Two terror attacks in two days does not an escalation make. However, in Jerusalem – 10 days before Ramadan – it does raise cause for concern.
While the city is certainly not at the same level of escalation that it was this time around a year ago with events that touched off the Gaza-Israel war, an uptick in tensions and a few brazen attacks on Israelis in the last month remind us that Ramadan is not far away.
The war began with clashes between Muslim worshippers and police at Damascus Gate over barriers the police erected to maintain crowd control but infringed upon seating areas. It was initially fueled by protests over a controversial housing bloc in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of Jerusalem.
What’s more, the Muslim holy month, marked by food and water fasts during the day, coincides this year with the Jewish Passover holiday and Easter. And while there is no specific intelligence that violence will erupt as it did last year at the Temple Mount, police are preparing for all scenarios.
U.S. Ambassador Thomas Nides noted this convergence of these holidays last week during a webinar sponsored by the organization Peace Now and said he has alerted the State Department.
“I wrote, ‘Wake up everybody, this is really a problem.’ Everyone [in Washington] is fixated now on what could be a really serious issue,” Nides said. “The more you talk about it, the more the chances are that the Israelis, Egyptians and Jordanians will calm things down – to make sure this holy week does not blow up.”
The holidays tend to be a flashpoint time for more violence.
“Everyone is now fixated on this, what could be potentially a really serious issue,” Nides said.
Ramadan begins on April 2 while the weeklong Passover starts April 15, the Catholic and Protestant Easter is celebrated on April 17 and, finally, the Orthodox Easter on April 24. Ramadan is set to end on May 1 but the start and end dates vary. This makes the Old City in Jerusalem a high-traffic destination flooded with worshippers of three different religions.
The State Department has dispatched personnel to speak with key leaders in Jerusalem, Ramallah, Amman and Cairo and Ronen Bar, director of Israel’s internal security agency, Shin Bet, met with his FBI counterpart in Washington this week.
Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid also met with Palestinian Minister for Civilian Affairs Hussein al-Sheikh and spoke with Jordanian leaders on how to approach this sensitive time, while Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett discussed the matter with the heads of the army, police and Shin Bet.
The mutual aim is to keep tensions low key before current events spin out of control. In the last two days, two attacks left victims and suspects wounded. On Sunday afternoon, two police officers were injured in a stabbing in East Jerusalem. The suspect was arrested. And on Saturday, a jogger in West Jerusalem was stabbed during a mid-morning run. The jogger, 35, subdued his attacked who was eventually shot and arrested after police arrived. Both the jogger and suspect were wounded and both are expected to recover.
Though there is no chatter that attacks are expected to ramp up in the next month, Public Security Minister Omer Bar Lev warned that “terrorists and extremists will try to set the area on fire.”
Nicole Jansezian is the news editor for both ALL ISRAEL NEWS and ALL ARAB NEWS and senior correspondent for ALL ISRAEL NEWS