Senior Israeli police officials have acknowledged that police in Jerusalem used excessive force against Palestinians this week, warning that continuing to do so could result in a nationwide response by Palestinians in the month of Ramadan.
As thousands of Palestinians gathered in Jerusalem's Old City on Monday afternoon to celebrate the night of Al-Israa wa Al-Mi'raj – the Prophet Muhammad's night journey from Makkah to Jerusalem and then to the heavens – Israeli police confronted them, leading to clashes.
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Around 20 Palestinians were arrested, while the Palestinian Red Crescent put the number of those injured at 36. Two children were also injured by a stun grenade thrown on them by Israeli police, with one of them being an 11-year-old girl who had to be taken to the hospital.
Following the incident, police said it was being investigated by the Justice Ministry unit that investigates police misconduct. The Israeli news outlet, Haaretz, however, has revealed that senior police officials have admitted the use of excessive force and deem it to be an unwise action.
Speaking to the paper, one of the senior sources said that "Shortly before Ramadan, in the midst of holiday preparations, things need to remain quiet at Damascus Gate. What was achieved, with the entire world watching a disabled girl injured by a stun grenade, with photos of water cannons spraying women and children?" The officials warned that "If there isn't an immediate change in approach, these incidents will only be a promo ahead of Ramadan."
Clashes in the holy month of Ramadan are a common occurrence in the occupied Palestinian territories, especially in Jerusalem, with Israeli forces often implementing measures which limit Muslim Palestinians' ability to worship in the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound and the areas surrounding it.
Last year, those measures – which included erecting barricades at the Damascus Gate to obstruct worshippers – led to weeks of clashes in the city and beyond it, with intense conflict taking place between Hamas in the Gaza Strip and Israeli forces. That resulted in the deaths of over 200 Palestinians and around a dozen Israelis.
Israeli authorities reportedly do not want a repeat of that incident. "There are enough people who wish to stoke tensions in the area, but we cannot give East Jerusalem residents any reason to do so," the senior officer said. "We should let them celebrate Ramadan with minimal friction, and take control of incidents as they happen".
Another source told the paper that "The narrative we wish to send is that things can be done differently" this year. Israel's moves to limit the possibility of conflict this Ramadan were also seen last month, when it was reported that Israeli police have decided not to erect barriers at Damascus Gate.