“Oh my God, I was looking at an apartment in this building to rent just two weeks ago!” exclaimed Bonnie Brooks, upon seeing a complex in Jerusalem’s Abu Tor neighborhood with a shattered front entrance and the remnants of a firebombed car parked in front.
“You couldn’t pay me to live here now.”
As police surveyed the destruction and questioned suspects on Sunday afternoon, Brooks, who has lived in the mixed Jewish, Arab and Christian neighborhood for the last three years, said such a spectacle has become increasingly commonplace over the last three weeks.
Every night, since the kidnapping and murder of Mohammed Abu Khdeir on July 2, Brooks said, rioting or random violence has plagued the normally picturesque community known as a model for Jewish and Arab coexistence.
“They come out late at night, usually after 1:30 a.m., and shoot bullets into the air, throw Molotov cocktails at cars and rocks at homes, and it’s sad because there are very good people here,” she said.
“And look, you see how beautiful it is?” Indeed, with sweeping views of Jerusalem amid a mosaic of colorful flora, Abu Tor at first glance can appear to be a haven far removed from the deterioration that has defined many other Arab neighborhoods within the capital.
However, scattered rocks on the street and sidewalks thrown at homes late at night by groups of young Arab vandals, compounded by the remains of firebombs and shattered glass, have created the visage of a borderline war zone in small swaths of the community.
Brooks, who made aliya from Connecticut five years ago with her husband, legendary bassist Harvey Brooks, who has performed and recorded with Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix, lives in a building only a few hundred meters away from the latest destruction.
“Arabs and Jews normally live peacefully here, but it’s not the way it should be, because when push comes to shove it becomes tribal,” she said.
“At night I tell Harvey: ‘Don’t stand next to the windows,’ and ‘If we have to, we’ll move the bed into the hallway.’” While the Brookses live in relative safety off Hebron Road, a main artery cutting through Jerusalem, their friend Joe Korson, a married father of two girls, is not as fortunate.
“My apartment has been a target since I’ve moved here,” said Korson – who lives deeper within the community – while seated in the Brookses’ living room. “My car’s windows have been shattered four times, the tires slashed, and stones are regularly thrown at my apartment.
My second week here we had a firebomb thrown into our garden, which created a flood in the house.”
He continued: “I had a neighbor who couldn’t handle it anymore, had a nervous breakdown and moved out.”
Korson, who initiated a neighborhood watch several weeks ago, said the violence has swelled considerably since the Abu Khdeir murder, rioting in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, and the war in Gaza.
“Usually it’s quiet until 11:30 p.m.,” he said. “Then, first you hear the gunshots and fireworks, then the dumpsters being moved to block the street, which are then set on fire, then the shouting of ‘Allah Akbar,’ and then rocks and Molotov cocktails being thrown.”
“We hear the bullets and small explosions from the firecrackers every night,” added Harvey. “I think there is a wave of violence in the Arab community being fueled by the West Bank and Gaza simultaneously.
Everybody usually tolerates each other, but it’s like a temperature gauge; and when the temperature goes up, things get bad.”
All three said the relative calm during the daytime belies an increasingly violent nightly reality, hitting ever closer to home.
“They [young Arabs] get drunk in the local park, have a party, then torch a car,” said Korson. “They set fires, tear up the grass in landscaped areas, destroy street lighting and even park benches.”
Asked about the police response to the nightly attacks and vandalism, the residents said their response time continues to be prompt.
“The police have been great,” said Korson. “Generally, they’re here within minutes. Also, there are undercover guys during the day.”
Nonetheless, Harvey said the collective stress level of Jewish residents has reached an all-time high.
“Every noise is a cause for concern now,” he said. “We feel safe because we’re on Hebron Road, but down the street it’s different.”
Indeed, Korson, who lives in the crosshairs of the violence, said he has been forced to fortify his home, and has even prepared an evacuation plan for his wife and 12- and 14-year-old daughters.
“I keep a baseball bat by the door and weapons hidden throughout the house, and have a tent on the balcony to protect us from the rocks,” he said. “My wife and kids know the escape plan.”
Reached for comment about the escalating violence, police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld acknowledged the problem, adding that extra units have been assigned to the beleaguered neighborhood.
“Throughout the last three weeks police have mobilized units in Abu Tor and other Arab neighborhoods to prevent and respond to any disturbances, and protect the residents of these communities,” he said. “And we will continue to do so.”
Asked if they considered moving out of Abu Tor, Korson and the Brookses were unequivocal in their determination to stay.
“If we go and are afraid, we are basically saying ‘Here, take it,’” said Bonnie. “For us, that’s not an option.”