Tension from two-month-old rumors about mass Jewish demonstrations to overtake the Temple Mount has continued to ripple across Jerusalem. This has led to an increase in violence and stone throwing attacks, Arab and Jewish residents of east Jerusalem said on Tuesday.
When a flyer was circulated two months ago publicizing a mass march by right-wing Jews to overtake the Temple Mount, it immediately touched off large riots in Jerusalem and Jordan.
Following an attempt by Likud activist Moshe Feiglin to go up to the Temple Mount on February 12 – after an activist organization called on thousands of supporters to “purify the site from the enemies of Israel who stole the land” – hundreds of Muslims demonstrated for weeks afterwards.
Feiglin denied any connection to the flyers, but rumors circulating in the Arab press were enough to foment several incidents of stone throwing in Jerusalem and large protests outside the Israeli Embassy in Amman.
Security forces entered the Temple Mount twice in the two weeks following the flyer’s publication, arresting more than 30 Muslim demonstrators. Eleven police officers were injured in one of the riots, when youth barricaded themselves inside the Aksa Mosque.
One of the places dealing with the aftershocks of the rumors is Beit Hoshin, a heavily- guarded Jewish enclave perched at the top of the Mount of Olives. An enormous Israeli flag flutters prominently over the apartment complex.
Seven Jewish families have lived there since 2006, supported by the Ir David Foundation.
Residents said in the past month and a half, they have dealt with a new wave of violence from neighborhood youth, including stone throwing and vandalism of their cars on an almost nightly basis. Private security guards at the complex said that the current cycle of violence was the worst in over a year.
On Tuesday, National Union MKs Arye Eldad and Michael Ben-Ari paid an unannounced visit to Beit Hoshin express their support for the residents.
“We want to know why the police presence here is zero,” said Eldad as he stood on the roof of the building, which affords a panorama of the Old City and the Temple Mount.
Eldad said that while the vandalism had not yet endangered human life, the situation was deteriorating. “Everyone will wake up if heaven forbid there’s a tragedy here,” he said.
“The guard car here looks like the beat up [army] trucks at Sha’ar Hagai from the War of Independence,” said Eldad, referring to the burned husks of supply trucks that were destroyed in attempts to bring supplies to Jerusalem in 1948 and now serve as memorials along Highway 1.
“These are parts of Jerusalem, but police and Israeli citizens don’t come here,” said Ben-Ari.
“I don’t see the Israel police working so that Jerusalem will be united.”
“You can’t just defend yourself, you need to attack the threats as well,” he added.
Shmuel Na’eh, who lives on Beit Hoshin’s ground floor, was online looking to buy a secondhand car when Eldad and Ben- Ari knocked on his door. While driving through the neighborhood of A-Tur over a month ago, youth had thrown broken pieces of sidewalk at his car and smashed the windshield. A few weeks later, someone lobbed a Molotov cocktail into his parked car, burning it completely.
Na’eh said cars belonging to every resident had been attacked several times in the past month.
According to witnesses, locals walk up to the cars, pick up a rock, smash the windshield and continue on their way. The National Union MKs warned that not controlling the vandalism at this level could lead to more serious violence.
Shmuel’s wife, Esther Na’eh, said relations with the neighbors had been quiet until recently. She added that aside from a few undercover police in the evening, the residents rarely saw police patrolling their complex.
Mahmoud Abu El Hawa, who owns a convenience store and lives next to Beit Hoshin, said that the vandalism had gotten worse across east Jerusalem in the past two months, after the Temple Mount rumors. He boarded up the windows of his convenience store with plastic sheeting because vandals broke them on several occasions, thinking they belonged to the Jewish apartments. “We don’t want them here but we have to live with them,” he said of the Jewish residents.
El Hawa’s brother Muhammad, who sold the building to a Palestinian businessman in the early 2000s, was murdered after the building changed hands to the Ir David Foundation.
The revenge killing is common for Arabs who are suspected of selling property in east Jerusalem to Jews.
But El Hawa said that the vandalism of cars was partly nationalistically motivated, and partly connected to a general neighborhood dispute over a few precious parking spots in the crowded neighborhood.
Two months ago, Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch announced the creation of a new police station on the Mount of Olives, which would focus on preventing grave desecration and stone throwing against Jewish worshippers trying to access graves in the 3,000-year-old Jewish cemetery. The Na’ehs said they hoped the new police station would limit vandalism in their neighborhood as well. El Hawa said police already patrolled the area frequently and many of the neighborhood children had been arrested several times for vandalism, though they claim they were not involved While the station was initially planned to open mid-February, police said on Tuesday there is no firm date and it could be a number of months before the station is opened.
Jerusalem police deputy spokeswoman Shlomit Bajshi said no increase in violence has been reported. “There is the same amount of stone throwing, but there are arrests and operations there on a permanent basis.”
Bajshi also denied claims by Beit Hoshin residents that police ignore their neighborhood.
“Even without complaints filed with the police, we have regular operations there,” she said.
Eldad and Ben-Ari told the Na’ehs they would try to hold a special discussion about the security situation on the Mount of Olives in the coming weeks.