In 2015, I was nearly beaten by a far-right mob in Jerusalem. Thursday night’s riot in the holy city reminded me a lot of that evening. Thankfully, this time, nobody died, but that same feeling of tension, anger and violence was in the air.
My run in with the mob began at a small vigil to protest against the murder of a family at the hands of Palestinian terrorists. For some reason they decided we were ‘left-wing protesters’ — the police were able to encircle us but could do nothing to stop the bottles being thrown, the spit, the curses. Our crowd of attacks moved on, beating any Arabs they came across. A few streets away, two Israelis were stabbed to death by a Palestinian, inspiring a series of opportunistic attacks that became known as the ‘Intifada of the knives’.
This week’s violence involved the Jewish extremist Lehava organisation, founded to ‘fight intermarriage’. One of the ways it seeks to achieve this goal is by beating up random Arabs, or sometimes just people who look a bit like Arabs, and by marching while chanting ‘Death to Arabs!’ Lehava decided to pour fuel on the flames by arranging a march through downtown Jerusalem to the Damascus Gate, a Palestinian area of the Old City to restore ‘national honour’. Their numbers bolstered by disaffected Ultra-Orthodox teenagers, they were a few hundred strong by the time they got to their destination.
Meanwhile, at the Damascus Gate, Palestinians were also gathering. The Palestinian mob turned violent first, before the Jewish mob arrived; police responded forcefully, causing dozens of injuries. The same police were more restrained when Lehava arrived, pushing back the marchers carefully and absorbing their attempts to charge the barricade.
The evening ended with both mobs breaking up into smaller groups, often of teenagers, who went on harassing people all round the city.
Whatever sparked it, tensions suppressed by a year of Covid-19 restrictions have re-emerged now that Israel seems to have beaten the pandemic with vaccines.