Amid a disquieting report that violence against Jews living in primarily Arab east Jerusalem neighborhoods nearly doubled last month compared to the same period last year, police have blanketed at-risk areas with hundreds of officers and an elite special patrol unit.
According to the report, released by police and the Housing Ministry on Monday, over 360 assaults against Jews were reported in July alone.
The surge in violence is largely due to the brutal revenge slaying of 16-yearold Shuafat resident Muhammad Abu Khdeir and Operation Protective Edge in Gaza, which have conflated to spur ongoing rioting in numerous Arab communities where Jews reside, police said.
Moreover, the report stated that a disproportionate number of incidents took place on the final night of Ramadan late last month, during which more than 70 attacks were reported.
The majority of the assaults – typically propagated by masked youths and young adults throwing powerful firecrackers, rocks and firebombs at the homes and cars of Jewish residents living among the Palestinian population – have not resulted in serious injuries, police said. However, last week tensions peaked when a terrorist commandeering an excavator killed a Jewish pedestrian in the Shmuel Hanavi neighborhood, and an IDF soldier was shot in the stomach at a bus stop in a separate incident hours later in nearby French Hill.
In response to the alarming rise of attacks, Israel Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said more than 500 officers and an elite anti-riot patrol unit had been intensively patrolling flash-point neighborhoods – including Isawiya, Shuafat, French Hill, Abu Tor, A-Tur and Sur Bahir – around the clock.
“Most of the incidents take place... between 10 p.m. and 1 a.m.,” Rosenfeld said, “so apart from the 500 officers doing patrols we have an elite special patrol unit called YASAM that can arrive anywhere incidents take place throughout east Jerusalem within minutes.”
Indeed, during a ride-along that The Jerusalem Post
was invited to attend with Rosenfeld and YASAM late Sunday night, the unit arrived at two separate riots in A-Tur and Abu Tor in less than five minutes and safely dispersed the participants in short order.
Upon arriving at the scene in A-Tur minutes after being informed of rioting there by a central command center, more than 30 YASAM members were greeted with a barrage of powerful fire crackers and rocks. After calmly waiting for the intensity to diminish, the heavily armed officers wearing helmets and bullet- proof vests used non-lethal weapons, including tear gas and stun grenades, to disperse the crowd, many of whom were masked.
“We don’t want to injure anyone,” said Rosenfeld. “The goal is to stop the violence as quickly as possible without escalating the situation.”
Quiet was shortly restored without injuries or arrests. A patrol team remained at the scene to ensure the violence did not recur.
Half an hour later came a report from the command center of rioting in nearby Abu Tor. Seconds later the unit dispatched three vans containing 30 YASAM officers.
After arriving at the scene, blasts from firecrackers could be heard and a constellation of rocks littered the street. A series of dumpsters blocked the road in an attempt by the rioters to keep the officers at bay.
As nervous Jewish residents of the integrated neighborhood stood a safe distance away, the YASAM officers rushed the scene in tight formation.
“It’s critical that units arrive right away and stop the violence immediately,” said Rosenfeld.
Once again, after numerous stun grenades and tear gas canisters were fired in the direction of the violence, quiet was restored without inflicting any injuries.
“A team will stay here to observe the area to ensure the situation doesn’t happen again,” said Rosenfeld as he pointed to 15 officers who remained on the scene. “We are not leaving anything to chance.”
While Rosenfeld conceded that the violence has been unusually high since Abu Khdeir’s murder and the war in Gaza, resulting in hundreds of Arab arrests, he added that the vast majority of disturbances had been contained by police in a similar fashion.
“This is a regular night for the police and riot units in order to ensure safety,” he said.
Noting that these incidents can happen anywhere at any time, Rosenfeld said police had developed a sophisticated intelligence apparatus that deploys hundreds of officers on patrol every day and night.
“Of course, we want to stop [the violence] before it starts, but since that can’t always be done we have created a system to safely stop it before things escalate,” he said.
An Abu Tor resident who requested anonymity after thanking officers he knew by name echoed Rosenfeld’s sentiments. And while he said the surge of violence had unnerved him and many other Jews living in Arab areas, he added that rapid response times had helped mitigate the tension and fear.
“Look, I wish it could be stopped before it happens, but they get here in minutes every time, so this is the best case scenario in a terrible situation,” the resident said. “I can’t imagine how bad things would be if we didn’t have police who responded like this every time.”