Ahmad Gharabli, AFP via Getty Images

Blog Post

Jerusalem: The “Second Front” is Smoldering

Over the past two months, the new Israeli government has unleashed a series of harsh crackdown measures against Palestinians in East Jerusalem that have residents fearing a conflagration. A series of attacks and counterattacks has only accelerated this escalation. Israeli Minister of National Security Itamar Ben-Gvir is particularly responsible for inflammatory rhetoric and actions, but the government is also supporting a host of measures aimed at cracking down on East Jerusalem’s Palestinians. As a result, some analysts have termed Jerusalem “Israel’s second front” in its counterinsurgency strategy across the West Bank.1

Two days into the new year, Ben-Gvir paid a provocative visit to the Haram al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary), his first as a minister. During the visit, he stated his intention to change the delicate Status Quo agreement regarding access to the holy site that has been in place for over a century: “The Temple Mount is the most important place for the people of Israel. The Temple Mount is open to all—Muslims, Christians and, yes, Jews too. Jews too. There won’t be racist discrimination in a government in which I am a member. Jews will ascend to the Temple Mount.”2

“Jews will ascend to the Temple Mount.”

Itamar Ben-Gvir, Israeli National Security Minister

Days later, he equated waving a Palestinian flag, which is legal in Israel—a country that purports to value freedom of expression—with terrorism: “It cannot be that lawbreakers wave terrorist flags, incite and encourage terrorism, so I ordered the removal of flags supporting terrorism from the public space and to stop the incitement against Israel.”3

Importantly, the Israeli High Court has ruled that raising a Palestinian flag in Israel is a form of legitimate political protest that can only be halted if police determine that the act will violate public safety. Nonetheless, upon Ben-Gvir’s order, Israeli police began pulling down and seizing Palestinian flags all over East Jerusalem, sometimes in large groups, in a needlessly provocative campaign that strikes at a vital symbol of Palestinian national identity.

Violence Escalates

On January 26, 2023, Israel staged a massive daybreak raid on Jenin refugee camp, resulting in nine deaths, the highest in a single operation ever recorded by the UN since 2005. These deaths followed the almost daily killing of Palestinians by Israeli forces and settlers throughout the West Bank, which intensified in January. Later that day, Israeli police shot and killed another Palestinian outside Jerusalem, bringing the total to 10. The next day, and in what appeared to be a revenge attack, a 21-year-old lone Palestinian shot and killed seven Israelis in the illegal Neve Yaacov settlement in occupied East Jerusalem; he was soon shot dead as well. Ben-Gvir arrived at the scene of the killings, the deadliest such attack since 2011. Standing alongside Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Ben-Gvir was pelted with furious Israeli responses: “Death to terrorists!” and “It’s on your watch! Let’s see what you do now.”4

The next day, a 13-year-old Palestinian boy shot and wounded two Israelis outside the Old City.

By January 30, Ben-Gvir vowed to push for the death penalty. “Anyone who murders, harms and slaughters civilians should be sent to the electric chair,”5 he decreed. Israel’s legal code allows for the death penalty but only in exceedingly rare cases—so rare that only two people have been sentenced to death since the state was founded, and only one actually executed, namely the Nazi Adolf Eichmann. Previous efforts to expand the death penalty have not succeeded.

Then, on Friday, February 10, a Palestinian rammed his car into three Israelis, including two children, between Jerusalem and Ramallah, killing them. The man had been released from a mental hospital shortly before and suffered from mental illness.

“It’s on your watch! Let’s see what you do now.”

