Controversial Israeli MP’s visit sparks clashes in Jerusalem

Published February 14, 2022
ISRAELI settlers clash with Palestinians in the east Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah.—AFP
ISRAELI settlers clash with Palestinians in the east Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah.—AFP

JERUSALEM: Israeli pol­ice clashed with Pales­tinians in the flashpoint east Jeru­salem neighbourhood of She­ikh Jarrah on Sunday, during a visit by a controversial far-right Jewish lawmaker that inflamed tensions.

Police said they arrested eight people during the day for suspected involvement in “public riots and viole­nce,” in the area of annexed east Jerusalem that has emerged as a symbol of Pales­tinian resistance against Israeli control of the city.

Scuffles broke out as Itamar Ben Gvir of the far-right Religious Zionism alliance opened a parliamentary office in Sheikh Jarrah, in what he described as an effort to show support for its Jewish residents.

Tensions that erupted in Sheikh Jarrah last year — as several Palestinian families faced eviction by settler groups — in part sparked the May war between Israel and armed groups in the Gaza Strip.

More than 200,000 Jewish settlers live in east Jerusalem, in communities widely regarded as illegal under international law.

Efforts by settler groups to expand the Jewish presence in east Jerusalem, which Palestinians claim as their future capital, have further fuelled hostilities.

Ben Gvir, a Jewish nationalist with a long history of incendiary comments about Palestinians, accused police of failing to react to alleged arson attacks on a settler home in Sheikh Jarrah.

“Jewish lives have become worthless,” Ben Gvir char­ged in a tweet before his visit.

He told reporters in Sheikh Jarrah, where he set up his “make-shift office” under a tent, that he would remain there until police “looked after the security of the (Jewish) residents”.

In a move that risked sparking fresh hostilities, Ben Gvir urged supporters to gather in the area. Pales­tinians were also called on to mobilise, while a group of Jewish Israelis that oppose Ben Gvir circulated a petition online urging people to head to Sheikh Jarrah as a show of support for its Arab residents.

Voicing concern over Sunday’s “violent clashes,” the European Union in a tweet said “irresponsible provocations and other escalatory acts in this sensitive area only fuel further tensions & must cease.” The Palestinian Authority, based in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, condemned Ben Gvir’s visit as a “provocative and escalating move that threatens to ignite... violence that will be difficult to control.” Seven Palestinian facing eviction by settler groups have taken their cases to Israel’s supreme court.

Hamas, the Islamists who control Gaza, warned there would be “consequences” over Israel’s repeated “attacks” on Sheikh Jarrah. Palestinians across east Jerusalem accuse Israeli police of using heavy-handed tactics to quell protests.

Six people were arrested during unrest in the neighbourhood late Saturday.

Israel captured east Jerusalem in the 1967 Six Day War and later annexed it, a move not recognised by most of the international community.

Published in Dawn, February 14th, 2022

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