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Jerusalem Unrest Threatens Wider Flare-Up After Deadliest Attack on Israeli Civilians in 3 Years

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The unrest that has gripped Jerusalem has escalated after a deadly attack on five Israeli civilians. The victims were killed when armed Palestinians stormed a synagogue during morning prayers. It was the deadliest attack on Israeli civilians in more than three years and the worst in Jerusalem since 2008. The dead included three U.S.-born rabbis, a British-born rabbi and a Druze police officer. Seven worshipers were injured. The assailants were shot dead by police. The attack came after weeks of unrest fueled in part by a dispute over Jerusalem’s holiest site, known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and known to Jews as the Temple Mount, as well as the continued expansion of Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem. After the synagogue killings, Israeli settlers launched reprisal attacks in the occupied West Bank, targeting a school near Nablus and Palestinian motorists on a road near Hebron. At least five Palestinians were wounded after Israeli forces fired rubber-coated bullets. We are joined from Jerusalem by Ha’aretz correspondent Amira Hass, the only Israeli journalist to have spent several years living in and reporting from Gaza and the West Bank.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We turn now to Jerusalem, where five Israelis died Tuesday when a pair of Palestinians armed with meat cleavers and a gun stormed a synagogue during morning prayers. It was the deadliest attack on Israeli civilians in more than three years and the worst in Jerusalem since 2008. The dead included three U.S.-born rabbis, a British-born rabbi and a Druze police officer. One of the slain rabbis, Mosheh Twersky, was from two of the most prominent families in Orthodox Judaism. Seven worshipers were injured. The assailants were shot dead by police. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine claimed responsibility for the attack, which came after months of mounting tension in Jerusalam.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of inciting violence in the city and said the killings were part of a “battle over Jerusalem.”

PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: [translated] As a nation, we will settle the score with every terrorist and their dispatchers, and we have proved we will do so. But no one must take the law into their own hands, even if spirits are riled and blood is boiling. We are in a long campaign in a war against terrorism that hasn’t started today. It accompanies us throughout the Zionism. We always overcame it, and we will this time, as well. There are some who want to uproot us from our state and capital. They will not succeed. We are in a battle over Jerusalem, our eternal capital.

AMY GOODMAN: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the attack, which came after weeks of unrest, fueled in part by a dispute over Jerusalem’s holiest site, known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary, containing the Al-Aqsa Mosque, and known to Jews as the Temple Mount, because the two Biblical temples once stood there.

PRESIDENT MAHMOUD ABBAS: [translated] We strongly condemn this incident and do not accept under any circumstances attacks on civilians. At the same time we condemn these actions, we also condemn the attacks on the Al-Aqsa Mosque, holy places.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: The director of Israel’s Shin Bet domestic security service, Yoram Cohen, dismissed Netanyahu’s claim that Abbas incited the attack. Cohen said a number of events led to the synagogue massacre, including the murder of Palestinian teenager Mohammed Abu Khdeir, who was found burned to death in Jerusalem in July, and the discussions in the Knesset to permit Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount.

AMY GOODMAN: We go now to Jerusalem, where we’re joined by Amira Hass. She’s the Ha’aretz correspondent for the occupied Palestinian territories, the only Israeli Jewish journalist to have spent years living in and reporting from Gaza and the West Bank.

Amira, why don’t you lay out the scene for us in Jerusalem right now?

AMIRA HASS: Hi, Amy. I just came from the neighborhood, Har Nof, where the murder took place. And before that, I haven’t been able yet to go to the neighborhood where the two perpetrators lived, but I went to—I was in some other Palestinian neighborhoods of Jerusalem. Both Palestinian and Israeli neighborhoods seemed to be very, very reserved. There is fear in both parts. The fear was very clear in the Palestinian part. I saw many, many police—policemen, border police—scattered. I even saw them when they were launching up a big balloon, spying balloon, with a camera, I guess, over the neighborhood. The streets were almost empty.

While in the neighborhood in the Jewish neighborhood, things were normal, but very reserved, very restrained. I didn’t enter—I could not enter inside the synagogue, because I’m not allowed as a woman to be there. I did talk to some people. It turns—it seems that the two men who did the killing used to work in the neighborhood in some shops. That’s what I was told, though I didn’t check it yet, didn’t verify it yet.

I did speak to some Palestinians in Jerusalem. And what was remarkable is that they do not approve of it. They do not approve of it, of this murder. But they share with those who perpetrated—they share the sense of despair and anger that Palestinians live with all the time, all the time. I felt that people do not dare to condemn, even though some people feel uncomfortable about such a killing, such an operation. By the way, I don’t think that the Popular Front adopted it officially. People say that the two youngsters are members or fans of the Popular Front, not necessarily members or not necessarily that they got an order from the Popular Front, but this is still to be seen.

Yeah, it is very, very tense. And I was making the comparison between the neighborhood where they lived, the two men, two Abu Jamal—very crowded, very—no investment in the livelihood, in the welfare of the people—while this neighborhood is—the Har Nof neighborhood is a relatively new neighborhood on the land of the village, of the destroyed Palestinian village, Deir Yassin—very spacious, many newcomers, many new immigrants from mostly Anglo-Saxon countries. If they worked there indeed, if the two guys worked there indeed, I think that they faced every morning—they were facing—every day they were facing the Israeli apartheid, very clearly.

