CHICAGO: A leading Israeli journalist has launched a scathing attack on the Tel Aviv government for the manner in which police and soldiers brutalized civilians and journalists inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in the Haram Al -Sharif over the past week, and called for an investigation into their actions.
Nir Hasson, who covers Jerusalem and the Palestinian community for the liberal English-language publication Haaretz, also said he believed the violence would not lead to another intifada.
The way the conflict has been handled also reflects a change in the policies of the current government of Naftali Bennett from those of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he said.
Hasson, appearing on The Ray Hanania radio show on the US Arab Radio Network and sponsored by Arab News, said the violence began when a group of religious Israelis entered the Temple Mount “with political agendas”, but has not reached the levels of violence seen in years past.
Hasson acknowledged that in many cases the police had overstepped their bounds by beating civilians and journalists and mismanaging their response to protests.
“Last year, they did everything wrong. They inflicted collective punishment on all Palestinians in East Jerusalem day after day,” Hasson said.
“This year, they (the police) tried to divide between the majority of Palestinians who came to the Temple Mount or Damascus Gate to pray or celebrate the end of the Ramadan holiday, and the minority who came s confront and throw stones (at) the police.
“However…we saw again and again very harsh videos of police using batons beating people, beating journalists, women, beating a man who (was standing with) his son.
“It’s terrible. I can’t be more (critical) of the Jerusalem police on this. I think they need to give more answers and they need to open investigations against these officers, not only because it makes no sense to treat…civilians (in this way), but also because it adds fuel to the fire, to the flames.
Hasson said some violence was expected at the confluence of the three religious celebrations, but did not reach the level it has in the past as it did when the former general and Premier Israeli Minister Ariel Sharon led a battalion of soldiers and police in the Haram. Al-Sharif causing the first Intifada in September 2000.
“This is not the first time we have seen these clashes and violence escalate in Jerusalem. And we have known for at least five or six years now that every Ramadan there is a lot of tension, especially when it comes to the Temple Mount and the Al-Aqsa compound,” Hasson said.
The clashes of the first intifada, he said, resulted in an agreement between Israelis and Palestinians not to inflame tensions. Until 2003, Israel limited visits by religious Jews to the Haram Al-Sharif to five at a time. In 2003 it was increased to 10. In 2010 it was increased to 20. And in 2011 under Netanyahu it was increased to 50 at once.
Hasson said part of the difference between last year’s violence, which left more people dead and injured and spread across the West Bank, Gaza and Israel, was the result of politics when Netanyahu wanted to use violence to bolster his re-election hopes.
Netanyahu lost the Israeli elections to Naftali Bennett, who Hasson said did not exploit the tensions for political gain.
“Netanyahu especially last year. If you remember last year, it was still the government, but it was after the elections and Netanyahu had to lead a new coalition. And the common political understanding in Israel was that Netanyahu had an interest in (intensifying) the flame(s) and having a little more violence because it would help him increase the number of the Knesset and build his coalition.
“Now I don’t know if Netanyahu really did anything with enough care, intentionally. But we saw the police act brutally without (any) sense. If you recall, they blocked the stairs of Damascus Gate, forbidding people to sit there for no (no) reason. It didn’t make any sense, but it only caused violence there.
“Part of the answer is of course that the government of Naftali Bennett has vital interests in keeping things as calm as possible, because whenever there is violence, terrorist attacks, they are hit very hard by the right and by Likud and Netanyahu. They say you can’t trust him (Bennett), they can’t keep Israel safe.
Hasson said there are extremists on both sides who want conflict and will exploit any event or moment to fuel clashes.
“There (are) certain groups, political, religious, mainly NGOs, who are trying to push the Israeli government to change the status quo but they are not the mainstream and they are not part of the government and all the institutions security in Israel, the IDF, the police, the Shin Bit, all agreed that Israel should be very careful when marching on the Temple Mount, Al-Aqsa,” Hasson said.
Hasson said currently tensions have eased since the first clashes last week, despite an attempt on Thursday by far-right Knesset member Itamar Ben Gvir to lead several hundred flag-waiving Israeli radicals into the compound of the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
“Things are pretty calm. But today we had a march of the flag of the right, of the radical right in Israel, and of a member of the Knesset, Itamar Ben Gvir of the radical right party and they wanted to protest against the violence of the Palestinians and they asked the police to walk from West Jerusalem to East Jerusalem and walk through the Muslim Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem and the police wouldn’t let them and they blocked them all the way,” Hasson said. .
“It has also increased the tension and violence in Jerusalem today. There were a few hours of clashes between these demonstrators, these right-wing activists and the police in the center of Jerusalem. They wouldn’t let them into East Jerusalem. But for now, this evening seems to be very quiet.
Hasson said the last 10 days of Ramadan, the Haram Al-Sharif should be closed to non-Muslims and tensions “should be lower”.
In the meantime, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken urged Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Foreign Minister and Alternate Prime Minister Yair Lapid in separate phone calls to refrain from “any action and rhetoric which exacerbates tensions.
Blinken dispatched the State Department’s Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, Yael Lempert, and the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Israeli and Palestinian Affairs, Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs, Hady Amr, to meet with leaders in Israel, the West Bank and Jordan to help ease tensions.
The Ray Hanania radio show, hosted by the US Arab Radio Network and sponsored by Arab News, airs weekly live Wednesdays in Detroit, Washington DC, Ontario and rebroadcasts Thursdays in Chicago at noon on WNWI AM 1080 .