Jaffa demonstration over Muslim burial site grows into violent riot

Protest over municipal evacuation of an ancient Muslim cemetery turns into protest over killing of autistic Palestinian man.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

An Arab demonstration against the Tel Aviv-Jaffa municipality’s move to evacuate an ancient Muslim cemetery in a city-owned plot turned into a riot on Tuesday night as protesters clashed with police, throwing rocks and heavily damaging a city bus.

The protest had begun peacefully at the Jaffa Clock Tower square against the removal of the bones, which will enable the continuation of construction begun some two years ago at the site.

The anger then boiled over, turning into a riot against last week’s accidental killing by Israeli Border Police of an unarmed Palestinian man in Jerusalem. Hundreds began waving Palestinian flags, setting garbage bins on fire and throwing rocks at people and vehicles.

A Channel 20 report quoted a police source saying that the rioters “acted with unbridled violence towards passersby.”

Police officers had to rescue a Dan bus driver, whose vehicle’s windows were smashed by a barrage of stones thrown by the protesters. Reinforcements were called to the area and a major traffic artery was closed off to try and contain the violence.

Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said, “Yesterday evening police units dealt with an illegal protest in the area of Jaffa that turned violent when protesters threw stones at officers and caused damage to vehicles in the area. Police responded to the scene and dispersed the suspects by using non-lethal weapons only.”

No arrests were reported.

MK Sami Abu Shehadeh of the Joint List’s Balad faction rejected the official description of what happened.

“The Tel Aviv municipality’s insistence on the desecration of the Issaef cemetery in Jaffa and its irresponsibility and inflexibility have caused much unrest and anger among the residents of Jaffa,” said the former Tel Aviv-Jaffa city council member.

“The police’s hostile and brutal attitude towards the protesters again led to a loss of control and putting all residents and the city into unnecessary danger. The desecration of the cemetery and all work in it must be stopped immediately, and the police violence against the residents must be investigated. ”

When the cemetery was first discovered in 2018 during excavation work for the building of a commercial building and homeless shelter, the Islamic Movement called it a holy site and poured concrete over the graves to create tombstones. The municipality immediately cleared them away to prevent a land grab of the city-owned site.

Ancient structures and burial areas are commonly found in Israel when new construction begins, whether of roads, homes, offices or commercial space. The Israel Antiquities Authority is called in to investigate if they are of historical importance and should be preserved, or if the construction can go ahead as planned.