The recent surge in violence broke out in early October after Israel imposed restrictions on worshippers at Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem. Following the restrictions, four Israelis were killed in two separate attacks blamed on Palestinians. Israeli settlers in the West Bank responded by rioting, assaulting Palestinians at random and destroying their property. A spate of protests, clashes and back and forth stabbings have ensued.
Palestinian protesters are calling for unrestricted access to worship at Al-Aqsa mosque, a site also revered by Jews as the location of two ancient temples. The protesters also demand an end to Israel’s decades-long occupation of the Palestinian territories and the cessation of settlement building, both of which are illegal under international law.
Israel on Thursday deployed additional forces to its border with Gaza after Hamas, which rules the besieged territory, declared Friday a Day of Rage to protest in solidarity with Palestinians in the West Bank against the Israeli occupation.
A solidarity protest in Gaza last week resulted in nine deaths and numerous injuries after Israeli forces opened fire on youth throwing stones at military installations, according to Ma’an.
Ismail Haniyeh, deputy head of Hamas, on Thursday visited injured protesters at Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza City, where he affirmed his group’s support for Palestinians in the West Bank.
“The message of our wounded is that Gaza, despite the distance and its deep suffering due to the siege and war, still stands behind the battle of Jerusalem, and that Gaza is in the heart of Jerusalem’s intifada,” Haniyeh said according to Ma’an.
Israel has increased its military presence in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and in some cases sealed off entire Palestinian neighborhoods, in response to the protests, clashes and a spate of stabbing attacks.
In a slew of new measures aimed at curbing the stabbing attacks, Israel announced on Wednesday that it would demolish the home and revoke residency of any Palestinian Jerusalemite accused of attacking Israelis. Palestinians have long accused Israel of trying to rid the city of Arabs, and some have said the current violence could be used as an excuse to further that plan.
Meanwhile, Israeli public officials, including Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, have encouraged Israeli Jews to carry guns to protect themselves against stabbing attacks.
“The sense is that the entire country is the front line, and that everyone is a candidate for stabbing,” wrote Nahum Barnea, a columnist for the daily Yediot Ahronot.
Palestinian residents of Jerusalem are similarly afraid — as many stabbing suspects have been summarily executed by Israeli authorities in the street. Palestinians worry that if they are perceived as a threat, they too could meet a similar fate.
“People are afraid. They fear being shot, so they prefer to stay at home until this thing is over,” said Zakrayiya Alqaq, a Palestinian university professor.
U.S. officials and various rights groups, including Amnesty International, have slammed Israel’s response to the ongoing protests as “excessive.”
“We’ve certainly seen some reports of what many would consider excessive use of force,” U.S. State Department Spokesman John Kirby said Thursday.
Israel’s Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon fired back saying, “Are we exercising excessive force? If someone wields a knife and they kill him, is that excessive force?”
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Wednesday said he planned to visit the region and meet with leaders on both sides to address the spiraling violence.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday said he would be willing to meet Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to stop the violence, and confirmed that the U.S. had offered to broker talks in Jordan.
“I am completely open to a meeting with Abbas and Arab leaders,” Netanyahu said during a press conference at the Foreign Ministry, according to Israeli news website Haaretz.
For his part, Abbas said on Wednesday that “his hand is still reaching for peace,” Ma’an reported.
“Peace, security and stability will only be reached when the occupation ends and an independent state is established with East Jerusalem as its capital,” Abbas added.
With wire services