MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Now to Jerusalem, where the past week has been one of increased tension and violence between Israelis and Palestinians. It began when Israeli police confronted Palestinian crowds with water cannons and arrests. Then Israeli extremists marched through the city chanting anti-Arab slogans. Yesterday, Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip got involved, firing dozens of rockets at Israel. Israel retaliated by launching airstrikes. No injuries were reported in that exchange. Now, though, there are signs that Israel is taking steps to deescalate these tensions.
NPR's Daniel Estrin is with us now from Jerusalem to bring us up to date. Daniel, thanks so much for joining us.
DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: Thank you for having me, Michel.
MARTIN: Could you just tell us when these incidents started and what people are saying about what started them?
ESTRIN: It started at the beginning of Ramadan. There's a large plaza at one of the entrances to the Old City, where big crowds of Palestinians gather every night during the holiday. It's decorated with lights. It's usually very festive. This year, however, Israeli police fenced off a lot of the area. They don't usually do that, and they say it was for crowd control. Palestinians, though, saw it as an affront, and chaos erupted. Police say that Palestinians threw stones. I've spoken with Palestinians and Israeli peace activists who were there. They say it was police who charged at them unprovoked.
MARTIN: You reported that on one night, Israeli youth marched through the city chanting anti-Arab slogans. Do we know who they are?
ESTRIN: Yes. This is a group called Lehava. They're an anti-Arab youth group that opposes Arab-Jewish relationships and intermingling. They are unofficially tied to a banned extremist party, and they mobilized on Thursday night. They were responding to TikTok videos that they saw of Palestinians harassing Israelis on the street. And so they marched through the city. They were chanting death to the Arabs, marching toward the area where Palestinians were gathering, and police permitted them to march. At the same time, Palestinians who were gathered were getting pummeled by police.
I spoke to a 26-year-old Palestinian who gave his name as Mustafa. I met him last night, and here's what he said.
MUSTAFA: (Speaking Arabic).
ESTRIN: He says, "they come and provoke the Arabs after prayers, with army protection, of course. They would not dare to do that alone."
MARTIN: Hmm. And what's the latest on the situation in the Gaza Strip, meanwhile?
ESTRIN: Well, militants there have fired dozens of rockets toward Israel. That happened yesterday. There were no damages or injuries. The Islamist group Hamas in Gaza has called for Ramadan to be a time of protest this year. They say they need to defend Jerusalem.
MARTIN: And, Daniel, before we let you go, like, what's the overall context there these days? Is there some connection to political events, or does this seem to be, I don't know, like a local flare-up?
ESTRIN: There's a lot that has been going on. First of all, Jerusalem is not under lockdown anymore, so you have a lot of young Israelis and Palestinians in the streets. And then with the anti-Arab extremist group that marched in Jerusalem, this group had been dormant for a long time, but they seem to feel emboldened. And some are pointing to last month's elections in Israel, when a far-right anti-Arab party won seats in parliament.
And there has been a lot of worry about things spinning out of control here. The U.S. has urged calm. Israel has said it wants to lower tensions. And tonight, Israeli police took a step in that direction. It removed the fencing around the plaza that Palestinians had protested in the first place. And Palestinians gathered and cheered victory chants as the fencing was removed. So we'll see if that helps calm down this city that's been on edge.
MARTIN: That is NPR's Daniel Estrin in Jerusalem. Daniel, thank you so much.
ESTRIN: You're welcome.
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