Explainer: Jerusalem tense over evictions and holidays

Clashes during the Muslim holy month of Ramazan, with Palestinians pitted against Israeli police and settlers


Reuters May 10, 2021
Palestinians pray in front of the Dome of the Rock on Laylat al-Qadr during the holy month of Ramazan, at the compound that houses Al-Aqsa Mosque, known to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount, in Jerusalem's Old City, May 8, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

JERUSALEM:

East Jerusalem has seen nightly clashes during the Muslim holy month of Ramazan, with Palestinians pitted against Israeli police and settlers.

The issues and the scale of the protests have varied, covering religion, land and politics, but running through them all is the core conflict between Israelis and Palestinians over the city that has sites sacred to Judaism, Islam and Christianity. Here are some of the factors that have brought Jerusalem to near boiling point:

Read: Clashes, prayers in Jerusalem on Muslim Laylat al-Qadr

When did the protests start?

From the beginning of Ramazan in mid-April, Palestinians clashed nightly with Israeli police who put up barriers to stop evening gatherings at the walled Old City's Damascus Gate after iftar, the breaking of the daytime fast.

Palestinians saw the barriers as a restriction on their freedom to assemble. Police said they were there to maintain order.

Why did the violence flare up again?

An Israeli Supreme Court hearing was due on May 10 in a long-running legal case about whether several Palestinian families would be evicted and their homes in Sheikh Jarrah, a neighbourhood near Damascus Gate, given to Israeli settlers.

Some settlers have already moved into the street affected - living next door to the Palestinians facing possible removal.

As the court hearing neared, Palestinians and left-wing Israelis began holding larger demonstrations, saying more evictions could cause a domino effect throughout the overwhelmingly Palestinian neighbourhood.

Sheikh Jarrah also contains a site revered by religious Jews as the tomb of an ancient high priest, Simon the Just, leading to frequent tensions between Palestinian living there and religious Jews visiting it.

The case, in which a lower court ruled that the land in question belonged to Jews in East Jerusalem before the 1948 War, has gathered domestic and international attention, amid criticism of Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem.

What next?

On Sunday the Supreme Court hearing on the evictions was postponed, pushing at least one flashpoint past the end of Ramazan and allowing more time for a resolution. A new session will be scheduled within 30 days.

Monday is Jerusalem Day, Israel's annual commemoration of its capture of East Jerusalem during the 1967 war. The event usually sees a march through the walled Old City by Jewish pilgrims, including ultra-nationalists, which could be another flashpoint.

Read more: The full story: Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in Jerusalem

Why is Jerusalem so sensitive?

Politics, history and religion.

At the heart of Jerusalem's Old City is the hill known to Jews across the world as Temple Mount - the holiest site in Judaism - and to Muslims internationally as The Noble Sanctuary. It was home to the Jewish temples of antiquity. Two Muslim holy places now stand there, the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest place in Islam.

Christians also revere the city as the place where they believe that Jesus preached, died and was resurrected.

Israel sees all of Jerusalem as its eternal and indivisible capital, while the Palestinians want the eastern section as a capital of a future state. Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem is unrecognized internationally.

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