Israeli-Palestinian clashes broke out on Sunday as a group of extreme rightist Israelis marched through the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan. The Israeli demonstrators said they wanted to show Israel’s sovereignty over all of Jerusalem.
While police outnumbered the less than 100 Israeli protesters, the march is being seen as highly symbolic, taking place shortly after US Middle East envoy George Mitchell has returned to the region to launch indirect talks between Israeli and Palestinian officials.
Settlements are expected to be a contentious issue in any talks, especially after the Israeli government announced it would build 1,600 homes in East Jerusalem last month during US Vice President Joe Biden’s visit.
Although there are about 300 Israeli settlers in the neighborhood and 55,000 Palestinians, the rightwing protestors say that Arabs built their homes illegally without proper permits. They want the Arab residents removed and their homes destroyed. Al Jazeera’s correspondent, Jacky Rowland reports that it was “difficult to measure the size of the impact” of the demonstration.
“The fact that this march took place has been seen as extremely provocative; a highly aggressive gesture on the part of the settlers - people really hell-bent on driving Palestinians from their land," she said.
There are indications that Israel’s leadership may have viewed the march as counterproductive.
Israel’s attorney general, Yehuda Weinstein turned down the request, though, saying there were no legal grounds to stop such a demonstration.
Mr. Netanyahu met with Mitchell on Sunday morning for the second time since he arrived on Thursday and, despite the protests, a US embassy statement described the talks as “positive and productive.”
'We're the bosses'
On a radio interview the night before the protests, the extreme right leader Itamar Ben Gvir said that Mitchell’s visit helped to fuel their efforts and inspired them to fight harder for their cause, reports Israel’s Haaretz newspaper.
In Silwan, the settlers were met by both local residents and leftist Israelis who opposed their march.
"We hope the Kahanist march in Silwan will raise awareness to the distress of Palestinian residents of the neighborhood, who are subjected to incessant violence at the hands of the settlers in the neighborhood and abused by the authorities," the [leftist Israeli] demonstrators said. They added that they were protesting "in order to stand with the residents throughout the provocation and ensure that police are defending the Palestinian residents from the Kahanist bullies."
Meanwhile, Ma’an, a Palestinian news service, reports that at least five Palestinians were injured by rubber bullets fired at them by the police.
Palestinian demonstrators began throwing stones at Israeli police, who then deployed anti-riot forces to break up the group.