Israelis at the site of the shooting that left seven Jews dead, taunting Israeli National Security Minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir

Calls for Operation Defensive Shield 2.0

The next day, Ben-Gvir called on police to prepare plans for unleashing “Operation Defensive Shield 2.0” in East Jerusalem.6 He was referring to events dating from late March 2002, when, in response to rising levels of violence during the Second Intifada, the Israeli army carried out “Operation Defensive Shield,” its largest combat operation since the 1967 War. Over the course of a month, the Israeli army reoccupied all major Palestinian cities in the West Bank—from which it had withdrawn a decade earlier as part of Oslo I and II Accords of 1993–94—except for Hebron and Jericho. Hundreds of Palestinians were killed and 29 Israeli soldiers, with thousands injured. Over $360 million in damage was inflicted on Palestinian infrastructure and institutions.7

Eighteen years later, the eye of the storm, so to speak, has moved to East Jerusalem. But unlike the areas that Israel reoccupied in 2002, East Jerusalem is under total Israeli civil control. On June 28, 1967, shortly after occupying it, Israel unilaterally expanded the boundaries of East Jerusalem by about 10 times and imposed Israeli civil law, jurisdiction, and administration over the area and its Palestinian residents in contravention of international law. In the decades since, with the illegal influx of Jewish settlers into East Jerusalem, the population has become mixed: As of 2020, about 39.2 percent of inhabitants were Jews.8 While Jews and Palestinians often live in different communities, there are many overlapping areas and shared commercial spaces.

Among the Palestinian residents of Jerusalem, there are about 19,000 (about 5 percent) Jerusalemites who have opted for and received Israeli citizenship. The vast majority, however, are permanent residents (see Precarious Status). Some of those Palestinians are now living in Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem, while both Israelis and Palestinians travel using the same roads and means of public transportation. This means that despite the minister’s braggadocio talk, it will be difficult to collectively “punish” Palestinians in the city at that scale without also adversely affecting Israelis living there.

Legally, there are layers of complexity standing in the way of the minister’s expressed intent to trigger Operation Defensive Shield 2.0. Under international law, East Jerusalem is still considered occupied territory whose residents are protected persons. Collective punishment is considered a war crime according to the Fourth Geneva Convention. But even under Israel’s own civil law, the Israeli police cannot do to East Jerusalem in 2023 what the Israeli army did to Jenin, Ramallah, Bethlehem, and Nablus in 2002. And due to the Israeli-built Separation Wall that severed East Jerusalem from the rest of the occupied West Bank, increasing numbers of Palestinian Jerusalemites have been finding work in Israel, meaning that the disruption of their lives will also have a direct effect on the Israeli economy.

The aftermath of Operation Defensive Shield, Jenin refugee camp, April 2002

Observers enter the Jenin refugee camp from its south side to survey the destruction wrought by the Israeli army during Operation Defensive Shield, April 2022.


Jennifer Lowenstein, Mondoweiss

Even his own government colleagues ridiculed and dismissed Ben-Gvir’s calls for such a step, saying he has no authority to order it. The head of the Israel Security Agency (also called Shabak or Shin Bet) reportedly called Ben-Gvir in person warning that his actions are “creating a sense of collective punishment on the ground”9 that is agitating the community.

While it is unclear exactly how Ben-Gvir intends to carry out his military operation in East Jerusalem, he has provided Palestinians with a rare political gift. For years, Israel, which unilaterally annexed East Jerusalem in 1967 in violation of international law, has been trying to differentiate between the status of the eastern side of the city and the rest of the occupied West Bank, in service of its claim that the whole of Jerusalem (east and west) is the perpetual “united” capital of the State of Israel. But in one statement, a senior member of the Israeli government indirectly confirmed that East Jerusalem is indeed part of the occupied territories, and that the so-called unification of the city is an Israeli chimera.

Civil Disobedience, General Strike, and Home Demolitions

On February 13, after more military raids overnight in the West Bank, two more incidents of individual violence occurred, including an attempted stabbing by a teenager from Shu‘fat refugee camp in East Jerusalem, in which an Israeli policeman was accidentally killed by a civilian guard.

Police forces then launched intensive operations in the camp, including arrests, physical searches, including of schoolchildren, beatings, closures and delays at camp checkpoints, and traffic disruption. Activists in the camp told the media that the police were engaging in “vindictive harassment” of the residents under pressure from Ben-Gvir.10 A call for a day of general strike and civil disobedience was issued for Sunday, February 19, including in East Jerusalem. Protestors burned tires and set up barricades in various Palestinian neighborhoods including Shu‘fat, ‘Anata, Jabal Mukabbir, al-‘Isawiyya, and al-Ram.

