Incidents of violence in the city and the West Bank increase tension between Israelis and Palestinians
Gill Schechter has lived in the Armon HaNatziv neighborhood of East Jerusalem for over 30 years, during which time he has always felt safe — until recently. His street abuts a Palestinian neighborhood, from which rocks and cement chunks have been lobbed at the Jewish homes and cars here with increased intensity.
He doesn’t remember ever before worrying, as he does now, about driving in and out of his neighborhood or letting his kids walk home from school.
“I don’t think it’s heading in the direction of an Intifada — I think it’s here already,” says Schechter, a 41-year-old Israeli electrical engineer and father of four, referring to the Arabic word for uprising “People don’t want to walk in the streets, people’s houses are being trashed and we see very little being done, as the police have their hands tied behind their backs.”
Tensions increased in the city, including in Schechter’s neighborhood, on Oct. 22 when a 21-year-old Palestinian resident of Jerusalem named Abdel-Rahman Shaloudi drove into a line of people waiting for a tram in the center of the city. Shaloudi’s car hit Haya Zissel Braun, a three-month-old Israeli baby, throwing her into the air. She landed on her head and later died. Police shot Shaloudi as he tried to flee the scene on foot. He later died of his wounds.
Schechter is a member of the security committee for Armon HaNatziv, which sits in the southern part of the city and borders two Arab villages that are part of Jerusalem — Jabel Mukaber and Sur Baher. Armon HaNatziv is over the Green Line, which marks Israel’s pre-1967 borders, and therefore is considered by Palestinians as an illegal settlement. Many Israelis consider Armon HaNatziv simply as a neighborhood of the capital.
“I’m not a war-monger, but there is a limit to what the authorities should allow when you’re in charge of a city,” Schechter tells TIME. “We have young guys across the road throwing huge chunks of concrete at us. Were it to hit someone in the head, it could easily kill a person.”
Across town, to the north, Saedi Shrateh is a 22-year-old construction worker and student at Al-Quds University in the West Bank city of Ramallah, north of Jerusalem. He lives near the Qalandia checkpoint, which separates Jerusalem from the southern outskirts of Ramallah. Although he has an Israeli-issued Jerusalem resident’s ID, which allows him to go anywhere in the city, he stays away from West Jerusalem more and more following a spate of attacks on Arabs by Israeli ultranationalists. Everyone, he says, tries to avoid walking alone.
“As witnessed in the past week or so, the vibe in the streets is for a third Intifada. But not all Palestinians are willing to participate,” says Shrateh, who wears a black T-shirt that reads “Gaza is under fire,” a reminder of the recent seven-week-long war between Israel and the militant group Hamas, which controls Gaza. “I think we need another Intifada to achieve our goals, but I’m afraid too many people will sit at home. Nowadays, people are more concerned about making it in life and advancing their economic situation.”
There is almost no corner of this city that isn’t abuzz with talk of a third Intifada. (The first Palestinian uprising started in 1987, and the second in 2000.) Fears grew over the summer after the murder in June of a Palestinian youth named Mohammed Abu Khdeir. The teenager was abducted in Jerusalem and then murdered. Police have charged three Israelis with the murder, including two minors, saying the three were upset by the news that three Israeli teenagers had been kidnapped in the West Bank — Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaer and Eyal Yifrah — and shot dead by Hamas operatives.
Although the clashes simmered down following an Israel-Hamas cease-fire in late August, the rage among many Palestinians has yet to abate. In recent weeks, several events seemed close to reigniting the conflict. One has been the arrival in Silwan, a Palestinian neighborhood near the Old City of Jerusalem, of several dozen Jewish settlers who have moved into two buildings they had bought. Palestinians see these moves as a provocation. To them, any time a group of Israeli Jews moves into the neighborhood, it not only causes friction but potentially marks it is as territory Israel would retain control of in a peace deal. Israeli Jewish groups who move their activists to these neighborhoods say they’re reclaiming ancestral land and acknowledge that part of their goal is to prevent Jerusalem from being redivided, as it was between 1948 and 1967. The Jerusalem municipality says it cannot stop anyone from moving to another neighborhood of Jerusalem if the property is purchased legally.
Also in recent weeks, Jewish groups seeking to hold holiday prayers at the Temple Mount — known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, housing both the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock — have led to concerns that a dangerous showdown is brewing over Jerusalem’s holiest site. And each time things get tense Israeli police keep young Muslim worshippers out, only allowing access to people over 50. Earlier this week, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told activists from his Fatah party that Palestinians should be present on the site at all times to stop “the fierce onslaught on Al-Aqsa Mosque, Jerusalem and the Holy Sepulchre Church.”
When news broke Wednesday night that a Palestinian from Silwan had driven his car into pedestrians waiting for a tram, killing the three-month-old, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immediately blamed the attack on Abbas and said his “incitement” was responsible. In response, Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat said Netanyahu’s accusations represented a “dangerous new low” in Israeli-Palestinians relations.
The two sides have only seemed to exacerbate tensions, likely setting the stage for more violence.
The tensions are not limited to Jerusalem, but are also spreading to the West Bank. During riots on Friday, Israeli forces shot and killed a 14-year-old Palestinian-American youth named Orwah Hammad. The shooting took place in the village of Silwad, north of Ramallah.
Government ministers in Netanyahu’s cabinet and Jerusalem’s mayor, Nir Barkat, have argued for taking a tougher line in East Jerusalem, arguing that this is the only way to stop Palestinian rioters. Barkat also announced he was deploying more police throughout the city, installing cameras in neighborhoods like Schechter’s, and launching a surveillance balloon over East Jerusalem to collect information about riots as they are forming.
Schechter — and many others Israelis in Jerusalem — seemed pleased with the response. But Palestinians say it will only bring further trouble.
“I certainly don’t see this moving in the direction of calming down,” Adnan Husseini, who holds the Jerusalem portfolio for the Palestinian Authority, tells TIME. “The Israeli government is doing everything to accelerate tensions and make things more difficult. We have a confrontation in almost every area of Jerusalem, on every street. It may not have been announced, but is seems there is a small Intifada already.”