Tensions and Kahanists in Jerusalem

Overview 

Tensions have flared between Israelis and Palestinians in Jerusalem since the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan nearly two weeks ago. The Israel Police triggered the escalation when it placed barricades outside the Old City’s Damascus Gate, one of the few public spaces available to Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem where Muslims traditionally gather in the evenings during Ramadan following daytime fasting. The closure, which Israeli authorities said was aimed to limit the number of pedestrians entering the Old City, prompted clashes between police and residents of East Jerusalem who tried to breach the barricades. Israel removed the barriers on April 24, but those initial confrontations led to more widespread tensions both in Jerusalem and along the border with the Gaza Strip: The far-right anti-Arab group Lehava organized a march in East Jerusalem in which Israelis chanted “Death to Arabs!” and Palestinians have attacked Jews in the city and posted videos of the assaults on social media.  

Tensions have also intensified in the Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, where Palestinian families face eviction due to claims by Jewish settlers and groups backing them like the Ir David Foundation (known as Elad), while Palestinian demonstrators and their Israeli and international allies have been met with excessive police force. (In one shocking incident, Israeli lawmaker Ofer Cassif was brutally beaten by police at a demonstration in early April.) Meanwhile, rocket fire from Gaza resumed following the Jerusalem clashes and Israel has reinforced its military presence along the border. With Jerusalem Day approaching on May 10, the situation could escalate further, as right-wing extremists hold their annual flag parade on that day, marching through Palestinian neighborhoods in the Old City, chanting racist slogans and inciting violence and vandalism. 

Since the start of the recent flare-up in Jerusalem, the New Israel Fund (NIF) grantees have been central to civil society efforts to lessen the friction, calling on Israeli authorities to remove the barricades and reduce the police presence in East Jerusalem during Ramadan and working to ensure that the rights of Jews and Arabs in the city are safeguarded.  

NIF and our grantees have long worked to realise a vision of Jerusalem as a shared city for Israeli Jews and Arabs and to combat racism, hate crimes, and incitement. This work is, sadly, more urgent and relevant than ever. 

Watch a video briefing we held on Wed 28 April with Eran Tzidkiyahu, an expert on Jewish-Arab relations in Jerusalem, and a geopolitically focused Jerusalem guide, and Adi Tufik as we explored what sparked the recent violence and protests. To watch the 35 minute briefing, click here 

Below is presented an overview of some of the recent activities we support: 

Promoting Jerusalem as a Shared City 

Ir Amim  Ir Amim, which works to make Jerusalem a more equitable and sustainable city for Israeli and Palestinian residents, has been at the forefront of current efforts to quell the violence in the city. Ir Amim, along with the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), submitted an urgent appeal to the Israel Police demanding that it remove the barricades at Damascus Gate, which it did on April 24, and desist from use of excessive force. Ir Amim also advocated directly with Knesset members from across the political spectrum to put pressure on the police, and has been educating the public about the situation through social media.  

Ir Amim also continues to monitor settlement expansion and organize public campaigns to increase opposition to such developments in Silwan, Sheikh Jarrah, Givat Hamatos, Mount of Olives, and elsewhere throughout East Jerusalem. One recent example is a campaign, in partnership with organizations including Peace Now, denouncing the eviction of the Sumarin family. Their case has been going on since the early 1990s—when the Jewish National Fund (JNF-KKL) began a legal battle to have the family evicted—and has attracted attention from progressive Jewish groups around the world. The court’s decision is still pending, but it is clear that the work of Ir Amim and its partner organizations is keeping this vital issue in the public eye. In recent months, Ir Amim became one of the first organizations to resume in-person public education work, leading tours of East Jerusalem for Israelis. 

Emek Shaveh  Emek Shaveh works to defend cultural heritage rights and to protect ancient sites that belong to members of all communities, faiths, and people in Jerusalem and elsewhere in Israel and the West Bank. As part of its work, the organization closely monitors the increasing Jewish settlement of parts of East Jerusalem, including near the Damascus Gate, which it calls “the central gateway for Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem to the Old City.” Against the backdrop of the latest violence, Emek Shaveh published an explainer about the history and importance of Damascus Gate for East Jerusalem Palestinians and about its centrality to a government plan to cement control over East Jerusalem. 

