Israeli-Palestinian violence stokes fear Jerusalem crisis is spreading

Violence has afflicted Jerusalem for weeks, and tensions are mounting as a young Arab man was killed by police in northern Israel, sparking a weekend of violent protests. Two Israelis were killed in separate attacks Monday.

The violence and tensions that have roiled Jerusalem for weeks are erupting along a broader front, with the fatal shooting of a young Arab man by police in northern Israel threatening to explode the always sensitive relations between Israel’s Jewish majority and its Arab minority citizens.

Two Israelis were killed Monday and two wounded in two stabbing attacks, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged a harsh response to the violence, even hinting that Israeli Arabs involved in attacks could be stripped of their citizenship.

Attackers should consider moving to the West Bank or Gaza Strip, Mr. Netanyahu said. “Believe me, we will put no difficulties in your path,” he said.

Israeli police originally said the young man, Kheir al-Din Hamdan, was shot while trying to stab police officers in the Arab village of Kafr Kana late Friday night, but video of the incident that shows him banging on the windows of a police van while holding an object suggests he may have been retreating from the police at the time he was shot.

The shooting led to violent demonstrations in Kafr Kana and elsewhere in northern Israel over the weekend in which some protesters called for a violent uprising against the state, the Associated Press reported.

On Monday, a Palestinian assailant killed a young woman at a bus stop outside the West Bank settlement of Alon Shvut and wounded two other people, while at a crowded train station in Tel Aviv a second attacker stabbed an Israeli soldier who later died of his wounds. Both attackers were taken into custody.

''The situation is very explosive,'' says Amnon Beeri-Sulitzeanu, co-director of the Abraham Fund initiative, a nongovernmental organization that works to advance coexistence and cooperation between Jewish and Arab citizens.

Fear and anger are growing on both sides, he says. On the Arab side are fears over the intentions of right-wing politicians who hint at disenfranchising them; anger over ongoing discrimination; and religious concerns for the status of Jerusalem’s Al Aqsa mosque amid calls by right-wing Israeli politicians and activists to allow Jewish prayer at the site.

At the same time, the Israeli Jewish public is anxious over recent Palestinian attacks in Jerusalem – including two fatal hit-and-run attacks on pedestrians at crowded light rail stops and the attempted assassination of a right-wing activist – and over the violence emanating from the Arab locales in northern Israel, he says.

''Anxiety and fear on both sides, fed by politicians, would be a guarantee to escalate the situation,'' Beeri-Sulitzeanu says.

On Sunday, Israel's public security minister, Yitzhak Aharonovich, expressed his “full support” for the police officers involved in the Friday night shooting, saying, “they felt threatened and were forced to respond with live fire and hit him.”

Until about midnight Sunday, youths in Kafr Kana burned tires and threw stones and fireworks at police who responded with tear gas, residents said. The scene was played out in Turan, Shefaram, and other Israeli Arab towns in what is threatening to become the worst unrest since the second intifada uprising in 2000, in which 13 Israeli Arabs were killed by police as clashes spread across northern Israel.

Unless the police speedily mount a credible investigation into the killing and politicians behave responsibly to calm matters, things could get considerably worse, observers say.

At Mr. Hamdan’s house, mourners sat Sunday on plastic chairs, drank watery black coffee, and recited the opening verse of the Quran, which speaks of God's mercy and compassion.

''We think as citizens of this country that the police must protect us, not kill our sons,'' said Rafea Amara, a cousin of Hamdan. ''It was not necessary to kill him. They could finish this without killing.''

Rauf Hamdan, the young man’s father, said, ''I want to see these police at the high court of justice with a fair and just trial. I want the judges to see the video with their own eyes, that they killed him in cold blood.''

The shooting of Hamdan has intensified the perception among Israeli Arabs that police are trigger happy and don't value their lives.

In the last 14 years, 35 Arab citizens have been fatally shot by police, compared with two Israeli Jews, according to Jafar Farah, head of Musawa, an NGO that promotes equality. There were only three convictions of police officers in fatal shootings of Arabs, with the toughest sentence being 14 months, Mr. Farah said.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld declined to comment on the statistics but said the charge that police are trigger happy toward Arabs is ''incorrect, inaccurate and far-fetched.''

Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.

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