Israeli and Palestinian in NI speak of fears for family during ‘unprecedented’ violence among neighbours
An Israeli woman living in north Down and a Palestinian man living in Belfast have spoken of their concerns for family back home as street violence in Israel reaches unprecedented levels.
The violence came after clashes between Palestinians and Israeli police, at a hilltop in East Jerusalem which is revered by Muslims and Jews.
Hamas demanded Israel remove police from the area and the nearby district of Sheikh Jarrah, where a number of Muslim families have been evicted to make way for Jewish families who claimed to have ownership papers. But when its ultimatum went unheeded, Hamas began launching rockets - 1,800 - from Gaza into Israel.
Israel has countered with over 600 airstrikes resulting in at least 122 deaths in Gaza and eight in Israel.
Omar Alshaqaqi, 42, grew up in Gaza but now lives in Belfast. His father, brother and many cousins still live in Gaza.
“None of my family have been hurt up until now - thank God - but we don’t know what could happen,” he said.
He says there has been a Jewish plan for 20 years to turn the Al-Aqsa Mosque in east Jerusalem - the third holiest site in Islam - into a Jewish temple.
The evictions of a number of muslim families from their nearby homes and Israeli restrictions over access to the mosque during Ramandam were followed by rioting over a period of days in the area.
“When people are denied going to prayer during the holiest month of Ramadan you can understand why people become so upset and angry,” he said.
Police incursions into the mosque - accompanied he says by Israeli settlers - exacerbated fears of a long feared Jewish takeover of the site. Combined with nearby evictions of Muslims, “that had a big reaction, so this is how the events started.”
Asked if that is what prompted Hamas to start launching missiles into Israel, he replies: “I am not here to speak about Hamas or Israel but the people of Palestine and their long term occupation by Israel since 1948”.
“We have had a siege imposed on Gaza for 14 years. For nine years I have not been able to visit my family.”
Israeli Shoshana Appleton, who lives in Helen’s Bay, came to NI 58 years ago after marrying a local man.
“I was speaking to my cousin in Israel today,” she said. “She tells me the worst thing is that Israeli Arabs and Israeli Jews are now fighting each other. That has never happened before - they used to be friends and neighbours. “Previously it was just Israeli Jews and Palestinians who were fighting.”
Her relatives are safe so far but must constably take cover from Hamas missiles.
She has heard that Israeli police were “lured” to the mosque with reports of rioters being harboured within, but does not know what to believe about the Muslim evictions.
Asked what started this recent conflict she said: “It all began 73 years ago when they wouldn’t let us have a state, when they wouldn’t share.
”They were given the bigger half of Israel in 1948 [Transjordan] and they didn’t want it - they wanted the lot.
”Everyone is suffering and everybody’s children are trying to sleep. But how can they with missiles over Israel and airstrikes over Gaza.
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