Violence at Al-Aqsa Mosque, a holy area for Muslims located in East Jerusalem, is escalating. Palestinian protestors are gathering regarding forced eviction from their homes located in East Jerusalem in the neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah due to claims of land by Jewish settlers. Sheikh Jarrah’s residents are mainly Palestinian; however, the neighbourhood includes a site that religious Jews regard as the tomb of Simeon the Just, an ancient high priest.
Israeli police forces have used rubber-coated bullets and stun grenades to deter Palestinians gathered around the Mosque. Video footage has shown attendees throwing chairs, shoes, and rocks at the police in retaliation. The Palestine Red Crescent has described that the majority of those hurt were injured in the face, citing fractured jaws, as well as the loss of eyes, and injuries to the head, due to the Israeli police’s use of excessive force.
Close to 205 Palestinians were reportedly injured and continue to be in these clashes surrounding one of Islam’s holiest sites as well as throughout East Jerusalem. The violence first began on Friday, leading up to the weekend where Israeli police appeared where Muslims were performing evening prayers at the Mosque. It is currently the holy month of Ramadan, where these evening prayers are elongated with more individuals attending prayer. Israeli police closed gates barring off Al-Aqsa, preventing individuals from being able to enter due to the ongoing protests. Officials from Al-Aqsa have called for peace, stating “Police must immediately stop firing stun grenades at worshippers, and the youth must calm down and be quiet.” The United States and the United Nations have both urged for peace and restraint to occur in the city. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has stated he holds “Israel responsible for the dangerous developments and sinful attacks taking place in the holy city,” and added that the UN Security Council must hold a session on this issue due to its urgency.
Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, Israel has maintained its vaccine campaign resulting in the lifting of health restrictions. This has contributed to the ability for more individuals to join together in worship at the Mosque, however, due to the mentioned blocked gates, Palestinians from the occupied West Bank are unable to join.
After Friday prayers, thousands of Palestinians remained in the area to continue protests against the evictions including a chant commonly used in Jerusalem protests, “With our soul and blood, we will redeem you, Aqsa.” The Supreme Court of Israel has scheduled a hearing to settle the land claims in Sheikh Jarrah occurring on May 10, 2021. Both Israelis and Palestinians are prepared for more violence to occur regardless of what the hearing rules.
Laylat al-Qadr, or “Night of Destiny” which is considered the most sacred time in Ramadan, has prompted more worshippers to gather for prayers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque. However, this time has coincided with the beginning of Jerusalem Day, a national holiday celebrated by Israelis for the annexation of East Jerusalem, which will bring more people to the area and potentially lead to increased tension.
Spokesmen for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights claimed that the evictions would violate Israel’s obligations under international law on the East Jerusalem territory it occupied in the 1967 Middle East War. The foreign ministry in Israel stated that Palestinians are involved in disputes between private parties which are appearing as “a nationalist cause” to facilitate violence in Jerusalem. Palestinians declared this allegation untrue, and that they are trying to protect their homes from unfair evictions. This forced displacement would impact Palestinian families throughout the neighbourhood, and thousands continue to protest against this. However, the Israeli police have recently barricaded the entrances of Sheikh Jarrah to prevent Palestinians and activists from entering the area. Protestors continue to gather around the blockades and are met by Israeli border police using tear gas, rubber-coated bullets, as well as shock grenades in tandem with arresting Palestinian protestors. The OWP will continue to monitor this situation closely.