Jerusalem: Fear and loathing between East and West

By
January 9, 2017 23:37

An inside look at the residents of the Jewish neighborhood of Armon Hanatziv and the adjacent Arab neighborhood of Jebl Mukaber.




Armon Hanatziv

View of the southeast Jerusalem neighborhood Armon Hanatziv . (photo credit:Wikimedia Commons)

On Jerusalem’s Olei Hagardom Street, there is no visible line separating the Jewish neighborhood of Armon Hanatziv and the adjacent Arab neighborhood of Jebl Mukaber. However, they remain worlds apart.

Indeed, these two communities may serve as the most telling microcosm of a capital in constant conflict.

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One day after a terrorist from the notorious enclave killed four soldiers and wounded 17 others, residents of both communities on Monday expressed palpable fear and loathing of the other.

Dina Levy, a 33-year-old mother of two young children, lives a few meters away from the bus stop where the neighborhoods intersect, where two elderly Jewish men were butchered on Egged Bus 78 in 2015 by two terrorists who lived across the street. A third Jewish Israeli died of his wounds a few weeks later.

Over two years later, only a small plaque bearing their names in Hebrew remains as a reminder of the slaughter that jarred the nation, resulting in a temporary wall separating the warring neighborhoods.

Still, Levy has not forgotten.

She cannot, she said, because she is reminded daily.

Levy was born and raised in Armon Hanatziv, and moved into the apartment complex on the communities’ borderline four months before the Egged massacre. Her son Jonathan, now 3, was an infant then, while David was born eight months after the attack.

“I don’t feel safe, and I don’t think anyone can feel safe in this area,” said Levy at her building’s entrance, as she held David, while Jonathan played with a toy.

“We all know that they can do whatever they want, whenever they want. Even the police will not go in [Jebl Mukaber] because it is so dangerous.”

Pointing to her heavily fortified second-floor apartment window facing Jebl Mukaber, Levy said her husband purchased a gun to keep his family safe.

“The first thing [my husband] did when he moved here was get a gun license and buy a gun, because we had no other choice,” she said. “When it’s dark, he always picks us up from the parking lot, because I am afraid to walk with the children by myself.”

Levy lamented that the family continues to live in a constant state of hyper-vigilance.

Asked how often she feels intimidated by young Arab neighbors who roam the streets of Armon Hanatziv, she replied “all the time.”

“When I am walking with the baby carriage and Jonathan, they always yell at us in Arabic, so we are insecure all the time,” she said.

Although two heavily-armed police officers are stationed nearby, six days a week during bus hours, Levy said that is not enough to assuage her fear.

“After the bus stops running, they go, and I only have my husband with a gun,” she said.

At that late hour, Levy explained, the fireworks literally begin.

“When the police leave, they start exploding fireworks and throwing [Molotov cocktails] all night,” she said. “Jonathan really enjoys it, though; when he sees the fireworks, he claps his hands, and doesn’t realize why I’m so sad. But I never tell him.”

Asked what she would tell the world about her family’s living conditions, Levy was clear: “That they should stay here for one day – no more – and see what happens [in Jebl Mukaber], and what they do over here. Then they will understand what we are going through every day,” she added with exasperation.

“Always afraid.”

Helen Pastersky, an octogenarian waiting for a bus at the stop where the massacre took place, echoed Levy’s sentiments.

“It’s terrible, just terrible,” she said. “I feel safer when I see the police, but they are not here enough.”

Mendy, a modern Orthodox 20-something resident who made aliya from South America one month ago to join the IDF, said he is not fearful.

“I’m not afraid at all,” he said. “I’m just living in the land that belongs to me.”

While Mendy, who requested his last name not be published, said he has not been harassed in the last four weeks, he noted that he remains acutely aware of his immediate surroundings at all times.

“I’m a lot more alert here than I would be in the center of town,” he explained. “I know it sucks, but we have to be careful and take precautions, and if that means watching your back every 30 seconds, then you have to do that.”

Raz, a 15-year-old of Ethiopian descent who was born and raised in Armon Hanatziv, was far less confident.

“I feel fear, because every day I could die here,” he said, adding that he has been robbed and beaten multiple times by his Arab neighbors.

“It’s most dangerous at night, because they always try to rob you,” he said. “They do it in the daytime too. There are nice people there, but the people my age are very dangerous.”

Meanwhile, across the “border” some 100 meters away at a popular Palestinian market, an Arab man named Muhammad Hasim, 30, who works as a mechanic at a nearby autobody shop, said he has no problem with his Jewish neighbors.

“Everything is fine for me here,” he said, pointing toward the area where the communities intersect. “I don’t have problems with anybody. Everyone is my friend.”

Pressed about tensions deep inside Jebl Mukaber, Hasim conceded that problems do, indeed, exist.

“There,” he said, “it’s different. It’s not good.”

An Arab man in his early 20s, who refused to state his name, made that point clear.

“The Jews should leave Palestine, or we will kill them,” he said in broken English.

“Are you a Jew?,” he asked, menacingly.

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