While the world’s attention was focused on the air strikes and rockets over Gaza and Israel this summer, a wave of violence hit the streets of Jerusalem – and continues in parts of this divided city at the core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The kidnapping and killing of three Israeli teenagers, Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaer and Eyal Yifrah, by Palestinians in the West Bank, and the apparent revenge killing of Palestinian youth Mohammed Abu Khdeir by Israelis in Jerusalem, sparked a chain of events that led to the 50-day war between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza.
The same events also stoked violence in the streets of Jerusalem, and the Gaza war fed the turmoil.
Israel’s Shin Bet security service said there were seven times more violent Palestinian attacks on Israeli security forces and civilians in Jerusalem in July and August than in the previous two months. It documented about 150 cases and the Israeli rights group Ir Amim reported a spike in Israeli attacks on Palestinians, with about two dozen such cases.
Compared to the Israel-Gaza fighting, there were few conflict-related deaths and injuries in Jerusalem, and the violence has hardly been felt in the city’s Jewish neighbourhoods, where cafes and shopping centres are still busy.
However, some Israeli and Palestinian residents say they feel increasingly unsafe around each other.
“It’s going to explode in our faces, like the tunnels in Gaza,” said Yael Antebi, a Jerusalem councillor, referring to the underground passages Hamas militants used during the war to travel into southern Israel and carry out attacks.
For their part, many Palestinians said they stay away from Jerusalem’s Jewish neighbourhoods when tensions are high to avoid attacks or slurs.
In the most recent violence, masked Palestinians ransacked a petrol station and set fire to a pump on Sunday to avenge the death of a 16-year-old Palestinian who died from wounds he sustained in a clash with Israeli troops the previous week.
Israeli police say the youth was shot in the leg with a rubber-coated bullet and died from a head injury when he fell, but a Palestinian official said an autopsy showed he was killed by a rubber bullet to the head.
The gas station targeted was in French Hill, a well-to-do Jewish neighbourhood in the city’s east that Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war.
Palestinians seek to establish an independent state with parts of east Jerusalem as its capital.
Officials in Jerusalem say Palestinians have attacked other contentious Jewish areas of the city in recent weeks, launching fireworks and firebombs at Jewish enclaves in Arab neighbourhoods, and firing bullets at Israeli homes in Pisgat Zeev, a sprawling Jewish area Israel considers an integral part of Jerusalem but the international community considers an illegitimate settlement.
Palestinians hurled rocks, firebombs and paint at the city’s tram dozens of times this summer as it passed through the Shuafat neighbourhood where the Palestinian teenager was kidnapped, said a spokesman for tram operator Citypass.
Israeli residents have also carried out violent acts this summer, and after the funeral for the three teenagers, hundreds of Israelis marched through Jerusalem shouting: “Death to the Arabs.”
A mob broke into a McDonald’s where Palestinians worked and smashed computers. Palestinian taxi drivers were harassed, and three Palestinians were attacked in a car park. At least six other unprovoked Israeli attacks sent Palestinians to hospital, according to the group.
Palestinian demonstrators this summer have thrown rocks and firebombs at Israeli forces in the city’s eastern sector, and troops have responded with rubber bullets and tear gas.
Israeli police have detained some 600 Arab residents on suspicion of attacking police and participating in the riots, said a police spokesman. About 150 of them have been charged, he added.
Israelis were also arrested this summer for attacks against Arabs.