Palestinian protesters block the road in the Issawiya neighborhood of East Jerusalem amid a general strike by Palestinians to protest the killing of 11 Palestinians in Nablus, February 23, 2023

Palestinian protesters block the road in the Issawiya neighborhood of East Jerusalem amid a general strike by Palestinians to protest the killing of 11 Palestinians in Nablus, February 23, 2023


Saeed Qaq/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

A general strike in the Old City, February 23, 2023, in mourning for the killing of 11 Palestinians in Nablus

Palestinians walk past closed shops during a general strike observed in East Jerusalem on February 23, 2023, organized to mourn the killing of 11 Palestinians in a raid launched by Israeli forces the day before in Nablus.


Saeed Qaq/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Ben-Gvir then ordered his police chief to accelerate demolition of Palestinian homes in Jerusalem, calling it a “Bring Back Order campaign.”11

Even before he issued this call, the rate of demolitions in East Jerusalem was the highest in years, with 40 Palestinian homes and other types of structures already demolished by that time (versus 143 in all of 2022), according to the UN-OCHA (United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs).12 Ben-Gvir dangerously framed this call as coming in response to the attacks, although cases of demolishing Palestinian homes built without permits have no connection whatsoever to the measures Israel commonly takes when attacks are perpetrated—even in cases where the alleged attacker has already been killed—including sealing and demolishing the homes of the assailants and their extended families (see Israel’s “Revenge Campaign” against the al-Qunbar Family Marks Significant Expansion of Punitive Residency Revocation Policy).

Ironically, Israeli laws require some interim measures before a punitive demolition can actually take place, and so, ordering demolitions of homes built without permits perhaps offered a more readily available and immediate show of force to a belligerent public, but implying that Palestinians who build without permits—a reality that faces most Palestinians in a city where the vast majority of their building permit applications are denied13—is dangerous and irresponsible. Even the chief of police objected. Nonetheless, Ben-Gvir ordered 14 homes awaiting demolition to be taken down forthwith (and several were in fact demolished in Shu‘fat, Jabal Mukabbir, al-Walaja, Silwan, al-Thuri, al-Tur, Beit Hanina, and al-‘Isawiyya, among others14).

Home of Adham Bashir in Jabal Mukabbir, East Jerusalem after it was demolished by Israeli authorities, February 13, 2023


Ahmad Gharabli, AFP via Getty Images

He also announced that he would order the call-up of three border police reserve companies for backup. While the Netanyahu government has generally given his security minister a free hand, the prime minister’s office had to intervene to prevent the demolition of a seven-story residential building in the Wadi Qaddum area of the Silwan neighborhood that houses nearly 100 Palestinians. Protests by foreign diplomats forced a delay of that particular demolition—for now.

Frances Albanese, the UN rapporteur for human rights in the occupied territories, spoke out against the Israeli demolition policy in East Jerusalem. She stated that the systematic Israeli demolition of Palestinian homes, the construction of illegal Israeli settlements, and the systematic denial of building permits for Palestinians amounts to the crime of domicide. Albanese explained to Jerusalem Story that domicide is a severe violation of international law, concluding that this is “nothing but Israel’s attempt to curtail Palestinians’ self-determination and threaten their very existence.”15

Police forcibly break up a solidarity prayer by East Jerusalem Muslims at a building slated for demolition

Israeli security forces disperse Palestinians demonstrating following the Friday prayer on Friday, February 10, 2023, in solidarity for residents of a residential building in the Wadi Qaddoum area of Silwan, which is slated for imminent demolition for lacking a building permit. In the end prime minister Netanyahu intervened to put a hold on the demolition—for now, but not for good.


Ahmad Gharabli, AFP via Getty Images

A Wider Crackdown

Clearly, East Jerusalem is now a target for an Israeli crackdown that is already underway. Social media has been full of reports of stop-and-frisk searches, including of schoolchildren, assaults by the police on bystanders, blocking children’s way to school, and other violent encounters.

