- - Sunday, November 9, 2014

JERUSALEM — Rising tensions and sometimes violent protests around the nation on Sunday prompted Israeli police to go on heightened alert after the fatal shooting of an Arab-Israeli man, escalating fears that a new Palestinian uprising is in the offing.

Thousands of Palestinians took to the streets in east Jerusalem, where masked men and youths hurled stones at Israeli police. Clashes erupted in the A-Tur area on the Mount of Olives, with Palestinian residents clashing with Israeli border patrol forces.

Arab-Israeli leaders called a general strike, and Palestinian militant groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad issued statements advocating “a popular revolution.” Arab-Israelis marched with Palestinian flags at some protests.

“We will not tolerate disturbances and riots and whoever violates the law will be severely punished,” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who claimed the protesters had called for the destruction of the Jewish state.

The wave of protests in Arab-Israeli communities began after a 22-year-old man in the Galilee village of Kfar Kana tried to attack police early Saturday and was shot dead in response, Israeli police said.

However, a video from a security camera showed that he was banging on a police vehicle, and when officers emerged to confront him, he retreated and then was shot.

Police officials told Kol Israel (Voice of Israel) that they were reviewing the incident as rioting spread from Nazareth in Israel’s north to the Bedouin town of Rahat in the southern Negev region.

The current unrest follows a 50-day war in the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip this summer, and adds to resentment in east Jerusalem over Jewish settlements in historically Arab neighborhoods and limited access to a site known to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary) and to Jews as Temple Mount.

For weeks, east Jerusalem Muslims have been clashing with police over access to the site, which contains the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque, and is sacred to Muslims, Jews and Christians.

On Friday, a Muslim holy day of prayer, the site was ringed by more than 1,000 Israeli riot police restricting access to enforce a government decision to bar Muslim men under 35 from praying there. The age limit changes each week.

The site, where about 15,000 Muslims prayed, remained peaceful even as protests broke out elsewhere in Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem, the West Bank and at checkpoints.

Arab-Israelis make up about 20 percent of Israel’s population of slightly more than 8 million. While they have full citizenship, they have long complained about economic marginalization and discrimination.

Increasingly, many share the Islamist political views of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, a shift fueled in part by Israeli settlement expansion and what they see as increasing incursions onto Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem.

Sheik Omar al-Kiswani, director of the Al-Aqsa Mosque, told the Palestinian news agency Ma’an on Sunday that Israeli forces closed the gates to the compound and denied all women access to the holy site.

“Today 30 extremist Jews stormed the Al-Aqsa compound at 7:30 a.m. heavily escorted by Israeli officers,” said Sheikh al-Kiswani.

Tensions over the site have resulted in Palestinian attacks on Jewish targets. Last Wednesday, a Palestinian slammed a minivan into a crowd at a Jerusalem light rail platform, killing one and injuring 13. That followed an attack by another Palestinian, who also drove his vehicle into a light rail platform, killing a baby girl and an Ecuadorean woman.

At the heart of the issue is expanding Jewish access to the site. Since Israel captured East Jerusalem from Jordan in 1967, Jewish worshippers have been allowed to visit the site but not to pray there.

But as the number of Jewish visitors has grown, so have security measures to protect them. At the same time, there have been increased calls — including by several senior members of Mr. Netanyahu’s coalition — for the right to pray at Temple Mount.

Some say it is a question of human rights.

“Jews have no less rights than Muslims to pray,” said Mordechai Kedar, a lecturer in the Department of Arabic Studies at Bar-Ilan University in Israel. “We can pray in Los Angeles, we can pray in Paris, we can pray outside of Jerusalem. How come there is one place in the world where we are not allowed to pray there? So why should the Israeli police enforce such an atrocity?”

Still, many ultra-Orthodox rabbis oppose prayer there under current conditions, while others have called for access to the site, which is run by Muslims under Jordanian guardianship. That guardianship was granted in the 1994 peace treaty with Israel.

Officials in Jordan, however, are increasingly nervous about Mr. Netanyahu’s intentions.

Netanyahu has never said, ‘I will not allow Jews to pray at Al-Aqsa Mosque.’ What he says is, ‘I will not allow Jews to pray at the Temple Mount,’” said Wasfi Kailani, director of the Hashemite Fund for the Restoration of Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock.

“Just last Thursday, Netanyahu called [Jordanian King Abdullah II] and reassured him there would be no change in the status quo,” he added, referring to the mosque. “But today, just three days later, four gates of Al-Aqsa are closed.”

Jordan has called for the U.N. Security Council to hold an emergency session on the disturbances in Jerusalem.

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