Emek Shaveh, along with Arab researchers and historians and the Association for Arab Culture also recently petitioned the High Court to repeal funding provisions set by the Ministry for Jerusalem and Heritage. The ministry issued an open call for proposals for heritage sites that connect to Zionist figures, actively excluding non-Jewish historical sites. Emek Shaveh and their partners appealed directly to the Ministry, and facing resistance, took the case to the High Court. 

Peace Now  NIF has provided emergency funding to Peace Now for its campaign to thwart displacement of Palestinian residents of the East Jerusalem neighborhoods Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan. Peace Now has helped spearhead the campaign in Israel and abroad to successfully bring visibility to this issue. It has organized activists who attend frequent rallies in East Jerusalem, brought Palestinian residents to speak to lawmakers, diplomats, and Jewish stakeholders, publicized reports, spoken at the United Nations, and brought many of the world’s top media outlets to East Jerusalem to report on the situation. In February 2021, Peace Now organized the first march from Silwan to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Balfour residence in West Jerusalem (video), an event attended by 700 people and featured in every major Israeli media outlet.  

Peace Now’s next initiative to raise awareness about evictions in East Jerusalem is scheduled for May 2021, when it plans to organize hundreds of activists and residents to hang a string of lights on each home under threat in Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan(The lights will be arranged into numbers to show the number of people in the family who would be evicted, or the date of the eviction.The action would ideally take place around Jerusalem Day, which celebrates the 1967 unification of the city. In recent years, that day has been appropriated by the right as an ultra-nationalist day of celebration that includes harassment and violence toward East Jerusalem Palestinians.   

Combating Racism and Incitement 

Tag Meir – Light Tag Forum Tag Meir is a coalition comprising over 50 groups from across the religious spectrum that works to combat hate crimes and racism by holding demonstrations, paying condolence visits to Jewish and Arab victims of violence and terror, and appealing to public figures and lawmakers to curb racist and inciteful rhetoric. Tag Meir views the struggle against racism as central to Israel’s democratic and Jewish character and has won legitimacy among the Israeli public as a voice of moral reason and clarity. Tag Meir has denounced the escalating violence in Jerusalem and urged its supporters to go to conflict zones in Jerusalem and appeal to residents not to take part in the violence. On April 25, the night of the hate march organized by LehavaTag Meir members patrolled parts of the city to protect Arab residents from Jewish extremists and have also expressed solidarity with Jewish residents of Jerusalem who were attacked by Palestinians. More recently, Tag Meir activists handed out flowers to Arab municipal street cleaners following attacks by Jewish extremists.     

Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC) – Racism Crisis Center  Founded in August 2017, the RCC is an initiative of the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC) and the Coalition Against Racism in Israel. The RCC was founded to assist victims of racism to stand up for their legal rights and receive legal and psychological help based on their needsThe RCC seeks to understand the roots of racism in Israel and its extent and nature by mapping racist incidents around the country. The RCC provides multi-lingual support in Hebrew, Arabic, Russian, Amharic, and English to victims who contact us to report incidents of racism. The RCC also provide legal assistance (or referrals for legal help), information and guidance, and referrals to receive other aid as needed. Based on the different patterns of racism that emerge from our clients’ reports, the RCC runs public campaigns to raise awareness and create change in Israeli society, and advocates on victims’ behalf in the Knesset and among other public officials. 

Before the recent violent conflicts in Jerusalem, IRAC wrote a letter to the police urging authorities to organize and mobilize forces to prevent violent clashes between extremist Lehava protesters and East Jerusalem Palestinians. IRAC also reached out to the media and lawmakers to make sure that the police make the required arrangements. As the protests unfolded, the RCC issued a call to any victims or witnesses of violence to reach out for assistance. IRAC also re-issued its petition to Twitter to suspend the accounts of Lehava (and Lehava head Bentzi Gopstein) in cooperation with the ADL. 

Ahead of the 2019 elections, the RCC and Tag Meir received an emergency NIF grant to petition the Supreme Court to bar leaders from Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) from running for the Knesset due to their “incitement to racism and denial of the state of Israel’s status as a Jewish and democratic state.” Three party leaders were banned from running in the elections. The RCC’s sustained legal campaign resulted in Bentzi Gopstein, the notoriously racist leader Lehava and a member of Otzma Yehudit, being charged with incitement to violence and racism and support for terrorism. Gopstein’s trial got underway in June 2020 and he faces up to five years imprisonment if convicted. 

 

Last Updated 30.04.21