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This is our place

How the Palestinians of Jerusalem banded together against all odds.

Jerusalem24 – Mohammad Hamayel – The past week in Jerusalem was bursting with violence. The strife in the city intensified when, Israeli settlers mobilized as part of the Lehava group chanted “Death to Arabs” and attacked Arabs and leftist Israelis.

Israeli border police detain a Palestinian youth during clashes near Damascus Gate just outside Jerusalem’s Old City, April 21, 2021 (Photo Credit: REUTERS/Ammar Awad)

Jerusalem24 reached out to Dr. Mahdi Abdul Hadi,  founder and head of the Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs. In telephone conversation Abdul Hadi explained what was occurring on the ground, and how the situation in Jerusalem reached the point that it did. Abdul Hadi began with some background information on the current affairs of the city. “Since last year during the beginning of the Corona virus pandemic the Palestinians in Jerusalem were alone,” he began. The circumstances of the Palestinians in the city were unique, the Palestinian Authority does not have access to them and the Israelis does not consider them citizens.

In Ramadan, Palestinians in Jerusalem often socialize after “Taraweeh” prayers at the Damascus Gate as Abdul Hadi coins it the “Palestinian Space” in the city. Which is what surprised them when the Israeli police installed barriers at the Damascus Gate steps preventing them from gathering there. Then on April 22nd, members of Lehava marched through Jerusalem chanting “Death to Arabs” while another group of Jewish militants scouted the area attacking Arabs in the city. The clashes intensified between the Lehava members and the Palestinians when the former tried to storm Damascus gate, resulting in the most violent night since 2015.

Benzion Gopshtein (C), leader of the far-right Israeli group Lehava, gathers with fellow activists in Jerusalem December 25, 2014. (Photo Credit: REUTERS/Nir Elias)

Lehava, or LiMniat Hitbolelut B’eretz HaKodesh (Prevention of Assimiliation in the Holy Land), is a Jewish organization based in Israel that objects to personal relationships between Jews and non-Jews. It’s leader, Bentzi Gopstein, considers himself a disciple of Meir Kahane; a militant rabbi who led the Kach party and called for the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians in the 1970s.

The attack by the Israelis spiraled an already agitated situation out of control. Challenging the Lehava’s advancements as well as the Israeli police’s closure of Damascus Gate, Palestinians all across Jerusalem protested. “The youth that were in the streets marched away from the slogans of any factions or leaders,” says Abdul Hadi. He continues that “The clashes occurred all over the city, in Silwan, Beit Hanina, Shu’fat, Wadi alJoz and Isawiya.”

Israeli forces arresting a Palestinian, April 24, 2021 (Photo Credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“The atmosphere was similar to what occurred in 2017,” reminisced Abdul Hadi; referring to the protests around the old city when Israel installed security cameras, metal detectors and further restricted the entrance of Palestinians into the holy site. He continued, “In those days, the people of Jerusalem turned the asphalt into a prayer rug for the Al-Aqsa Mosque.”

13 days into protests the Israeli police agreed to remove the barriers at Damascus gate Sunday night, the Lehava members had withdrawn from the scene, and the Palestinians celebrated the event by rallying there and raising Palestinian flags. Some didn’t even wait for Israel to remove the barriers and removed them themselves. “They headed to the Damascus Gate as part of their historical connection to the city,” says Abdul Hadi. He added that “they were telling the world this is ours, this is our time and this is our place.”

JERUSALEM – APRIL 26: Palestinians gather after Israeli forces withdrew from the Damascus Gate area in central Jerusalem after having closed it to Palestinians since the start of the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan in Jerusalem on April 26, 2021. (Photo by Mostafa Alkharouf/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

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