Clashes in Jerusalem: Are they a predictable cycle?

Whenever there are religious holidays focused around Jerusalem, there are always tensions and clashes. 

 Protesters wave Hamas flags after Friday prayers of the holy month of Ramadan, at the Al Aqsa Mosque Compound in Jerusalem's Old City, Friday, April 22, 2022. (photo credit: JAMAL AWAD/FLASH90)
Protesters wave Hamas flags after Friday prayers of the holy month of Ramadan, at the Al Aqsa Mosque Compound in Jerusalem's Old City, Friday, April 22, 2022.
(photo credit: JAMAL AWAD/FLASH90)

Friday and Saturday saw renewed tensions and clashes in Jerusalem. Rockets have also been fired from Gaza in recent days.

In the last week there was a flag march in Jerusalem, accompanied by the usual claims and counter-claims about who is responsible for the resulting violence.

All of this seems almost scripted.

Last year similar tensions boiled over into a war between Israel and Hamas. In previous years whenever there are religious holidays focused around Jerusalem, there are clashes.

How can it be that year after year the annual holidays here are treated like some new spontaneous event that surprises both us and the international media; both our government and foreign governments? Why are we all taken aback by the sudden clashes, the “violence” and tensions in Jerusalem? Aren’t these annual clashes entirely predictable?

 Israeli border Police officers stand guard outside the Jaffa Gate and the David tower in Jerusalem on April 18, 2022 (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90) Israeli border Police officers stand guard outside the Jaffa Gate and the David tower in Jerusalem on April 18, 2022 (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

Every single year, whenever Jewish and Muslim holidays coincide, or when large numbers of one group come to Jerusalem for some holiday, entirely predictable clashes focus on the Temple Mount and Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Police and security forces increase their presence and this in turn becomes a magnet for rioting and clashes. Then comes the predictable closures and added security. More crowds come to protest the closures, and then more security is added and there are more incidents, arrests and injuries. Right-wingers demonstrate, political incitement follows, and then Jordan and other countries call for Israel to observe the status quo, and to exercise “restraint.”

Every year, groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, backed by Iran, seek to use claims of “defending Jerusalem” to fire rockets and provoke a response. Then the response is reported as if Israel “bombed Gaza again” and Hezbollah must make some statement about how it will intervene if Israel does this or that.

In recent years there has also been an attempt to push the tensions to within the Green Line from east Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza – to inflame anger within Arab communities in Israel.

During the conflict last year, widespread violence occurred across Israel in places like Lod. In the last few days, there were demonstrations in Umm el-Fahm.

IT’S HARD to understand how year after year these events are not predicted and why more effort isn’t put into either preempting them, or at least explaining them before they happen.

Media coverage and government responses always seem to be reactive. This was particularly true last year when Iran and Hamas appeared to conspire to ignite a war with Israel while it was in the midst of post-election chaos.

Who benefits from these scenarios? The far-right in Israel and in Gaza, and Iran apparently. And yet, year after year, authorities don’t seem to brief international media on Israel’s preparations and the likelihood of tensions.

The fact that media reports about Passover and Ramadan can’t even get basic facts straight about what the holidays around them stand for, is perplexing.

In years past, for instance, Laylat Al Qadr has become an evening when large numbers of people converge on Jerusalem and prayers sometimes lead to clashes. This night will occur in late April this year, during the last days of Ramadan. Yet, if you try to find any historical context, or even scant details about this important night, you’ll be left with very basic explanations in English media.

You will find references to clashes last May 8. In July 2014, clashes on this particular evening resulted in a large number of injuries at Kalandia checkpoint. Israel tries to facilitate movement and prayer during Ramadan in Jerusalem.

IN 2015, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) noted that, “prior to Ramadan, the Israeli authorities reportedly proposed to the Palestinian Authority that people board buses in Palestinian cities and travel directly to Al Aqsa Mosque with their IDs and permits checked by PA personnel prior to boarding. The proposal was ultimately not implemented due to the refusal of the PA to carry out the security checks requested by the Israeli authorities.”

This means that Israel’s security authorities do try to prepare for the issues that arise during Ramadan.

Nevertheless, even if Israel does prepare for events, the overall tendency is to see all the predictable clashes and “cycle of violence” as some new spontaneous event.

The fatal terrorist attacks of late March and early April that began in Beersheba and spread to Bnei Barak, Hadera and Tel Aviv were likely timed for the beginning of Ramadan. We are supposed to believe that all this is spontaneous.

Also regarding Afghanistan: Media reports that attacks on Shi’ites there have also supposedly occurred randomly. But the attacks on Shi’ite mosques and a boy’s school in Kabul are also likely related to the beginning of Ramadan.

The added difficulty of planning for clashes in Jerusalem is that these tensions are not only one-sided. This isn’t merely a question of heightening security to counter extremist groups, such as Hamas or ISIS – or of Iran – that want to increase attacks on Israel.

Israel also has to deal with extremists from within the far-right of Israeli politics who want to use events like the “flag march” to stoke tensions. Last year, a series of attacks on ultra-Orthodox men coincided with the beginning of Ramadan in Jerusalem. Far-right Israeli politicians used this to mobilize a response from Jewish youth.

Unsurprisingly, clashes resulted with the security forces bearing the brunt of the problems at Damascus Gate, the focal point of many clashes.

Every year we have to be surprised. Every year articles express surprise.

  ISRAEL HAS a right to respond to terror attacks, but it is important to realize that those planning such attacks want a response.

Recall back in 2014 how the murder of three Jewish hitchhikers in the West Bank spiraled into a war.

Was the attack planned so that the tensions would begin in mid-June that year and grow as Ramadan began later in the month? Hamas planned these attacks; it knew the timetable.

When an attack killed two Israeli policemen in mid-July 2017, didn’t Israel know that installing metal detectors around the Temple Mount would lead to further clashes? Who planned the 2017 attack at such a sensitive site and what kind of response did they want from Israel in order to orchestrate more clashes?

It’s clear that tension every year around Al-Aqsa is choreographed and scripted. If anyone thinks that any of this is spontaneous and that groups like Hamas do not want this to happen and do not plan parts of it, they are likely mistaken. While there are some random and spontaneous clashes, there are also very predictable ones.

There are agitators who want to create a critical mass necessary for a powerful altercation. It is also known that if Israeli police enter Al-Aqsa or confront protesters at the entrance to the mosque, this will be used by groups and even countries to inflame tempers against Israel.

We only have to read the headlines in Al-Jazeera to see “new Israeli raid at al-Aqsa mosque leaves Palestinian injured.” Reuters says “Palestinians clash with Israel police at Jerusalem holy site.”

All these headlines have larger implications. Anti-Israel voices want the Arab League to condemn Israel, to harm Israel-Gulf ties. Turkey, Jordan and other Muslim countries will backtrack on attempts at reconciliation.

This doesn’t mean it’s Israel’s fault. Israeli security forces are responding. But the fact that Israel doesn’t seem to prepare better for these incidents before the onset of the holidays shows how every year the wheel is reinvented in Jerusalem.

Groups like Hamas benefit from this short-sighted reaction to each incident. The question is whether the rest of Ramadan will see more clashes, or whether both sides can learn from past ones.