Occupied Jerusalem (In Palestine Today)_ Hundreds of Palestinians were injured and dozens were hospitalized on Friday night across the city of Jerusalem, as Israeli forces stormed the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound and continued to crackdown on protests against the imminent evictions of Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah.
The height of the violence took place inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, where tens of thousands of Palestinian worshipers had gathered inside the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the surrounding courtyard for evening prayers on the last Friday of Ramadan.
Video footage from the scene shows people in prayer when armed Israeli forces stormed the compound, firing sound bombs, tear gas, and rubber bullets at worshipers.
The situation quickly devolved into chaos, as Israeli forces forcibly dispersed groups of people in prayer, and Palestinians in the compound responded by throwing chairs, shoes, and stones towards the soldiers.
At one point in the evening, Palestinians who had taken cover inside the mosque itself, which is the third holiest site in Islam, came under attack from soldiers who fired stun grenades and rubber bullets into the mosque, trapping people inside.
The Palestinian Red Crescent reported that 205 people were injured in Jerusalem, including 88 who were hospitalized for their injuries.
Reports on the ground indicated that Israeli forces were aiming at peoples heads and faces with rubber-coated steel bullets. Though Israel considers these weapons as “crowd control measures,” Israel’s use of rubber bullets in the occupied Palestinian territory have a long history of seriously injuring, maiming, and even killing Palestinian protesters.
The Red Crescent confirmed that many of the injuries sustained by Palestinians on Friday were to the head and eyes, and that at least one person lost their eye as a result. Two others were reported to have suffered serious head wounds, while two Palestinians had their jaws fractured.
Videos from a clinic in East Jerusalem where injured Palestinians were being treated showed Israeli forces firing sound bombs into the clinic itself.
Israeli forces had been deployed heavily in the area in and around the Old City leading up to the evening prayers, with videos on social media showing Israeli police firing sound bombs into a crowd of Palestinians who gathered to break their fasts in the street.
Other videos of children running through the streets of the old city away from tear gas and sound bombs went viral on social media.
Throughout the course of the day, Palestinian media reported that Israeli security forces were severely restricting access to the holy site, turning back worshipers who had come from across Palestine to pray at the holy site before the end of the month of Ramadan.
Since the start of Ramadan, Israeli police in the city have widely restricted Palestinian access to Muslim holy sites and other important public gathering spaces, like the Damascus Gate area outside the Old City. Those restrictions, coupled with racist anti-Arab Israeli mobs attacking Palestinians in the city and participating in “Death to Arab” marches have put the city on the edge.
The violence that erupted on Friday was the culmination of weeks of rising tensions in the city and across the occupied Palestinian territory.
Those tensions came to a head this week as Israeli forces cracked down on protests against the imminent forced evictions of Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah, and Israeli forces shot and killed two Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, one of them a 16-year-old boy.
Palestinians in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of occupied East Jerusalem have been holding daily demonstrations against the efforts of Israeli settlers to evict them from their homes. Their protests have been echoed in massive demonstrations at the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in recent days, and across other parts of Israel and Palestine.
Israeli forces have widely suppressed the peaceful demonstrations and sit-ins in Sheikh Jarrah, spraying skunk water on Palestinian protesters and journalists, firing sound bombs and tear gas at crowds, and violently beating and detaining residents of the neighborhood.
Al Jazeera reported that at least 30 people were wounded and 15 arrested on Thursday night after Israeli settlers attacked and pepper sprayed a group of Palestinian residents in the neighborhood as they were sitting down for a communal iftar meal in the street.
Videos of armed Israeli settlers, being joined and flanked by Israeli police, with their guns drawn patrolling the neighborhood were shared widely on social media by Palestinian activists in the neighborhood, who warned of increased violence on part of the settlers.
Mohammed el-Kurd, Palestinian writer and activist and resident of Sheikh Jarrah posted on Twitter on Friday that Israeli police were preventing the entry of Palestinians and journalists into Sheikh Jarrah, letting in only those whose ID cards proved they were residents of the neighborhood.
Meanwhile, armed Israeli settlers coming from outside the neighborhood were allowed into the area by police, and have seemingly been left to roam freely in the streets.
“What if they massacre us?! Our families are terrified. Who’s to save us?!” el-Kurd wrote.
Earlier this week, Israel’s Supreme Court postponed its ruling on the appeal of the families, ordering them to “reach an agreement” with the settlers trying to expel them, by recognizing them as landlords and paying them rent — something the families refused.
The court is expected to hold another hearing in the case on Monday May 10th.
Bracing for more unrest
The tensions in Jerusalem are expected to continue in the coming days and spill over into the West Bank and Gaza, where Palestinians have called for a day of anger on Saturday in response to the crackdown at Al-Aqsa Mosque. Other protests against the Sheikh Jarrah evictions are expected to continue as well.
Sunday May 9th marks the 27th night of the holy month of Ramadan, a night regarded by Muslims as Laylatul-Qadr, one of the holiest nights of the month. The night typically draws massive crowds of worshipers to the Al-Aqsa mosque.
Also beginning on Sunday night is the Israeli national holiday “Jerusalem Day”, in which Israel celebrates its illegal annexation of East Jerusalem in 1967.
The occasion typically draws large crowds of ultra-nationalist Israelis and right-wing religious groups who march throughout the city in an assertion of their dominance, frequently harassing and attacking Palestinians along their way.
Israeli forces are expected to be deployed in large numbers throughout the city, and Palestinians are bracing for more violence similar to that of what they witnessed on Friday night.