for more violence was clear because when Arab youths heard rumors the Jewish activists had broken through they ran to confront them shouting “Allahu akbar” and other slogans. In the end police appeared to have kept the sides apart. However, in another part of the city, near Wadi Joz, a Jewish man was badly beaten and a car set on fire. This illustrated the potential for much worse.  These kinds of rallies and the cycle of hate that come with them, including the videos that lead to rising anger on both sides, can lead to murder. That was the case in 2014 when the murder of three Jews in the West Bank by Hamas members helped set the stage for the Abu Khdeir murder in Jerusalem. The kind of tensions can also lead to radicalization and terror attacks. However, just 100 meters from the clashes, relative calm and normal life continued in Jerusalem. In East Jerusalem people went home to Ramadan. In West Jerusalem people sat at bars and drank, un-aware of the clashes just around the corner. 
Source: Jerusalem Post

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CM

The host of Coffee Mouth Scare Crow Show and CEO of 452 Impact, Inc. Here is food for thought. Romans 6:23 "For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." John 3:16 "For God so love ed the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him shall be saved."

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