Sadness, Anger and Violence explode in Jerusalem

Israeli Soldiers

Riots and Heartbreak in Jerusalem following the murder of three Israeli teenagers and one Arab, suspected as being a retaliatory attack.

Israeli Soldiers in Zion Square, West Jerusalem
Zion Square, West Jerusalem. Photo courtesy of Claire Payne

Anger. This is the feeling pervading Jerusalem at the moment, both East and West.

The bodies of Gilad Shaer (16), Naftali Frankel (16), and Eyal Yifrah (19), were found partially buried just outside Hebron last Monday, having been abducted and murdered. The Israeli government are holding Hamas responsible though thus far they have not claimed responsibility. Heartbreak and despair could be felt in the air as the news spread.

However, sadness soon gave way to hatred as an angry mob of right-wing Israeli extremists descended on Jerusalem on Tuesday night, calling for revenge and “death to Arabs”. Several IDF soldiers have been imprisoned for their part in encouraging retribution via various social media platforms. At least seven Arabs had to be rescued from mobs in West Jerusalem on Tuesday night following the teenagers’ burial. Some even entered McDonalds in an attempt to find Arab workers. More than 50 people were arrested.

Anger is also being directed towards the police; a recording has been released of Gilad’s phone call minutes after the kidnapping took place. Shots were heard, along with cries of jubilation from the kidnappers and of pain from the boys. Despite the police being in possession of this recording, the Israeli public and the families were led to believe that the boys were alive during the two week search. Israeli police have said that they thought the shots fired may have been blanks.

Several peace marches have been held over the past two days in Israel in opposition to those calling for revenge, however many pacifists holding signs with declarations such as “Stop the war in Gaza” and “Arabs and Jews are brothers” have been faced with intimidation by right wing counter-protesters in Jerusalem. The two men suspected of having committed the abduction and murder are in hiding, and their homes have been partially demolished by the IDF. Netanyahu and his cabinet have been considering how best to respond to the situation, reportedly proposing a wave of settlement building in the West Bank, with one settlement to be named after the three youngsters. Economy Minister Naftali Bennett preferred a two-pronged approach which would include a military operation against Hamas, as well as settlement building. Cabinet could not come to a unanimous decision, thus the vote on both these issues has been postponed.

East Jerusalem has exploded in riots and violence following the murder of a 17 year old Arab boy from Beit Hanina in East Jerusalem. It is widely believed that this killing was in retribution for the killing of the three Israeli teenagers, although the possibility of it being a domestic issue or “honour killing” have not been ruled out by police. The boy, Muhammad Abu Khdeir, was allegedly bundled into a car early on Wednesday morning by a group of men. Local reports claim that they were settlers, and that police have CCTV footage of the incident. His body was found later partially burned in the Jerusalem forest. It has also been reported that there was an attempted abduction of a nine year old boy from the Shuafat area of East Jerusalem, and of a seven year old from his mother’s side in the street. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has condemned the “reprehensible murder”, and the family of one of the murdered Israelis, Naftali Frenkel, released a statement saying “There is no difference between blood and blood. Murder is murder, no matter what the age or nationality is. There is no justification, forgiveness or atonement for such a murder”.

Meanwhile, southern Israel has been hit by a barrage of rockets in the past week, the majority being intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome system, but others making direct hits, such as one yesterday which hit a factory, and two hit homes today (Thursday), but with no casualties. The Israeli military has been bombing Hamas targets overnight, with a reported 30 airstrikes in 30 minutes on Wednesday night. Thirty rockets from Gaza have hit Israeli in the last twenty-four hours according to the IDF. Troops have also been moved towards the border with the Gaza strip as a “defensive measure”; Lieutenant Colonel Lerner said in a statement: “Everything we are doing is to de-escalate the situation but on the other hand to be prepared if they don’t de-escalate.”

Bomb Shelter Sign
Photo courtesy of Claire Payne

Tensions are high in Jerusalem tonight with police sirens blaring out over the city. What sounds like gunshots can be heard and helicopters are hovering overhead. Fires are burning near the central Damascus Gate, allegedly caused by fire bombs thrown from rioting youth from the Shuafat and Beit Hanina areas. There are fears that violence could escalate both tomorrow after Friday prayers (in the holy month of Ramadan), and also following the burial of Muhammad Abu Khdeir, which is also due to be held on Friday.