Why are Arabs rioting in Jerusalem? And why now?

There are at least 10 reasons that I can think of (in random order) to explain the recent uptick in Jerusalem violence:

  1. Palestinian-Arab Jerusalem youths have few facilities for sports or supervised recreation, as one Arab community organizer explained on Reshet Bet Sunday. The youngsters are bored.
  2. Social media lionizes terrible behavior. Part of what set off the latest rioting was that Arab youths have been exploiting TikTok. They’ve filmed each other slapping or roughing up ultra-Orthodox Jewish passerby on the light rail or near Jerusalem’s Old City walls and posted the outrageous clips.

The ultra-Orthodox and Arabs share the “seam” area that, until 1967, divided the city. Jordan had occupied eastern Jerusalem and the West Bank.

The TikTok attacks were unprovoked and (so far as I can glean) have drawn no condemnation from the Palestinian political or clerical echelon.

  1. In March, during Purim, drunk and disorderly anti-Zionist Haredim attacked an Arab van driver who got stuck in the neighborhood while the ultra-Orthodox were demonstrating against the Netanyahu government. The PM happened to be holding a news conference at the nearby Education Ministry. Fearing for his life, the van driver accelerated and accidentally ran over and killed a Jewish bystander.

Connected to the above, there are Haredim (and Lehava-affiliated Hardelnikim) who see themselves as biologically and spiritually superior to everyone not like them.

  1. During the month of Ramadan – which began Monday, 12 April and ends on the evening of Wednesday, May 12 – Muslims fast all daylight while working more or less as usual. The faithful don’t get much sleep because they’re eating, celebrating, watching TV, and praying while it is still dark. So, when daylight comes again, nerves are frayed. In many places around the world, Ramadan is marked by intramural violence or violence against non-Muslims.
  2. Testosterone – Arab youths (and their Hardel + ultra-Orthodox counterparts) have no sanctioned outlet for sexual energy.
  3. Damascus Gate Steps – Rather than create an inviting Ramadan outdoor festival space on the promenade outside the Old City’s Damascus Gate (the one Muslims tend to use to reach the Al Aksa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock esplanade), the police forcibly forbade people from congregating.

One reason given is COVID restrictions, yet obviously, no distancing is or can be enforced on the Temple Mount. So, the Arabs understandably see the Damascus Gate step policy as humiliating. It is undoubtedly inconsistent. Some years hanging out on the steps is allowed, and some not.

  1. Palestinian Elections set for May 22 – various factions from Fatah to Hamas are keen to exploit any possibility of anti-Israelism to assert their anti-Zionist bona fides.

The PLO demands that Arabs in metropolitan Jerusalem (including those who have Israeli blue ID cards) be allowed to vote in the Palestinian elections.

My view is that Arabs who live in former Jordanian-occupied Jerusalem should be allowed to vote in Palestinian Authority elections just as they did in the 2005 PA presidential and 2006 Palestinian Authority legislative elections.

With an eye on the far-right Otzma Yehudit Party of Smotrich-Ben Givir-Maoz he needs to form a government, Netanyahu has let PA president and octogenarian-in-chief Mahmoud Abbas twist in the wind. He is not saying anything publicly about whether Israel will allow Jerusalem Arabs to vote.

Abbas hints that if Israel does not facilitate voting by Jerusalem Arabs , he will put off the election. Rather convenient for him. It is an election his side is likely to lose to Hamas.

While Abbas is based in Ramallah and has jurisdiction over most West Bank Palestinian Arabs, Hamas in Gaza threatens that if the election is put off it will blame Israel (and maybe Abbas too) and launch more rockets from Gaza. For now, it says the rockets it is launching are in solidarity with Jerusalem Arabs. Both the PLO and Hamas have abetted expansion of rioting in the West Bank and along the Gaza-Negev security fence.

  1. Netanyahu needs a crisis.

Even in good times the PM’s usual modus operandi is to let a crisis fester before saying or doing anything.

In this case, he and his minion-ministers let days go by and said nothing about revolting anti-Arab violence. Obliquely, only on Saturday night did Bibi call on all sides to stand down.

Iran-Syria – His people most likely leaked details about recent IDF attacks against Iran. The gloating may have led the mullahs to press Hamas to heat things up.

Dissing Jordan – Jordan does not influence the Jerusalem Arab street. Still, it does have some sway with the clerics who run the mosques on the Temple Mount. On March 10/11 Netanyahu forced Jordan’s Prince Hussein bin Abdullah to cancel a scheduled visit to the Temple Mount. Supposedly the kerfuffle was over a disagreement over how many armed guards the prince could take up with him. Bibi also made Jordan beg for desperately needed water (which we are, I am pretty sure, obliged to provide under the peace treaty).

  1. Things really really got out of hand Thursday night when the police allowed hundreds of Lehava alt-right Jewish louts (and anti-Zionist ultra-Orthodox hangers-on) to march provocatively into the Arab neighborhoods.

Some of these Jewish hoodlums also attacked Arab cleaners and restaurant workers in western Jerusalem. Jerusalem’s mayor had asked the police to ban the Jewish thugs from marching. However, he was told that legally the rally could not be preempted. Trust me. Had Bibi messaged the police to find a way to block the Lehava provocateurs, cops would have. But the mayhem fed the crisis.

An aside: The anti-Zionist Edah HaChareidis rabbis have now instructed their randy youths not to participate in any further demonstrations or anti-Arab violence.

  1. 100 Years of Conflict – The events over the past days, even if God forbid they cascade into a Third Intifada must be seen as another episode in a conflict that has spanned 100 year-plus. It all started when we hit them back.

Published by Elliot Jager

In my briefings and blog, I contextualize Israeli politics and explore Jewish civilization. As a collaborative editor, I make your writing clear & compelling.

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