And they don’t have—there is no leadership in Jerusalem to—or, at all, any leadership to offer them a struggle with hope, a struggle that yields fruits which give hope for a change. Everything, somebody told me also from the Popular Front today—somebody told me, “We’ve tried everything. We’ve tried negotiations. We’ve tried demonstrations. We’ve tried nice relations with Jews. We’ve tried so many things. And nothing—nothing—brings a change and stops this reality of apartheid.”

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Amira Hass, how would you characterize the tensions in the recent weeks in Jerusalem compared to previous years and the ongoing conflicts between Jews and Palestinians in Jerusalem?

AMIRA HASS: Look, there are daily confrontations with the police. There is more police, or there are more confrontations. There are many, many racist manifestations on the part of Israeli Jews in the streets of Jerusalem against Palestinians. So there is fear among Palestinians to go and spend time in the west side of the city, where most of them also have—many of them have work, as well. There is, as I said, more—more police everywhere, especially in the Old City and entrance to Al-Aqsa—has become—as somebody told me, “It is like we are going to a theater, and we have to take a ticket from the police in order to enter Al-Aqsa or to enter even the Old City.” A guy who lives in the Old City told me, “I cannot go in to my own house. The police is there. There are checkpoints. They don’t let me get in from this place. They don’t get in people who do not live in the Old City.” So, you feel that the Israeli measures, to remind Palestinians in Jerusalem that they are not natural residents of the place, natural natives of the place, but they are actually there on probation. They live in Jerusalem on probation, provided they behave nicely or behave according to Israeli regulations. This is the sense that you get. You get a sense—Palestinians get a sense, more than ever, that they are here in this—in their city, natives of this city, as a gesture, not because it’s their native right.

AMY GOODMAN: In October, Israel shut down the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in the Old City of Jerusalem for the first time in 14 years, following the shooting of an Israeli far-right activist named Yehudah Glick. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the temporary closure as a declaration of war on the Palestinian people. The site, again, known to Jews as the Temple Mount, houses both the mosque and the Dome of the Rock. Jamal Tawfiq, a resident of Jerusalem, said he was turned away after arriving for his morning prayers.

JAMAL TAWFIQ: [translated] This is a collective punishment for something we had nothing to do with. This is injustice. There is no fair government here. Justice should be the basis for governance. But there is no justice here. A problem happens with a person over there, they close the mosque here. Why is it OK to allow Jews to go pray at the Wailing Wall without any harassment, while a Palestinian is killed every day? Every day, a Palestinian is killed. Every day, holy olive trees are burned and pulled out because they belong to Arab Palestinians. Why are we the ones being punished?

AMY GOODMAN: So that was Jamal Tawfiq, a resident of Jerusalem. So, Amira Hass, now five Israeli Jews have been killed, three of them American citizens born in the United States. Where do you see this going from here?

AMIRA HASS: That’s always the most difficult question. I mean, the two sides are giving signs that they are ready for escalation. And there are more Israeli measures. The house of one of the perpetrators of a running-over attack, his house was demolished this night. Probably the houses of the two Abu Jamal nephews or cousins, they will be demolished also soon. So, Israelis claimed officially that they are going to use more collective measures against the entire Palestinian population in Jerusalem. Also what they declared is that they had—they planned some gestures in the West Bank, like opening roads that were closed down to Palestinian traffic, and now they decided not to have this gesture. So, there is—on this part, there is clearly an intention to escalate. And it’s never—as usual, in the past so many years, Israel does not listen to the message of Palestinian protest. It only improves and perfects its tools to repress those demonstrations and expressions of protest.

On the Palestinian side, there is a lot of confusion, because the Palestinians in Jerusalem can revolt, but there is no leadership, Palestinian leadership, that works now to—or able to lead an uprising, in all levels. And also in the West Bank, people, the great majority of people, I believe—and we’ve seen people—the great majority of Palestinians are not really keen on entering now a new phase of repression, of terrible Israeli repression. Gaza is far away. They can sacrifice again, again and again their lives, their houses. But it’s not in a position to lead an uprising against the Israeli occupation, especially now that again Hamas and Fatah are not in the best terms and the reconciliation is not really working. So, it is—there is a lot of confusion. And Jerusalemers are left now, left—in a way, they are left quite alone in a desperate attempt to explain to the Israelis that they have had enough. This is quite heroic, but also not strategized.

AMY GOODMAN: We want to thank you very much, Amira Hass, for joining us from Jerusalem. Amira is the Ha’aretz correspondent for the occupied Palestinian territories, the only Israeli Jewish journalist to have spent many years living in and reporting from Gaza and the West Bank. A few years ago, she was awarded the International Women’s Media Foundation Award for Lifetime Achievement. It was awarded by CNN’s Christiane Amanpour. And a slight correction: Five Israelis have died, four Jews and one Druze. This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we’ll be joined by a Palestinian professor and a former Israeli soldier. Stay with us.

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“Palestinians Always Live in Fear”: Jerusalem Killings Follow Months of Tensions, Settlement Growth

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