These actions on the ground have been exacerbated by the incitement of Israeli officials and media. A statement issued on behalf of Ben-Gvir on February 15 said, “For years we have not touched East Jerusalem and it explodes in our faces. It is time to enforce the law in East Jerusalem as well. Governance and sovereignty will make it clear to the terrorists that Israel is in charge.”16

Palestinian schoolchildren submit to a police search on their way to school in East Jerusalem

Palestinian youths undergo a search by Israeli border police at Bab al-Amud of the Old city of Jerusalem, February 23, 2023.


Ahmad Gharabli, AFP via Getty Images

Israeli troops besiege the checkpoint to Shu'fat refugee camp after an attack on February 13, 2023

Israeli forces besiege the single military checkpoint leading to Shu‘fat refugee camp after a knife attack by a camp resident in East Jerusalem on February 13, 2023.


Saeed Qaq/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

In an interview on February 16 with, Almog Cohen of the Jewish Power party advocated blocking the entire TikTok social network for all of East Jerusalem, calling it “a crazy incitement zone that is creating the next terrorist.”

In addition, Cohen said, Israel should impose “a chokehold around the neighborhoods—intensive activity every night and isolation of the neighborhoods [prone to produce attackers].” He repeatedly likened the Palestinians to Nazis, calling their villages “Palestinazi.” “Right now, the Palestinians are engaging in Nazism, in murdering Jews. There is a Nazi culture there.” 17

“So, all Palestinians are Nazis?” asked the interviewer.

“No, God forbid, not all of them are Nazis,” Cohen said. “There is currently incitement—whoever wants to see it on TikTok is welcome—Nazi incitement to the murder of Jews. Thirteen-year-old teenagers who go out to murder Jews are no better than the Nazis who murdered Jews. There is no difference.”18 Earlier in January, he applauded the army’s raid in Jenin, tweeting: “Nice and professional work by the fighters in Jenin, keep killing them.”19

Meanwhile, the Israeli media and Jerusalem institutions ran with inflammatory headlines throughout the month (see Table 1).

Table 1: Israeli Media—Inflammatory Headlines, February 1–25, 2023 (Selected Samples)

Inciting Teens to Terror: How Palestinian Stars Are Born
Israel Today, February 15, 2023

What Is to Blame for the Involvement of Palestinian Kids in Terror Attacks?
Jerusalem Post, February 17, 2023

The Phenomenon of Palestinian Teen Terrorists
Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, February 19, 2012

Palestinian Children Are the Explosives of the Future
Times of Israel, Luciano Mondano blog, February 19, 2023

US-Funded Palestinian School Celebrated Terror Attack on Jewish Worshipers Leaving Synagogue
The Algemeiner, Jewish & Israel News (from NY), February 21, 2023

Inside Schools in East Jerusalem: How Hate Is Taught
Israel Hayom, February 20, 2023

Why is East Jerusalem Burning with Violence, Incitement?
Jerusalem Post, February 25, 2023





Armed to the Teeth

On February 18, Israeli police chief Kobi Shabtai called for citizens with gun licenses to carry their weapons, saying there was a need for more weapons on the street.20 Ben-Gvir had already expedited the process for issuing civilian gun licenses, reportedly leading to a sharp rise in the number of permits issued by the Ministry of National Security’s Firearms Licensing Department.

Meanwhile, on February 24, Ben-Gvir received a major budget increase of $2.44 billion for his ministry. According to the Times of Israel, “The extra money will be used to recruit thousands of additional police officers, over 1,200 new prison guards and hundreds of firefighters.”21

In addition to bolstering police forces, the rate of arrests has escalated in Jerusalem and across the West Bank, with the highest in the former—255 in January alone, according to Mondoweiss.22

Israel’s ramping up of its oppressive crackdown on Palestinians has caused concern in Israeli security and intelligence circles, with top officials explicitly stating that the continuation of Ben-Gvir’s actions and rhetoric will further inflame a Palestinian population that is ready to explode. Among those calling for a proportional response have been the head of Shin Bet, the head of Mossad, and the Israeli police chief Kobi Shabtai.

