Tension remains high as Israel marks Jerusalem Day

What happened: There has been more Arabs rioting on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem this morning, ahead of Jerusalem Day march scheduled for this afternoon.

  • Since last night seven rockets were fired from the Gaza Strip towards southern Israel. Two rockets were fired at the Ashkelon area, one was intercepted by the Iron Dome system and the other fell in an uninhabited area. Two other rockets landed inside the Gaza Strip. Earlier this morning three more rockets were launched. One was intercepted and two fell in uninhabited areas.
  • There was also an escalation of incendiary balloons launched from the Gaza Strip yesterday that caused more than 40 fires in fields in the western Negev.
  • In response, IDF tanks fired at Hamas military positions in the southern Gaza Strip.
  • COGAT, the Coordinating Office of Government Activities in the Territories, announced that the fishing zone around Gaza would be closed. The Erez crossing has also been closed until further notice, barring exceptional cases.
  • There was more rioting in Jerusalem last night, for the third consecutive evening, but with lower intensity that previous evenings. The police used stun grenades to disperse rioters who threw stones and bottles at police at Damascus Gate.
  • Despite the religious sensitivities around the Temple Mount, Israel Police have entered the area to clear out violent rioters among the crowds in an effort to prevent a further deterioration.
  • Yesterday, at the entrance to Hebrew University, three policemen sustained light injuries while dispersing a violent clash when Arabs attacked Jewish students. Three of the rioters were arrested. In other incidents elsewhere in Jerusalem, two Jewish residents sustained light injuries from stones.

Context: Jerusalem Day marks the 1967 recapture of Jerusalem and the re-unification of Jerusalem under Jewish sovereignty for the first time since the Second Temple was destroyed in the year 70.

  • One of the triggers of the latest violence in Jerusalem was anticipated eviction of several Arab Jerusalem families in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood. Following an intervention by the Attorney General, the Supreme Court decided yesterday to postpone today’s hearing for a further 30 days.
  • The pending evictions case has been a protracted legal battle for the last 15 years between the Arab residents and Nahalat Shimon, a pro-settler organisation registered in the US, that claims ownership. Due to the sensitivity, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit is now looking to present the state’s position even though the state is not one of the parties involved in the dispute.
  • The violence in Jerusalem coincides with heightened tension around the end of Ramadan and frustration following the cancellation of the Palestinian elections. Having been denied an election, Hamas is looking to increase its influence and enhance its standing among the Palestinian population.
  • According to security analyst Alex Fishman in Yediot Ahronot ,“Hamas is focused on two objectives: sparking a new Intifada in the West Bank by encouraging a wave of violent demonstrations and terror attacks against Israeli targets; and acting gradually to set the Gaza border on fire. The rocket fire on Ashkelon yesterday was another attempt to provoke Israel into retaliating powerfully.”
  • Israel is striving to strike a balance in defending her citizens and maintaining deterrence whilst also aware that the key to resuming quiet is restraint, and not to respond too heavily to the provocations, so as not further exasperate the situation.
  • Diplomatically, Israel has asked Egyptian officials to use their influence to try and rein in Hamas.

Looking forward: The Jerusalem Day ‘march of the flags’ is scheduled to begin at 4pm local time. The traditional route goes through Damascus Gate and through parts of the Muslim Quarter of the Old City. Security officials are concerned this could trigger more violence and have recommended re-routing the march and limiting participants to around 10,000 people.

  • The government has decided not to allow Jews to visit the Temple Mount, as they have done traditionally on Jerusalem Day, and will have to decide whether to allow visits in the lead up to the Shavuot festival next week.

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