Last night, there were fierce clashes between Palestinians and the Israeli police in Jerusalems Old City, with more than 200 wounded, mainly on the Palestinian side. Its certainly not the first incident in Jerusalem in the last few weeks. Whats going on and why are the tensions rising so high?
The immediate cause of the recent unrest is the possible eviction of four Palestinian families in East Jerusalem. The Israeli judge must give way to Jewish settlers. Evening after evening there are demonstrations at the houses at issue, which repeatedly ended up in clashes with the Israeli police. There is also a lot of attention on social media.
The Palestinians find it unfair that they should leave. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas speaks of war crimes and the militant movement Hamas threatens Israel with retaliation. The United States, the European Union and the United Nations are also calling on Israel to prevent the evictions. However, according to the Israeli authorities, there is only a legal issue between individuals.
The matter is particularly loaded because Jerusalem is the centre of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Both Israelis and Palestinians see Jerusalem as their capital, although Israel has actually been in control of the city since 1967. But East Jerusalem, where mainly Palestinians live, is still seen by the international community as occupied Palestinian territory.
However, the question of evictions is not the only thing that is going on. Since the beginning of the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan, often a period of ascending tensions, there has been one incident after another.
For example, a conflict around the Damascus Gate rose high, a place in Jerusalem where Muslims often meet during Ramadan. The closure of the area by Israel led to riots, involving Palestinians and police as well as extreme right-wing Jews. It was very violent night after night.
Hamas also made a move by shooting missiles and mortar grenades from the Gaza Strip at Israel, which were answered by Israeli air strikes. After last night, Hamas once again swears revenge on Israel, just like the rival movement Islamic Jihad. Both groups are seen by the West as terrorist organisations.
What is still in the background is that President Abbas postponed indefinitely the Palestinian parliamentary elections to be held this month. He blamed Israel for this because it wanted to prevent voting in East Jerusalem.
This led to fierce criticism among his opponents, including Hamas supporters. The frustration about the postponed elections is expressed both to Abbas and to Israel, with which Abbas, according to his opponents, Abbas is working far too closely together.
This sum of cases coincided with several deadly incidents, including an attack last Sunday in which a 19-year-old Israeli was killed and two injured. Also this week, a 16-year-old Palestinian was shot by the Israeli army. And just yesterday, the Israeli police reported killing two Palestinian shooters, and one third was seriously injured.
Marches through the Old Town
Many Jerusalem residents are bracing themselves for the next few days, as it seems that it will remain restless for a while. Large groups of Palestinians and Israelis are expected to meet in and around the old city, causing escalation in wait.
Tonight, tens of thousands of Muslims are expected at the Al-Aqsamoskee for prayers on the holiest night of Ramadan. Also, from Sunday evening, right-wing Israelis celebrate Jerusalem Day, which is dedicated to the Israeli conquest of the city in 1967, accompanied by marches through the old city, where Palestinians live.
Finally, a hearing of the Israeli Supreme Court is scheduled on Monday on whether the Palestinian families are still allowed to appeal against their eviction. These are all elements that probably lead to the fact that peace in and around Jerusalem will not return for the time being.