It is also unclear whether the Netanyahu administration will try to dampen the bravado of Ben-Gvir due to the latest understanding between the Americans, Israelis, and Palestinians which led to the last-minute withdrawal of a planned UN Security Council resolution that would have sought to condemn Israeli settlement actions and house demolitions. According to Barak Ravid of the site Axios, part of the understanding included a brief suspension of housing demolitions in Jerusalem and in the Jordan Valley.23 Israel has not officially commented on the reports of this understanding, and events on the ground do not support it.

Israeli police chief Kobi Shabtai called for citizens with gun licenses to carry their weapons.

Community Response

Khalil Assali, editor of the Jerusalem-focused website Akhbar el-Balad, believes that the situation in Jerusalem is unprecedented in its gravity. “The level of anger and frustration, the feeling of abandonment and the strong support for resistance to the Israeli occupation has not been like this for years,” he told Jerusalem Story.

Assali, who is also a member of the Islamic Waqf Council, explained that “Israeli radicalization is producing similar religious and nationalistic anger on the Palestinian side that has made the holy city a ticking bomb.” Assali says that the tensions have sharply increased since the current extremist Israeli government took power in January. “Palestinians in Jerusalem are convinced that this government wants to change the reality on the ground in East Jerusalem as quickly as possible,” he said.24

Speaking to the Washington Post, Raed Bashir, a lawyer who represents residents from Jabal Mukabbir—a Palestinian neighborhood in East Jerusalem where almost every house has been served with a demolition order—remarked: “There is so much despair, so much frustration. If the state keeps going like this, we are talking about a big explosion in Jabal Mukaber, Issawiya, Silwan, Shuafat, Sur Baher [and elsewhere]. They want to displace Palestinians from Jerusalem.”25

“If the state keeps going like this, we are talking about a big explosion.”

Raed Bashir, Jerusalem attorney

According to Israeli lawyer Daniel Seidemann, the founder of Terrestrial Jerusalem, while the Israeli cabinet did not make any official decision regarding Jerusalem, it has basically allowed Ben-Gvir to do what he wants. “No measures were taken,” he stated, “and Prime Minister Netanyahu often finds out afterwards what actions are taken by his own minister. When international pressure escalates, that is when the prime minister sometimes gets involved.”26

Seidemann, a close observer of the situation in East Jerusalem, told Jerusalem Story that Ben-Gvir had plenty of ways to punish Palestinians. “There are 20,000 house demolition orders issued, even though in past years no more than 150 homes are demolished [per year]. There is no statute of limitations, which means that the demolition orders never expire. Almost invariably, these homes slated for demolition cannot be legalized, because the planning regime places an artificial cap on Palestinian construction.”27

Seidemann called what is happening to Palestinians in East Jerusalem unprecedented. “What we are witnessing is unprecedentedly clear . . . Ben-Gvir basically wants to stick it to Palestinians in any way he can. He is intent on showing that he sees East Jerusalem residents as the enemy.”28

Seidemann added that he has never seen this level of intensity and resistance by the Palestinians who have succeeded in places like Jabal al-Mukabbir at preventing a number of—but not all—house demolitions.29

Jamal Dajani, a Jerusalemite and former head of communications in the Palestinian prime minister’s office, told Jerusalem Story that Ben-Gvir is a follower of the late extremist Rabbi Meir Kahane, whose party was banned from participating in the Knesset elections in the 1980s and was classified as a terrorist group in the US. “Just like Kahane, Ben-Gvir will try to ethnically cleanse Palestinians from their ancestral homes, in East Jerusalem and the West Bank; the only difference is that Ben-Gvir is far more dangerous than Kahane and has the majority of the Israeli government behind him."30

Maha Husseini, a Palestinian activist in Gaza who uses the Twitter handle @MahaGaza, commented: “Israel is sending aid to support the earthquake victims in Turkey and bulldozers to demolish Palestinians’ homes in East Jerusalem.”31

Haggai Matar, the Israeli editor of the online +972 Magazine, also commented on the bizarre situation in Jerusalem. Tweeting under the handle @Ha_Matar, he tackled the strange juxtaposition of Israeli democracy demonstrators vs. house demolitions in the same city. “Right now, tens of thousands of Israelis are demonstrating in West Jerusalem, chanting slogans ‘for democracy’. Meanwhile, the state is demolishing Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem. There is no democracy with apartheid.”32

