Israel Faces Criticism as Police Raid Al-Aqsa Mosque
Weeks of simmering tensions have boiled over in Jerusalem.
Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: The Israeli police crackdown on Palestinians in Jerusalem continues, hackers take a key U.S. fuel pipeline offline, and a school bombing in Afghanistan kills at least 68 people.
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Jerusalem Violence Continues
Israeli security forces forced their way into Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque compound in the early hours of Monday morning, firing rubber-coated bullets and stun grenades at hundreds of Palestinians who fought with police through the night.
The crackdown comes as Israeli nationalists prepare to conduct an annual march through Jerusalem’s Old City to commemorate its capture by Israeli forces in 1967.
Fuel on the fire? Israel’s security services have urged police to alter the planned march route to minimize the possibility of confrontations between marchers and Muslim residents of the Old City.
According to the Times of Israel, “the Israel Defense Forces, Shin Bet security service and Israel’s military liaison to the Palestinians all say they believe that the current route, which would have thousands of Jewish Israelis pass through the flashpoint Damascus Gate and Muslim Quarter, would likely result in violence.” Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz has reportedly accepted this assessment and supported changing the route.
Eviction decision looms. Tensions between Jerusalem’s Israeli and Palestinian communities have been particularly high in recent weeks, with almost nightly clashes reported between Palestinians and Israeli far-right groups or police. Violence reached a peak on Friday when Israeli police and al-Aqsa’s worshippers clashed. Like on Monday, police again fired rubber-coated bullets and stun grenades at Palestinians, who threw stones. Hundreds of Palestinians have been injured in recent days, along with dozens of Israeli police.
The situation has worsened in advance of an expected Supreme Court decision on whether to permit the forced eviction of dozens of Palestinians from their homes in the predominantly Palestinian neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has said evictions would violate Israel’s obligations as an occupying power under international law.
The court has decided to postpone its decision for a month after families facing eviction asked Israel’s attorney general to intervene in the case.
International criticism. Monday’s confrontation came hours after U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan spoke with his Israeli counterpart, Meir Ben-Shabbat. Sullivan expressed “serious concerns” about the situation in Jerusalem and about the potential evictions in Sheikh Jarrah as well as encouraging the Israeli government to “pursue appropriate measures to ensure calm during Jerusalem Day commemorations.”
Sullivan’s words follow international condemnation, including from Arab countries, some of which have recently normalized ties with Israel. The United Arab Emirates “strongly condemned” both Friday’s violence and evictions while Jordan has called Israeli actions in al-Aqsa as “barbaric.”
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called Israel a “terror state” for “mercilessly and unethically attacking Muslims in Jerusalem.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—who may be on borrowed time following his failure to form a government last week—has largely ignored international criticism, saying violence has been stirred up by extremists. Netanyahu appeared to shrug off pressure to halt the Sheikh Jarrah evictions: “Jerusalem is our capital, and we will continue to build there,” he said.
The World This Week
On Tuesday, May 11, Brazil’s Senate investigation into Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s handling of the country’s COVID-19 epidemic reconvenes, with appearances from former Communications Minister Fabio Wajngarten and Pfizer Brazil’s president, Marta Díez.
On Thursday, May 13, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa gives evidence at the country’s high-level corruption inquiry.
On Friday, May 14, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and French President Emmanuel Macron co-host a virtual Christchurch Call meeting, established following the Christchurch mosque attacks in 2019.
Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party elects a new leader following the resignation of First Minister Arlene Foster.
On Saturday, May 15 and Sunday, May 16, Chile votes in regional and municipal elections as well as deciding on the 155 people who will be part of a constitutional convention to write a new constitution.
What We’re Following Today
Carnage in Afghanistan. At least 68 people were killed in a bomb attack on a school in Kabul on Saturday. The attack targeted Afghanistan’s Hazara community, and most of the dead were schoolgirls between ages 13 and 18. The Taliban have denied carrying out the bombing while Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said the group was responsible. The Islamic State has previously claimed responsibility for other attacks in western Kabul, but so far, no one has come forward.
Scotland’s independence push. Parties in favor of holding a second independence referendum won a majority in Scottish Parliament, official results show. Although First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s Scottish National Party fell one seat short of an outright majority, the pro-independence Scottish Green Party picked up eight seats. Sturgeon has suggested any referendum on independence would take place in 2023, a vote the U.K. government in Westminster is likely to challenge in the courts.
In England, the Labour Party is reflecting on brutal losses in council elections as the Conservative and Green Parties made gains. Labour Party leader Keir Starmer, facing calls from his left flank to resign, has conducted a reshuffle of his shadow cabinet.
Infrastructure insecurity. The White House is expected to announce an executive order to protect critical infrastructure this week, days after a privately owned pipeline that transports 2.5 million barrels of gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel from Houston to New Jersey was forced to shut down due to an apparent cyberattack. The ransomware operation was reportedly carried out by a criminal group rather than a state-level adversary and Colonial Pipeline, the company operating the fuel line, has not said whether it plans to pay the ransom demanded by the hackers.
Keep an Eye On
Chad’s rebel battle. Chad’s military junta has claimed victory over the rebel group it has been fighting in recent months. The military staged a parade through the capital N’Djamena on Sunday to underline its control, but its triumph has been questioned by its enemies. A Front for Change and Concord in Chad (FACT) spokesperson said the rebel group was not aware fighting was at an end and told Reuters it “will comment when it has reliable and credible information.” Chad’s military declared FACT was “annihilated” as recently as April 24, only for fighting to flare up again.
EU’s vaccine dealings. The European Union will not renew an order for AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines after June, European Commissioner Thierry Breton told French radio, appearing to draw a line under a fractious relationship between the bloc and the drug company. Breton said he is “absolutely sure” previous vaccine supply problems have eased and said EU factories should be able to produce 3 billion vaccines per year by the end of 2021. On Saturday, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen approved a contract for 900 million doses of Pfizer’s vaccine, with an option for a further 900 million doses up to 2023.
Odds and Ends
Romania’s Bran Castle in Transylvania, said to be the inspiration for the home of author Bram Stoker’s Dracula, is swapping bites for jabs as it struggles to attract tourists during the COVID-19 pandemic. The castle is now providing walk-in vaccinations, with free entry to its torture implement exhibit as part of the deal. “The idea … was to show how people got jabbed 500 to 600 years ago in Europe,” said Alexandru Priscu, the castle’s marketing director.
Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn