As you've likely seen in the news, Jerusalem has recently seen a string of violent attacks by extremists.
The series of events began when Israeli police instituted new restrictions during Ramadan that limited access to the sacred Al-Aqsa mosque. Arab residents protested, which evolved into incidents of assaults by Arab youth on religious Jews traveling on Jerusalem's light rail.
That prompted Jewish right-wing extremists to organise a march to the Damascus Gate, the heart of Palestinian East Jerusalem, with hundreds chanting "death to Arabs" and "death to traitors”.
NIF has been, remains, and will always be committed to combating extremism in Israel and working toward a peaceful, more just Jerusalem.
That's why we support groups who work for these goals in Jerusalem, and around the country. This work is essential for de-escalating conflicts and overcoming ethnic and religious divides in the long-term.
Here are some of the projects we’ve funded recently which address these important issues:
Tensions have flared between Israelis and Palestinians in Jerusalem since the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan nearly two weeks ago.
The Israel Police triggered the escalation when it placed barricades outside the Old City’s Damascus Gate, one of the few public spaces available to Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem where Muslims traditionally gather in the evenings during Ramadan following daytime fasting.
The closure, which Israeli authorities said was aimed to limit the number of pedestrians entering the Old City, prompted clashes between police and residents of East Jerusalem who tried to breach the barricades. Israel removed the barriers on April 24, but those initial confrontations led to more widespread tensions both in Jerusalem and along the border with the Gaza Strip: The far-right anti-Arab group Lehava organised a march in East Jerusalem in which Israelis chanted “Death to Arabs!” and Palestinians have attacked Jews in the city and posted videos of the assaults on social media.
Tensions have also intensified in the Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan neighbourhoods of East Jerusalem, where Palestinian families face eviction due to claims by Jewish settlers and groups backing them like the Ir David Foundation (known as Elad), while Palestinian demonstrators and their Israeli and international allies have been met with excessive police force. (In one shocking incident, Israeli lawmaker Ofer Cassif was brutally beaten by police at a demonstration in early April.)
Meanwhile, rocket fire from Gaza resumed following the Jerusalem clashes and Israel has reinforced its military presence along the border. With Jerusalem Day approaching on 10 May, the situation could escalate further, as right-wing extremists hold their annual flag parade on that day, marching through Palestinian neighbourhoods in the Old City, chanting racist slogans and inciting violence and vandalism.
Since the start of the recent flare-up in Jerusalem, NIF grantees have been central to civil society efforts to lessen the friction, calling on Israeli authorities to remove the barricades and reduce the police presence in East Jerusalem during Ramadan and working to ensure that the rights of Jews and Arabs in the city are safeguarded.
New Israel Fund UK hosted a special live event with Eran Tzidkiyahu, an expert on Jewish-Arab relations in Jerusalem and a geopolitically focused Jerusalem guide, and Adi Tufik, a Jerusalem-based activist and NIF’s head of donor relations, to discuss Lehava's march through Jerusalem.
In this brief 20 minute video, Eran and Adi discussed what sparked the violent protest, what it means for Jerusalem in a period with no clear national leadership and the emergence of far-right power, and how we can expect events to unfold in the coming weeks against the backdrop of Ramadan and a looming Jerusalem Day.
Spotlight on Racism Crisis Centre by Israel Religious Action Centre (IRAC)
Founded in August 2017, the RCC is an initiative of the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC) and the Coalition Against Racism in Israel. The RCC was founded to assist victims of racism to stand up for their legal rights and receive legal and psychological help based on their needs. The RCC seeks to understand the roots of racism in Israel and its extent and nature by mapping racist incidents around the country. The RCC provides multi-lingual support in Hebrew, Arabic, Russian, Amharic, and English to victims who contact us to report incidents of racism.
The RCC also provides legal assistance (or referrals for legal help), information and guidance, and referrals to receive other aid as needed. Based on the different patterns of racism that emerge from our clients’ reports, the RCC runs public campaigns to raise awareness and create change in Israeli society, and advocates on victims’ behalf in the Knesset and among other public officials.
Before the recent violent conflicts in Jerusalem, IRAC wrote a letter to the police urging authorities to organize and mobilize forces to prevent violent clashes between extremist Lehava protesters and East Jerusalem Palestinians. IRAC also reached out to the media and lawmakers to make sure that the police make the required arrangements. As the protests unfolded, the RCC issued a call to any victims or witnesses of violence to reach out for assistance.
IRAC also re-issued its petition to Twitter to suspend the accounts of Lehava (and Lehava head Bentzi Gopstein) in cooperation with the ADL.
Ahead of the 2019 elections, the RCC and Tag Meir received an emergency NIF grant to petition the Supreme Court to bar leaders from Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) from running for the Knesset due to their “incitement to racism and denial of the state of Israel’s status as a Jewish and democratic state.” Three party leaders were banned from running in the elections. The RCC’s sustained legal campaign resulted in Bentzi Gopstein, the notoriously racist leader Lehava and a member of Otzma Yehudit, being charged with incitement to violence and racism and support for terrorism. Gopstein’s trial got underway in June 2020 and he faces up to five years imprisonment if convicted.