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Far-right lawmaker visit sparks uproar in east Jerusalem

February 14, 2022

Unrest erupted after a controversial Israeli lawmaker set up "an office" in the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah and called on ultranationalist Jewish activists to join him. Over 30 people were injured in the clashes.

 Israeli settlers clash with Palestinians in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah
Evictions of Palestinian families in Sheikh Jarrah have caused controversy in Arab-majority east JerusalemImage: Ahmad Gharabli/AFP/Getty Images

Violent clashes broke out in a flashpoint neighborhood in east Jerusalem late on Sunday, after a visit from a controversial lawmaker caused tensions to boil over between Palestinian residents and ultranationalist Jewish activists.

The latest flareup of tensions took place in the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, where clashes last year escalated into an 11-day war between Israeli forces and Hamas militants.

In a separate incident likely also to drive tensions, Israeli forces killed a Palestinian teen during an operation to demolish two homes in the occupied West Bank.

What happened in east Jerusalem?

Israeli police deployed water cannon in an effort to disperse Palestinian protesters, including spraying them with foul-smelling water.

Authorities said at least 12 people were detained for "public riots and violence," saying some detainees threw rocks and fired flares.

One video on social media appeared to show a riot officer kicking a young Palestinian man.

The Red Crescent reported that at least 31 Palestinians, including a child, were wounded during clashes with authorities. A reporter for news agency AFP said that one police officer was injured as well.

Why did the clashes break out?

The tensions began after a Jewish settler home in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood was set on fire over the weekend.

In response, ultranationalist lawmaker Itamar Ben-Gvir announced that he would set up an "office" in a tent in the neighborhood on Sunday. Ben-Gvir, a far-right politician who is known for making incendiary remarks about Palestinians, also called on ultranationalist supporters to join him.

Itamar Ben-Gvir, an Israeli lawmaker, sits at a table in a makeshift "office" in the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah
Ben-Gvir is a member of the far-right Otzma Yehudit partyImage: Ahmad Gharabli/AFP/Getty Images

Palestinian residents gathered in response. Jewish Israelis that oppose Ben-Gvir also called on people to gather in Sheikh Jarrah to show support for the neighborhood's Arab residents.

Tensions soon boiled over into violent clashes, with opponents of Ben-Gvir throwing chairs at his makeshift tent office.

Ben-Gvir, who said he intended to spend the night in the neighborhood, accused Israeli police of "extreme brutality" against his followers. He also tweeted a picture of himself from the hospital, saying that he'd fainted, but intended to return.

Many Palestinian families in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood and other areas in east Jerusalem face eviction by Jewish settler groups. Thousands of other Palestinians live in buildings that also face demolition.

What happened in the West Bank?

In separate clashes in the occupied West Bank village of Silat al-Harithiya on Sunday night, a Palestinian teenager was killed.

The 17-year-old died after sustaining a gunshot wound to his head, the Palestinian Health Ministry said.

Israeli forces had arrived in the village as part of an operation to demolish the homes of two detained Palestinians who were accused of opening fire at a car in the West Bank in December, killing a Jewish settler.

Israel's military said in a statement that riots broke out ahead of the planed demolition, with "hundreds of Palestinians" taking part.

Some of the people in the crowd threw explosives at Israeli troops, the military said.

"The troops identified a number of armed rioters, and fired towards them in order to neutralize the threat," the Israeli army said. The statement did not comment directly on the teen's death.

How have officials reacted?

The European Union responded quickly to the spike in tensions, calling on the "violent clashes" to end quickly.

"Incidents of settler violence, irresponsible provocations and other escalatory acts in this sensitive area only fuel further tensions & must cease," the EU's delegation for Palestinians wrote on Twitter.

The Israeli police said that it would show "zero tolerance" for any group contributing to the violence.

"Israel Police will continue to act with determination and zero tolerance for violence of any kind, violation of public order and attempts to harm police officers or civilians in violation of the law," authorities said in a statement.

The Palestinian Authority, based in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, sharply criticized the actions of Ben-Gvir, calling it an "escalating move that threatens to ignite ... violence that will be difficult to control."

The militant Hamas group, which controls Gaza, issued a warning over the unrest, threatening "consequences" should the clashes continue.

During the 1967 war, Israel captured east Jerusalem, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Israel later annexed east Jerusalem, which is the home of some of the most holy sites in the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths.

The annexation is not recognized by the international community. Palestinians claim east Jerusalem as the capital of a future state, while Israel considers the entire city to be its capital.

rs/wd  (AP, AFP)