Israeli police shut hundreds of Palestinian businesses in the Muslim quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City Tuesday night hours before a general order from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for “a closure on, or to surround, centers of friction and incitement” went into effect.
Yet after the Palestinian stores were shuttered, police escorted more than 200 Israeli settlers through the Muslim quarter as they marched along the Via Dolorosa, the ancient road that Christians believe Jesus walked on the way to the crucifixion.
The settlers sang prayers to music played on a PA system strapped to a dolly.
An Israeli tour group also sauntered freely throughout the Muslim Quarter, stopping to take photographs and regale in the city’s history.
“The situation is they forced us. We don’t want to close,” Anwar Basti, 40, said earlier in the day as he served his last two customers, tourists, white wine before closing the front gate of his cafe inside a courtyard of an Armenian Church in Jerusalem’s Old City.
“The settlers can do anything,” said Habib, 52, an antiquities store owner whose shop is across the stone road.
“You know, if you want to walk on the way, you have to walk like this,” Habib’s son Jihad, 27, said, throwing his arms up behind his head.
By nightfall the Old City was virtually sealed off to Palestinians except those who reside there.
“Let’s just say it’s closed to only some,” observed a German tourist who looked on as police checked identity cards of Palestinians, and turned away many seeking passage. Hundreds of officers including undercover police roamed the streets.
In addition to the closures across Palestinian neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, Netanyahu also approved a series of punitive measures Tuesday that were commonplace during the second Intifada with the aim of deterring violence that has plagued Israelis and Palestinians for two weeks.
Since the beginning of the month Palestinians killed eight Israelis in stabbing attacks. In the same period of time Israeli forces killed more than 30 Palestinians, at least 13 suspected of attacking Israelis.
Three of the knifings were in the Old City within half a mile from Basti’s cafe.
Under the regulations if a Palestinian attacker attempts to stab an Israeli, his or her identity card will be revoked, banning him or her from legal presence in the city of Jerusalem and Israel, and denying access to government services. In effect, such a revocation is a deportation order for East Jerusalem Palestinian would-be attackers to relocate to the West Bank.
Netanyahu also said the family homes of attackers will be demolished and no new construction allowed on those sites.
“I cannot tell you how long this will continue,” Netanyahu told Israeli police on Wednesday, indicating that his strategy to return calm is to wait the clock out, rather than address root causes. He also justified the killing of Palestinian attackers, saying that such a policy deters others.
“We do not know how many will commit suicide, but the number is not infinite, far from it. Therefore, in the past, we could also deal with these phenomena, even more difficult ones. At the moment, because it is not organized, as you know, so there is no substitute for your presence, essentially as human shields,” Netanyahu told police.
In the meantime, Netanyahu is bolstering security forces in a military-like deployment of reservists across Jerusalem and Israel with more than 2,300 reservists called up.
Yet Palestinian leaders say Netanyahu’s latest policies coupled with his repeated claims of “incitement” on the part of the Palestinian government to allegedly inspire the attacks are not directed at protecting Israel citizens.
Making his first address since the near-daily attacks began on October 1st, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas embraced the waves of protests across the West Bank, in which Israeli police have killed demonstrators as young as 13 with live-fire. He described the protests as “non-violent popular resistance” in a “legitimate national struggle” and said he was pursuing action at the United Nations.
“We are asking for our rights, justice and peace, we do not commit aggression on anyone and we do not accept aggression against our people, our nation and our holy places,” Abbas said.
Since October 3rd, Israeli forces injured 4,393 Palestinians in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza strip during protests, more than 300 of them with live-fire, according to the Palestinian Red Crescent.
“We will not give up to the logic of brute force, policies of occupation and aggression practiced by the Israeli government and the herd of settlers who are engaged in terrorism against our people, our holy places, our homes, our trees and the shooting of our children in cold blood,” Abbas continued.
“What we have now is an announcement of collective punishment of Palestinians in East Jerusalem. Israel is not aiming at achieving security with this step, they are aiming at strengthening the status quo of our occupied capital,” said Xavier Abu Eid, a spokesperson for the PLO and an advisor to Secretary-General Saeb Erekat.
“They are trying to turn this political conflict into a religious conflict and that’s not good for us, but also for the whole region,” Abu Eid said.
In the days leading up to the closures in East Jerusalem, Palestinian in Jerusalem and the West Bank organized a two-day strike. Most schools either closed or went on limited hours. Universities organized buses to cart students to protests.