Attacks on Palestinians in Jerusalem – Sign of the “Hebronization” of the City

On August 17, a mob of Israeli teenagers attacked Palestinian youths in Zion Square, iin the heart of West Jerusalem (also here and here). One of the victims was nearly beaten to death and remained in a coma for several days. The youth admitted to targeting the victims because they were Arab, with some suggesting that the mob was egged on by an Israeli girl who claimed that she had been previously raped by an Arab. Reportedly, hundreds of people watched the attack but did not intervene.  It was also reported that one police officer was present at the start of the attack but did nothing.   Following the attack, a right-wing group hung posters and distributed leafletswarning Arabs to keep out of Jerusalem and not to flirt with Jewish women (it was reported that Israeli police may probe the group). Nine Jewish teenagers, eight of them minors, were arrested for the attack. The indictment stated they were “looking for Arabs to beat up.”   At the court hearing, one 15 year-old suspect admitted his role in the attack and stated that he would do it againHe also stated “he [the victim] can die for all I care, he’s an Arab” (more here).

Commenting August 21st on the implications of the attack, Danny Seidemann noted:

“This has not ceased being the lead item in the printed and electronic press. With much of the editorial judgments commercially driven, and the IBA subject to governmental pressure, this wouldn’t be happening if the editors did not believe this genuinely concerns a large chunk of the public. I think they are right.

“A lot of Israeli denial is based on the fact that these things happen ‘there’, in the West Bank, not ‘here.’ And stuff like this does happen in Hebron and East Jerusalem (not all the time, but not rarely), and receives little coverage outside the media of the ideological left. (Look at Youtube on the abuse of Palestinian kids by soldiers and plainclothesman in Hebron just over the last couple of months). But there is nowhere in Jerusalem that is more ‘here’ than Kikar Tziyon (Zion Square), and the comfort zone is narrowing. We may be witnessing the Hebronization of Jerusalem

“Israelis are laboring under a lot of anxiety this summer, some over Iran, some over Bibi and Barak, and I would guess that there is a plurality a bit spooked by both. And then there is the turmoil on our northern and southern borders, and an economic crunch already felt and getting worse. I think that patience among many Israelis (who don’t need superfluous worries) about settler violence is wearing thin.

“Things might be best summed up by taking a hard look at the public pronouncements of three prominent figures on this: Nir Barkat, the mayor of Jerusalem, condemned ‘any expression of violence, both verbal or physical, by any party,’ turning both victims and perps into faceless, odorless, colorless, tasteless entities. He’s got elections in a year, and will need the support even of the radical right.

“Netanyahu called Abbas and expressed concern over the fire-bombing in the WB [reference to a firebombing of a Palestinian taxi by settlers that injured 6], not the assault in Jerusalem. To do so would be to imply that Abbas had some kind of tie to the Palestinians of East Jerusalem. Nosiree sir, not for him to imply a divided Jerusalem.

“And then there was Deputy Prime Minister Bogie Yaalon. I never have had much admiration for Yaalon, the politician. Watching him, this secular former kibbutznik, pander much more than he would like to the settlers makes me squirm. And he condemned the attack in no uncertain terms, as ‘hate crime’ and terror.

“First, this is a game-changer in terms of the discourse. It’s not only the ‘Arabists’ at State [the US State Department] that call this terror, this is from our Deputy prime minister, who is not about to get a prize from B’Tselem (Israel’s most prominent human rights group).

“Second, I don’t think he was putting his ear to ground and listening to public opinion. He will be standing in Likud primaries some time soon, and he probably caused himself electoral damage by this statement, and did it with open eyes. And he did it because in spite of his move to the right, because this violates his values, and worries him. My guess is he is not alone.

“Finally – as to the backgrounds of the attackers: not clear yet. The reports from the courts were ‘kids with no prior criminal records’, but also haven’t heard the euphemistic ‘…from normative backgrounds’.”

Subsequently, on September 5, a group of Israeli young men attacked a Palestinian young man in West Jerusalem, beating him severely and breaking his leg. The attackers claimed they thought the Palestinian was “taking advantage” of an Israeli woman (who in reality was a work colleague of the victim, who was driving her home as a favor).   Six Israeli teenagers were subsequently arrested for the attack (also hereherehere, and here). And on September 7, a Palestinian young man working at a gas station in West Jerusalem was attacked and beaten by Israeli youths (see here for an interview with the victim0, in what Yediot Ahronot called the latest in “a wave of racist assaults appears to be sweeping the capital.”

It should be noted that these assaults are by no means unprecedented. In December 2010, a gang of teens in Jerusalem were arrested for attacking Arabs. At the time, YNet reported, “Jerusalem Police arrest seven youths on suspicion of assaulting young Arab men in capital after having teenage girl seduce them, lead them to meeting point. Police say suspects confessed their acts were nationalistically-motivated” YNet also reported: “Gang arrested on suspicion of attacking Arabs is yet another manifestation of increasing violence against east Jerusalem residents, say locals”   Also, in May 2008, video surfaced of a brutal attack by a mob of Jewish teens against Arab youths in the Pisgat Zeev neighborhood. 11 teens were charged in the attack (also see report from JPost article here – misdated apparently due to a problem with JPost archives – the original story is dated May 31, 2008).

Comment: The “Hebronization” of Jerusalem is no longer an abstract fear; it is here, in our space, and in our time. That said, many Israelis have begun to realize how dangerous this is. Whether that realization is transformed into a resolve to put an end to these acts remains to be seen.