Israel’s Supreme Court has delayed a deeply contentious ruling on whether Jewish settlers can forcibly evict Palestinians from their homes, after some of the worst unrest in Jerusalem in years in which hundreds of Palestinians have were injured in clashes with the police.
The latest clashes erupted outside the Old City on Saturday night, and a former Israeli defense official described the atmosphere as a powder keg ready to explode at any moment.
At least 120 people were injured, including a one-year-old child, and 14 were taken to hospital, according to the Palestinian Red Crescent. Israeli police said 17 policemen were injured.
Saturday night’s violence came a day after more than 200 Palestinians were injured in the violence around Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third holiest site.
Israel has faced growing international criticism over its strong police response and planned expulsions, with a right-wing UN body describing the expulsion of Arabs from their homes as a possible war crime.
Either way, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was defiant on Sunday, saying his country would continue to build in the city – a reference to internationally doomed Jewish settlements in predominantly Palestinian areas occupied by Israel.
“We strongly reject the pressure not to build in Jerusalem,” Netanyahu said in a televised speech.
Tensions in Jerusalem had soared in recent days, ahead of the expected Israeli court ruling on Monday on whether authorities can expel dozens of Palestinians from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood and hand over their homes to Jewish settlers.
In East Jerusalem, which includes the Old City, Palestinians feel a growing threat from settlers who have sought to expand the Jewish presence there by buying houses, constructing new buildings and court-ordered evictions, such as in the case of Sheikh Jarrah.
Nabeel al-Kurd, a 77-year-old man whose family is at risk of losing their home, said the evictions were a racist attempt “to expel the Palestinians and replace them with settlers”.
Under Israeli law, Jews who can prove a pre-war title of 1948 that accompanied the creation of the country can claim their properties in Jerusalem. Hundreds of thousands of Arabs have been displaced in the same conflict, but no similar law exists for Palestinians who have lost their homes in the city.
“This is a government-backed attempt by the settlers to take over our homes with force,” al-Kurd told the Guardian. ” Enough is enough. “
Sunday afternoon, in view of the tensions and after a request from the Attorney General, Avichai Mandelblit, the Supreme Court agreed to postpone the hearing. He said it should take place in a month.
Still, the break might not be enough to end the crisis. Igniting the situation, the Israelis will mark Jerusalem Day on Monday, celebrating the anniversary of when troops captured the all wanted a 1967.
Previous marches have seen participants harass Arab residents and slam shuttered doors as they walked through the Muslim Quarter.
Amos Gilad, former military intelligence chief and former senior defense ministry official, said the parade should be canceled or rerouted. “The powder keg burns and can explode at any time,” he told military radio.
Palestinians also complained about oppressive restrictions on gatherings during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
Police defended their actions after they broke up a protest in Sheikh Jarrah on Saturday night, where protesters threw stones at security forces. Previously, before Laylat al-Qadr, considered the holiest night of Ramadan, police blocked buses full of pilgrims heading to Jerusalem for worship.
Palestinian doctors said Palestinians were injured by rubber bullets, stun grenades or beatings, including a woman with a bloody face.
Police chief Kobi Shabtai said he had deployed more officers to Jerusalem after Friday night’s clashes, which left 18 police officers injured.
“The right to protest will be respected but public unrest will be met with force and zero tolerance,” Shabtai said.
On the border with Gaza, soldiers fired tear gas at Palestinian protesters, as officials said three incendiary balloons were launched into Israel, causing fires but no injuries.
Riot police stormed the compound of al-Aqsa Mosque on Friday after saying Palestinians threw stones and fireworks at police officers.
Nir Hasson, a writer for the leftist Israeli daily Haaretz, accused the Israeli authorities of making a series of bad decisions in recent weeks, “including the unlimited freedom given to the police in [Jerusalem’s] the streets, where on Friday they acted as if they had been sent to fan the flames, not to put them out.
He added: “Ultimately, half of Israel’s capital is occupied, and 40% of its residents are non-citizens who view Israel as a foreign and oppressive regime. The police and other authorities must recognize this and act to restore calm… ”
Jerusalem has long been the center of the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, with its holy sites worshiped by Jews and Muslims.
The western wall of the Old City is part of Judaism’s holiest site – the Temple Mount. It is also part of al-Haram al-Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary, with the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa Mosque above it.
Palestinians staged nightly protests in Sheikh Jarrah against an attempt by Israeli settlers to take over Arab homes.
An Israeli public television reporter tweeted images of a Jewish driver whose car was attacked with stones and broken windows at the entrance to Sheikh Jarrah on Saturday.
The Islamist movement Hamas, which rules Gaza, urged Palestinians to stay in al-Aqsa until the end of Ramadan, declaring: “The resistance is ready to defend al-Aqsa at any cost.”
The decision last month by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the 85-year-old leader of the semi-autonomous Palestinian Authority, to postpone the scheduled elections has added to the frustration of Palestinians, whose last parliamentary poll dates back to 2006.
The quartet of envoys from the EU, Russia, the United States and the United Nations expressed deep concern over the violence. “We call on the Israeli authorities to exercise restraint,” they wrote. The United States has expressed deep concern and urged both sides to “avoid measures that exacerbate tensions or take us away from peace.”
The EU called on the authorities “to act urgently to defuse the current tensions”.
Yair Lapid, an Israeli politician trying to form a coalition government to replace Netanyahu, backed the police. “The State of Israel will not let violence unleash itself and certainly will not allow terrorist groups to threaten it,” he tweeted.
The al-Aqsa clashes drew strong criticism in the Arab and Muslim world, with Egypt, Bahrain, Turkey, Tunisia, Pakistan and Qatar criticizing Israeli forces for the confrontation.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan denounced Israel as a “cruel terrorist state”, Jordan condemned Israel’s “barbaric attack” and Iran called the actions of the Israeli police a “war crime” .