Dimitri Diliani, a Jerusalemite and spokesperson of Fatah’s reformist democratic faction, told Jerusalem Story that Ben-Gvir is taking advantage of the unprecedented authority given to him through the newly formed government coalition agreement: “Ben-Gvir combines moral and political bankruptcy along with criminal tendencies and the power to act on them, leaving the region under an immense threat of escalation of violence which has led, since the beginning of this year, to 47 Palestinians dead—of whom 10 were children—45 home Palestinian demolitions, hundreds of arrests, and tens of Israeli security forces assaults against Palestinian civilians.”33

Diliani, who is also president of the National Christian Coalition, called for a much more robust international effort to protect Palestinians: “The Palestinian people need international protection, especially in East Jerusalem, where Israeli instigations and hate crimes against Palestinians are being committed at an alarming rate.”34

Like last year, the upcoming Islamic holy month of Ramadan will overlap with the Jewish Passover this spring. With tensions and emotions running so high, Palestinian deaths now a near-daily occurrence, inflammatory rhetoric suffusing the public discourse and the media, guns at the ready in Israeli civilians’ pockets, and hundreds of more police soon to arrive in the city, an even bigger explosion is only a matter of time.

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Mondoweiss Palestine Bureau, “West Bank Dispatch: The Zionist Forever War on Jerusalem,” Mondoweiss, February 20, 2023, .


Emanuel Fabian, “Palestinian Terrorist Shoots 7 Dead in ‘Murderous Rampage’ near Jerusalem Synagogue,” Times of Israel, January 27, 2023.


TOI Staff, “‘To the Electric Chair’: Ben Gvir to Push for Death Penalty after Jerusalem Attack,” Times of Israel, January 31, 2023.


Tova Lazaroff, “Ben-Gvir Proposes ‘Defensive Shield 2’ Operation as Security Cabinet to Meet,” Jerusalem Post, February 11, 2023.


Omer Yaniv, Netta Haddad, and Yair Assaf-Shapira, Jerusalem Facts and Trends 2022 (Jerusalem: Jerusalem Institute for Policy and Research, 2022), 18.


Miriam Berger, “Jerusalem Demolitions Gain Pace under Netanyahu, Enraging Palestinians,” Washington Post, February 21, 2023, .


Data on Demolition and Displacement in the West Bank,” UN-OCHA, accessed February 27, 2023; “Breakdown of Data on Demolition and Displacement in the West Bank,” accessed February 27, 2023.


Berger, “Jerusalem Demolitions Gain Pace.”


“Data on Demolition and Displacement in the West Bank.”


Interview with the author, February 14, 2023.


TOI Staff, “Shin Bet Chief Said to Warn Ben Gvir.”


Michael Bachner, “Coalition MK Calls Palestinians ‘Palestinazis,’ Urges TikTok Ban in East Jerusalem,” Times of Israel, February 16, 2023.


Bachner, “Coalition.”


MEE Staff, “Israeli Lawmaker Tweets ‘Keep Killing Them’ after Deadly Jenin Raid,” Middle East Eye, January 27, 2023,….


Ash Obel, “Police Chief Warns of Potential for Political Assassination: ‘Lower the Flames,’” Times of Israel, February 18, 2023.


Mariam Barghouti and Yumna Patel, “Ben-Gvir’s War on Jerusalem Has Begun,” Mondoweiss, February 18, 2023, 


Barak Ravid, “Israeli-Palestinian Showdown at UN Averted after U.S. Mediation,” Axios, February 19, 2023, .


Interview with the author, February 23, 2023.


Berger, “Jerusalem Demolitions Gain Pace.”


Interview with the author, February 21, 2023.


Interview with the author, February 21, 2023.


Interview with the author, February 21, 2023.


Interview with the author, February 21, 2023.


Interview with the author, February 20, 2023.


Interview with the author, February 14, 2023.


Interview with the author, February 20, 2023.

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