Jerusalem-area Arabs step up riots, protests

Police throughout country face tire burning, rock throwing, and arson as anger rises against Gaza op.

Israeli riot police 248.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Israeli riot police 248.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Parts of Jerusalem were tense Monday as Arab riots and protests against the ongoing IDF operation in Gaza erupted at various locations in and around the capital. For the second day in a row, dozens of youths rioted near the entrance to the Shuafat refugee camp in east Jerusalem, burning tires and throwing rocks at the border policemen and IDF soldiers stationed at the checkpoint that leads in and out of the area. By nightfall, the rioters had been dispersed, but the marks of two days of violence were visible from the camps' entrance. Large rocks, pieces of glass and other debris were scattered across the road, and a boosted Border Police presence - including Arabic-speaking officers wearing black face masks - were congregated in larger numbers than usual. "They were throwing rocks and burning tires, you know, the usual stuff," said one border policeman, who declined to give his name. "They did it yesterday and they'll probably do it again tomorrow, but that's what we're here for." Shuafat residents' reactions to the riots ranged from complacency to talk of starting a third intifada. In a nearby auto garage, mechanics were transfixed by their television set, as it broadcast Al-Jazeera's seemingly nonstop coverage of Operation Cast Lead. "Is that Rafah or Gaza City?" one of them asked the other, pointing at the images of black smoke rising above the dense urban sprawl. "Rafah," another of the mechanics answered. "It's the border with Egypt." But when it came to speaking with the press, the mechanics seemed less interested. "It's angering," one of them said. "It makes us all angry, but we don't pay any attention to the kids who come out here and cause trouble. We have work to do." Others were more forthcoming. "There is talk of starting the intifada again," said Marwan, a young man returning home from work. "And it's not just here in Shuafat, nor is it just in east Jerusalem. It's in Ramallah, it's in Nablus, it's in Jenin. People are very upset about what's going on, and I think that right now, the Palestinians feel very unified - no more Fatah and Hamas, it's Palestinian blood that's being spilled." Still others said they had no interest in the situation at all. "I was sleeping all day," another young man said. "I don't care what these kids do, just leave me out of it. I like to sleep and I like to watch TV." Shuafat was not the only place that experienced unrest on Monday. The Jerusalem suburb of Har Adar was the site of a smaller, less intense disturbance, as youth from the neighboring Palestinian village of Bidu approached the small crossing set up for laborers in Har Adar and began burning tires and throwing rocks at border policemen. But that demonstration ended quickly, as the small force of Border Police and private security officers that responded were able to disperse the group of between 20 and 30 young men with what they called "relative ease." "They ran back to the village," one of the Border Police commanders told The Jerusalem Post. "It was just a few of them; they came down here and set some tires on fire." However, the commander stressed, a large number of the village's residents work construction in Har Adar, and had no interest in causing any trouble. "It was just some kids," he said, looking back up the hill towards the village. Other incidents across Jerusalem on Monday served as a clear reminder that tensions in the capital were on the rise. A fire in a Jerusalem area forest caught the attention of border policemen on patrol. The officers began searching the area on suspicion that the fire had been deliberately set. "The officers apprehended two Arab suspects near the forest, who admitted to setting the fire in connection with the ongoing events in Gaza, and the protests in and around Jerusalem," a police spokesman told the Post. A loud but mostly peaceful protest was held at the Old City's Nablus Gate in the afternoon, as dozens of east Jerusalemites carried signs and shouted slogans decrying the Gaza operation. That protest was dispersed by police after one of the protesters tried to incite the crowd to riot, but another protest was held in the same spot later in evening, which was attended by even more Arab residents. Other disturbances occurred in the east Jerusalem neighborhoods of Isawiya and Silwan on Monday, police said, but all of the demonstrations were dispersed by police and Border Police units, with minimal use of force.