Residents of the Jerusalem neighborhood where a two-year-old girl was hospitalized after being hit by a rock last week described an ongoing climate of fear within their community, marred by violence and harassment perpetrated by Arab youths from surrounding villages.
Although designated an “up-and-coming neighborhood for young people” by Mayor Nir Barkat, residents of Armon Hanatziv said the southern Jerusalem community is riddled with trouble-making Arab teens living in surrounding Palestinian neighborhoods.
Pointing to what they deem a nominal police presence, several young parents expressed exacerbated anger over the situation.
Gil Schecter, who has lived there since the mid-’70s, said that although residents of the community have worked to engender peaceful coexistence with their Arab neighbors, a disproportionate number of youths continue to wreak havoc on women and children there.
“More and more young guys have moved into these neighborhoods over the years, and they come here like they own the place,” said Schecter. “Their parents are peaceful and busy working all day, but they do nothing to stop these kids.”
Noting that Armon Hanatziv has municipal services that provide for residents of the nearby Arab villages – including Jebl Mukaber and Sur Bahir – the father of four said it is impossible to keep the troublemakers at bay.
“They don’t just throw rocks at cars and people’s homes – they assault women, make lewd gestures at girls, steal cellphones from kids and sit in our park designated for the children and use swings meant for little kids and then refuse to leave,” he said.
Schecter said he has sent five letters to the municipality and police addressing the problem over the last year, with few results.
“My 14-year-old daughter will not walk home alone in the park at night, so I have to pick her up,” he said.
“Unless something is done, this will only continue.”
Schecter said that despite the nearby Oz police base, he is routinely informed by officers that they are too understaffed to address each complaint.
“They just do not have enough personnel to deal with what’s going on here,” he said.
Molly Livingstone, a mother of two small children – who was assaulted outside her home in March while with her three-year-old son – said the assault on two-year-old Abigail Ben- Zion has only heightened her concern.
“It was extremely hard to read about the attack last week, because the first thing any parent thinks is it could have been my child,” she said.
Livingstone, who became the head of the neighborhood’s security committee shortly after the assault against her, during which she and her son were thrown down a flight of stairs and her phone was stolen, said such crimes can be prevented with a greater police presence.
“I believe the police are not doing their jobs and don’t have the resources they need,” she said Sunday.
“The mayor said Armon Hanatziv is an up-and-coming neighborhood for young families, but women are afraid to walk home from the synagogue at night and parents are afraid to drive with their kids.”
Livingstone continued, “I believe there has been a lack of priority given to safety in this neighborhood. Nir Barkat needs to put security in action. Enough campaign talk – now it’s time to do.”
Dovy Singal, an Armon Hanatziv resident and father of three who is revitalizing a neighborhood watch, said residents who live on the outskirts of the neighborhood have been most endangered by the assaults and harassment.
“Women and girls are being attacked in the middle of the day by these teens,” he said. “They’ve been pushed down stairwells, had their property stolen and subjected to sexual harassment.”
While Singal conceded that the wayward hoodlums do not constitute a “terrorist cell,” he noted that they primarily target female residents and children.
“We’re not talking about an ‘us versus them’ situation,” he said. “We’re 100 percent talking about young people between the ages of 15 to 25 who have nothing better to do than prey on women, girls and children.”
According the Singal, the neighborhood’s park has become emblematic of the problem.
“They loiter there all day, making inappropriate gestures at women and children, and drink and smoke there at night,” he said. “It’s making it so that you don’t want to walk around by yourself, and that really affects the [quality of life] of the neighborhood altogether.”
Unlike Livingstone, Singal acknowledged that Barkat, who has no authority over police matters, is actively attempting to address the ongoing crimes.
“Barkat has always made it very clear that the police are not under his jurisdiction, but he made a plan to build more parks and classrooms in the three Arab neighborhoods to prevent them from coming to ours,” he said.
In terms of heightening the police presence there, Singal said there is no other alternative.
“We definitely need more police here,” he said. “Our elementary school is on the edge of an Arab neighborhood and we’re concerned about our children.”
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