Home Featured ‘We’re at war’ — Tensions crackle in East Jerusalem and the West Bank as Israel prepares assault on Gaza
‘We’re at war’ — Tensions crackle in East Jerusalem and the West Bank as Israel prepares assault on Gaza

‘We’re at war’ — Tensions crackle in East Jerusalem and the West Bank as Israel prepares assault on Gaza

by host

JERUSALEM — The streets of old Jerusalem are swept empty these days. Normally, tourists crowd through the narrow lanes past market stalls on their way toward the city’s celebrated holy sites.

But in the week since Hamas massacred more than 1,000 Israelis outside of Gaza, the conflict has made itself felt here too. “We are at war,” a 26-year-old Palestinian named Adam told me as he strolled through the old town with his friends. In Jerusalem’s Old City he lives together with Israeli Jews and says that he has no friends in Gaza. But he was impressed with what Hamas had done and emphatic in his denials that the militant group killed any children. Muslims, he said, wouldn’t do that.

The other young men nodded their assent. But before I could ask their names, they scattered to take refuge in a nearby building as three police officers approached.

As Israel bombs Gaza in response to Hamas’ attack — which killed more than 1,300 Israelis, including many children — tensions are rising in other Palestinian territories occupied by Israel.

In East Jerusalem, 64 percent of Palestinians have at least a positive opinion of Hamas, compared to 57 percent in the Gaza Strip, according to polling carried out this summer by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a think tank based in Washington DC. In the West Bank, 52 percent of Palestinians have a positive opinion of Hamas.

On Friday, a day on which Hamas had called on its supporters around the world to participate in a “day of rage,” the Israeli government limited attendance at the weekly prayers at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, one of the holiest sites in Islam. 

With only worshipers over the age of 60 allowed to enter, hundreds of Palestinians instead laid out their carpets at Israeli police checkpoints. The evening before, a gunman injured two Israeli police officers near the old city and was then shot dead by Israeli security forces, according to Israeli police.

Since Hamas’ attack on October 7, the Israeli military claims to have arrested 220 wanted Palestinians in the West Bank, 130 of them affiliated with Hamas, as Israeli media reported. Israeli soldiers have killed 52 Palestinians in the West Bank, nine of them on Friday during violent clashes, according to the Palestinian health ministry.

The Palestinian news agency Wafa reported several violent clashes between Palestinians and Israeli settlers in which three Palestinians were shot dead by settlers.

In Jerusalem, I spoke to Mussa, a 78-year-old Palestinian man who spends most of his time watching the Arabic-language television channel Al Jazeera in his kiosk in the Old City.

“Why are the Jews killing women and children?” he asked, furious, referring to Israeli air strikes in Gaza, which have killed an estimated 1,537 people, including 500 children, according to a statement by the Ministry of Health in Gaza. The Israeli government has ordered some 1 million people to evacuate northern Gaza as it prepares a potential ground offensive.

When a colleague of mine showed Mussa photos of the corpses of Israeli children killed by Hamas, he derided them as “fake pictures of the Jews.” Hamas only kills soldiers, not children, he said, because the group follows the Quran.

I spoke to another man, a 45-year-old restaurant owner named Haitham. All Israeli civilians are legitimate targets because they are all soldiers, he said: “If children were really killed, then that’s just war.”

Finally, after the Friday prayers had ended, I stopped to talk to a 78-year-old named Baidun who was headed home. Baidun declared Hamas’ attack to be a mistake and called on Israel to show restraint in its response.

You can’t correct a mistake with another mistake, he said. “You can correct a mistake with the right direction: peace.”

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