Riots rock Jerusalem —again

Palestinians staged angry protests in Jerusalem March 16 as part of a “day of rage” declared by Hamas, clashing with police and setting fire to tires and garbage bins. Police in riot gear fired back with rubber bullets, stun grenades and tear gas. Some 60 Palestinians and 14 police officers were reported injured, and at least 30 protesters were arrested.

Israel continued to limit Arab access to the Temple Mount to men over the age of 50 and women. Israeli authorities have also reportedly beefed up security measures around Arab cities in northern Israel, and blocked two busloads of local Arabs from heading for Jerusalem.

The “day of rage” was called to protest the re-dedication the previous night of the ancient Hurva synagogue in the Old City’s Jewish Quarter. Hamas and Fatah officials charge that restoration work at the synagogue endangers al-Aqsa Mosque, situated some 400 yards away. Israel denies the charge. The synagogue was partially destroyed by Jordanian forces in the 1948 war. Hamas’ acting parliamentary speaker, Dr. Ahmed Bahar, called on Palestinians to launch attacks on Israel inside the 1967 borders in response to the “desecration of al-Aqsa.”

The protest was also linked to Israel’s approval of a new 1,600-apartment building plan in East Jerusalem, and other development plans for the Old City. Overnight, two Molotov cocktails were thrown at the controversial Jewish-owned Beit Yonatan building in Silwan neighborhood, causing some damage. Beit Yonatan is a seven-story building that was built without a permit in 2004 in the mostly Arab neighborhood. It currently houses Jewish families associated with the right-wing Ateret Cohanim movement. Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat last month stated that evacuation of Beit Yonatan will be contingent on the demolition of illegal Arab buildings in East Jerusalem.

A coalition of right-wing Jewish organizations—including Temple Institute, the Organization for the Renewal of the Temple, Women in Green, the Temple Mount Heritage Foundation and Israel National Radio-Arutz Sheva—were set to mark March 16 as International Temple Mount Awareness Day, to draw attention to the fact that Jews are limited in their visitation on the Temple Mount and are not permitted to pray there. (JTA, Xinhua, The Guardian, NYT, March 16; YNet, Feb. 14)

The Israeli activist group Peace Now held a press conference March 16 to draw attention to additional Israeli plans to build 309 Jewish housing units in contested East Jerusalem, pointing to a notice on the website of the Israel Lands Authority inviting developers to bid on construction of new homes in the northeast suburb of Neve Yaakov. The housing announcement, published on behalf of the Lands Authority and the Ministry of Housing and Construction, was posted as an “update” and was dated March 11.

Israeli officials said that the building tender in question is actually a few months old, and the successful bidders will be announced in April or May. Peace Now said there was no record that the tender had been published before.

Last week the Israeli Interior Ministry announced 1,600 new housing units for Jews in Ramat Shlomo, another part of East Jerusalem, embarrassing Vice President Joseph Biden, who was on a visit. The move infuriated the Obama administration, coming soon after it had announced the start of US-brokered Israeli-Palestinian “indirect” peace talks, the first in more than a year.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu apologized for the timing of the announcement, calling it a mistake “done in all innocence.” But he has not backed down in asserting Israel’s right to continue building in all of Jerusalem.

In November the Israelis announced a 10-month partial freeze on new settlement building in the West Bank, but excluded “annexed” East Jerusalem from the moratorium. In a speech before the Knesset March 15, Netanyahu said, “No government of Israel for the last 40 years has agreed to place restrictions on building in Jerusalem.” (NYT, March 16)

See our last post on Jerusalem.

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