Israel sets up new checkpoints as tensions rise in Jerusalem

Security forces take action after recent wave of stabbing attacks by Palestinians in city

Three people are killed and several wounded in a string of attacks on a 'Day of Rage' declared by Palestinian groups. Video: Reuters


Israeli security forces set up new checkpoints between Jewish and Palestinian neighbourhoods on Wednesday in Jerusalem, an increasingly divided city riven by mutual fear and anxiety.

The moves to establish the checkpoints, which would allow Israel to seal off Palestinian neighbourhoods, came amid a wave of stabbing attacks by Palestinians that has spread fear in Israel, not least Tuesday’s gun and knife attack on a Jerusalem bus that killed two people.

Hours after the first roadblocks were erected, police said a 70-year-old Israeli woman had been stabbed and injured outside Jerusalem’s main bus station.

The attacker was shot dead as he tried to board a bus.

Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who has so often insisted that Jerusalem is “indivisible”, has found himself putting in place measures - at least temporarily - to effectively divide it.

Lorries carrying concrete blocks were visible in neighbourhoods across occupied East Jerusalem, including around Jabel Mukaber, home to one of the two Palestinians involved in Tuesday’s bus attack.

The recent wave of attacks has put the city in the grip of a toxic anxiety, with parents keeping children away from school, empty restaurants and public places and residents taking a variety of precautions not seen since the height of the second intifada.

The fear is equally palpable among Palestinians, with many worried they will be viewed as a potential threat or accused of being a terrorist.

Hours after police set up checkpoints in Palestinian neighbourhoods of East Jerusalem, the interior minister, Silvan Shalom, said he was revoking the residency status of Palestinians from the city who had taken part in attacks on Jews.

Worst hit by the latest incidents have been areas along the city’s so-called “seam line”, which marks the boundary between Jewish West and the largely Palestinian East Jerusalem.

At times in recent days they have seemed like ghost towns.

In the famous Mahane Yehuda market, usually packed with shoppers, the lanes of stores selling spices, fish and vegetables saw very few customers again on Wednesday.

Stallholders say they have seen their custom drop by up to 50 per cent in recent days.

Among those visiting on Wednesday from Rehavya in West Jerusalem were students Inbal Honigman, aged 25, and Tal Hadad, also 25.

“I know an awful lot of people are just feeling intimidated by the situation and won’t go out,” said Hadad.

“Everywhere is empty,” he said. “And being students you feel what’s going on because you need to take public transport.”

“There are places we are avoiding,” said Honigman. “We’re not going to the Old City and some of our friends are just staying at home or going from one closed space to another.”

Visible division

The sense of division and anxiety is visible in other ways: parents rush in their cars to pick up children as schools close and contractors arrange for Palestinian labourers to be ferried to and from work in minibuses with curtained windows.

Segments on Israeli television show how to parry a knife thrust or treat a wound, while some Israeli parents have bought their children pepper spray.

“I didn’t go to school yesterday,” said Eden Illouz, interviewed by the Israeli website Ynet at a school in Pisgat Zeev where a fellow pupil was recently a victim of a stabbing.

“I’m petrified. Children are scared to leave the house. They won’t go to the shop or walk around the neighbourhood.

“I feel that my mom is even more stressed than me,” Illouz said.

“This morning she didn’t want me to go to school, but I didn’t want to fall behind.

“Because of everything that’s happening, I go around with mace in my hand.”

There are more weapons evident following the call by the mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat, for the city’s residents to carry their guns, even as the city’s streets have been flooded with extra police.

The sound of helicopters, sirens and drones has become a feature of the city nights.

Palestinian fears are being stoked by a growing atmosphere of vigilantism, which Israeli commentators have flagged up.

“In the next stage, more Israelis will take to the streets and take the law into their own hands, and we have no shortage of hotheads,” warned Alex Fishman, security correspondent for Israel’s top-selling daily, Yedioth Ahronoth.

“This terrorism of individuals could become a civil war: Jews against Arabs.”

Guardian service