A week into the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, a flashpoint Jerusalem site is seeing nightly confrontations between Palestinians and Israeli police that have raised concern about a repeat of the violence that erupted last year.
The amphitheatre-style plaza outside the Old City’s Damascus Gate is a popular spot for Palestinians to meet after breaking their daily holiday fast. Vendors roll carts of snacks and juice into the square. Palestinian youth at times perform acrobatics to cheers from the crowd.
But tensions are again high in the city holy to Christians, Jews and Muslims. Israel has deployed extra security forces to the area after a string of deadly Arab attacks in Israel and as holidays from each religion – Easter, Passover and Ramadan – coincide.
Palestinians say the heavy presence of police, many wearing riot gear, makes things worse. A year ago, nightly clashes between Palestinians and police grew so intense they helped spark an Israel-Gaza war.
“We want the Ramadan month to pass peacefully and for people to feel safe and secure,” said Palestinian activist Ahed Al-Risheq. But Israel, he said, is looking to stoke tensions. “It is apparent in the behaviour of its forces and its police.”
Israeli police say that while most present are trying to celebrate, every night a small group of young men who come from outside the city hurl stones at officers. They have arrested 36 people around the Damascus Gate since the start of Ramadan on April 2, according to a police spokesperson.
Palestinians want East Jerusalem, which includes the walled Old City and was taken by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war, as the capital of a future state. Israel claims all of Jerusalem as its indivisible capital.