Damascus Gate clashes inflame tensions in east J'lem

Police: Saturday’s confrontation due to "illegal march"; Palestinians say rioting in response to reverse age discrimination.

Palestinians protest at al Aksa Mosque (photo credit: REUTERS)
Palestinians protest at al Aksa Mosque
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Palestinians expressed their anger outside Damascus Gate on Sunday afternoon, claiming it was “impossible” for any man under the age of 50 to go through it to enter the mosque.
Violent clashes broke out Saturday afternoon in east Jerusalem between over 100 Palestinians and police following what authorities described as an “illegal march” from Damascus Gate to al-Aksa Mosque, resulting in the use of stun grenades to disperse the crowd.
According to several Palestinians who witnessed the confrontation, the rioting was a response to police enforcing a minimum age limit of 50 for all men who attempted to pass though the gate to pray.
“Saturday they were going to pray and [the police] let in the old people but not young people because they think they’ll make problems,” said a middle-aged Palestinian man who identified himself as “Hamad.”
“When they didn’t let the young people in, they started to throw things,” he continued.
“There’s no peace in this country between Arabs and Jews because [the police] hit us without reason when people start marching – even if it’s peaceful.They don’t respect human beings except the Jews.”
The police told a different story about what took place on Saturday.
“After a sporadic and illegal march at Damascus Gate of up to 120 people attempting to go to the mosque, a security assessment was made that there was a threat to the public order,” said police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld on Sunday.
“This resulted in Palestinian rioting, including the throwing of rocks, bottles and other objects at officers,” Rosenfeld said.
While Rosenfeld acknowledged that the age limit is enforced when police investigations determine that violence may ensue, he maintained that the riot was the result of an illegal demonstration and nothing else.
“This conflict had nothing to do with age enforcement,” he said. “It was the result of a sporadic march made without prior coordination with police. Age limits are selectively enforced if and when police assess there is trouble.”
Still, Salah Kahmmis, 38, said police have prevented him from praying at al-Aksa Mosque for the past two months because of his age, and insisted that Saturday’s clash was due to age enforcement.
“[The police] look at us and if you own a shop [in the Old City] or are 50 or [older] you get in, if not, you don’t,” he said. “This is the democracy of Israel. All the Muslims come to pray here and they keep us outside.
“Tourists and Jews have no problem, but for Palestinians [under 50] it’s forbidden,” Kahmmis said.
While no arrests were made during the riot, Rosenfeld said two Palestinians directly involved in the clashes were subsequently apprehended Saturday evening.
The riot came three days after 25 Palestinians were arrested there on “Nakba Day,” on which Palestinians mourn the establishment of the State of Israel, which this year coincided with Shavuot.