It is nearly unheard of for Israeli police to block Jewish worshipers from reaching the Western Wall. But yesterday afternoon border authorities cinched back a hard plastic retracting wall of a Jerusalem checkpoint people have to pass through to reach the holy structures and for the first time in 14 years they also closed all access to al-Aqsa Mosque compound, preventing prayer in a campaign to stifle the unrest smothering Jerusalem.
However, authorities had difficulty putting a lid on Israeli-rightists attempting to enter the Haram al-Sharif, the location of sites holy to two religions, for Jews the Temple Mount, for Muslims the al-Aqsa Mosque. A chorus of rightists waving flags to the Jewish state banged on the metal doors of another entrance chanting “it will be free” in reference to the Temple Mount, others jumped the barricades that lead into the Haram al-Sharif–an act that could have explosive consequences and a reminder of the start of the Second Intifada.
At yet another checkpoint to the Western Wall, settler spiritual leader Baruch Marzel rallied supporters to push through border police, spilling a nationalists’ parade into the quarter of the Jerusalem that houses Islam’s and Judaism’s blessed monuments.
“All they [Arabs] want is for our blood to flow,” said Roni, 20, an American-Israel follower of Marzel who asked for her family name not to be published. “The Temple Mount is the most holy place. That is the holy place, not the kotel [the Western Wall], it’s only an alternative,” she continued before rushing past security into the plaza border police were trying to close.
“I have ordered a significant increase in forces,” said Israeli Prime Minster Benjamin Netanyahu Thursday morning. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said the the mosque’s closure was a “declaration of war.” Deepening the crackdown, Israel’s attorney general said on Monday he had implemented harsher sentences for Palestinians minors convicted of stone throwing, including fines for their parents.
Despite appeals for calm, disorder had already spread across Jerusalem before daybreak. The night before a Palestinian was accused of attempting to assassinate Yehuda Glick, a right-wing figurehead of the Temple Mount Institute, a group that seeks to reconstruct a synagogue inside the Haram al-Sharif.
Glick was struck while loading items into his car after a meeting at the Begin Heritage Center with Knesset member and founder of the Jewish Leadership (Manhigut Yehudit) political faction, Moshe Feiglin. The assailant asked Glick to confirm his identify, speaking “in a thick Arabic accent,” and then fired three shots before fleeing on a motorcycle, said Feiglin, who witnessed the crime.
Within hours of Glick’s shooting, religious Jews vowed to storm the al-Aqsa Mosque compound in a revenge protest, of prayers. At 8 am Knesset member Moshe Feiglin chaired a rally of a dozen faithful. “We are in a violent fight. From the free world against the evil forces, the most extreme Islam,” he said.
Feiglin had planned to lead the group into the area of the Temple Mount, but police sealed the entrance. “Not letting Jews pray at the holiest place to the Jewish nation, the Temple Mount is a prize, as we see right now, is a prize to bring more and more terrorism,” he lamented. The Knesset member went on to compare himself to a “raped woman,” because of the state’s actions.
“I’m a Jew and I’m not allowed to go to the Temple Mount, for a Jew that almost got murdered yesterday,” said Feiglin, continuing, “So who’s the raped woman? The violent side, or the Jewish side?”
Meanwhile in the Old City amid throngs of tourists, police clashed with Palestinians near the Austrian Hospice in the Muslim Quarter when they staged their own prayer protest. After noon, Muslim worship concluded, police ordered businesses inside the Muslim Quarter shut, kicking out droves of internationals dining at Palestinian cafes.
“They closed the whole area, we see a military area. Soldiers, how they treat people—kidnapping them, beating them, throwing sound bombs,” said Hazem Najib, 44, an Old City resident and shopkeeper who participated in the noon Muslim prayer protest. “My home is here,” he said standing in his doorway as police shut the last storefronts, “it’s about 20 meters from the mosque and they didn’t allow me. Where’s my rights?”
Like many Palestinians, Najib was demoralized over the fallout after Glick’s attempted killing. In the early morning hours on Thursday, police went to the home of the suspected shooter, Mutaz Hijazi, 32, in Abu Tor, a mixed Arab-Jewish neighborhood. A team of plain-clothed officers then fired on Hijazi on the roof of the house around 4 am, according to witnesses. Meanwhile, hundreds of uniformed police assembled downhill of the building’s driveway.
“They killed him in cold blood. Because he is Palestinian. And in Jerusalem, in this month, more than six Palestinians have been killed,” said Najib.
As with the killing of another Palestinian assumed of targeting an Israeli-American a week before, there are discrepancies between the police narrative of a violent suspect and Palestinian charges of extra-judicial killings. According to police, Hijazi had a weapon and there was crossfire. But family members and neighbors said this was not the case and photographs taken of Hijazi’s body after his killing [warning: graphic image] show the Palestinian’s body full of bullets, even the stuffing from his coat had spilled. There is no sign in the photo of a weapon.
“There were three shooters all-together on the roof of the next building,” said Rafah Ghaith, 37 who watched the confrontation from his third-story home in the next building. Ghaith said in total six officers with weapons perched from a corner where police were firing. He saw Hijazi hide under a solar panel that was punched by 30 bullets. “I could only see his legs,” said Ghaith, because the solar panel covered the rest of his body, including the hands that police said were holding a gun.
Another neighbor Bilal Borkan, 23, pointed to a drill still on the roof at the scene of the killing. “That’s the weapon police said he had,” explained Borkan before heading indoors as tear gas from a nearby clash with police clouded the air. In the courtyard, mourners clutched pieces of onions or tissues with rubbing alcohol to suppress the biting fumes.
Jerusalem has become a boiling kettle due to alleged hate crimes, including a revenge murder in which a Palestinian minor was burned to death and the killing of an Israeli-American newborn by a motorist at a light rail station. At the week’s beginning Israeli police had deployed additional units and a surveillance drone over the area where the motorist lived.
“Here we were good, no stone throwing,” said Borkan of the once quiet Abu Tor neighborhood. Unlike other nearby neighborhoods, no Palestinian had been killed by Israeli police since 2002, making Abu Tor a model of calm in a tense town. “But now it will start,” he said before wandering off to greet another wave of mourners arriving at the Hijzai home.