Hours after their peaceful Arab community was vandalized in an alleged price-tag attack, residents of Beit Hanina expressed anger and frustration that the government is not doing enough to thwart Jewish extremists or forge peace, which they said could result in a third intifada.
In the second price-tag attack in less than a week, vandals slashed the tires of over 20 cars and spray-painted a Star of David on one of them early Monday morning in the mostly Palestinian neighborhood, located in northern Jerusalem.
Five days earlier in Abu Ghosh – a community just outside the capital noted for its harmonious relationship with Jews – 28 cars were vandalized and homes spraypainted with racist graffiti, including the words “Arabs go home.”
Monday’s crime illustrates a clear and escalating pattern of similar attacks against Arab Israelis over the past few months.
“It’s very annoying for the whole population of east Jerusalem and there has been no progress in the peace movement,” said Obada, a Beit Hanina store owner, who requested his last name not be published. “Nothing has been achieved and these [Jewish] extremists are doing this with a green light from the Israeli government.”
At the dedication ceremony of a school named after his late father in the West Bank settlement of Barkan on Monday, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu uniformly denounced the attack, adding that the government is “acting with a strong hand against” future vandalism.
“We believe in the rule of law,” said Netanyahu. “This says that there can be no lawbreakers.
There is no ‘price tag’ or any other kind of ‘tag.’” The prime minister noted that as the country fights external enemies – “real enemies, who seek our lives” – he will not allow the law to “fray from within.”
“We are acting with a strong hand against this as well, and we will continue to do so.”
Netanyahu added that he discussed the Beit Hanina price-tag incident earlier in the day with the head of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency).
Still, Obada noted the perceived double standard between Jews and Palestinians in terms of law enforcement.
“Many times Israeli police arrest Jewish extremists who damage Arab areas and let them go within 48 hours,” he said. “If an Arab just thought about it, or made a move to attack a Jew, he’d be shot dead.”
Obada said he blames the government for the lack of parity, adding that Palestinian anger is reaching a boiling point that could lead to a third intifada.
“People here are frustrated – there are no jobs, no hope for peace and the economic situation is really bad,” he said. “Not only this, but [Jewish extremists] come here to tease and attack us and the government does nothing about it. This will lead to another intifada.”
Obada continued, “It’s like this – you are sitting here, you are tired, depressed, hungry and someone keeps annoying you physically or verbally – at some specific point, you will explode.”
Meanwhile, another Beit Hanina resident, who requested anonymity fearing reprisal from extremists, said he believed fundamentalism within the Jewish community is worsening and that he doubted Netanyahu’s resolve to put an end to the increasing attacks.
“I think fundamentalism in the [Jewish] community is getting worse and the Israeli government is doing nothing because it’s an extremist government,” he said.
“The media shows that the government is against these actions, but inside – in their feelings – they support it.”
He went on to echo Obada’s sentiments regarding the danger of an imminent third intifada.
“This is a new phenomenon,” he continued. “Things are getting more complicated and I’m pessimistic about a peace solution in the area because the government’s actions contradict what it says about wanting peace, which is resulting in growing anger [in the Arab community] that could turn into a third intifada.”
Muneer, a teen who lives in the area, said he viewed Monday’s vandalism as a manifestation of ultra-Orthodox Jewish elitism and hate.
“They think this is their country because they’re stronger – they have weapons we don’t have,” he said. “They think Muslims are much smaller than them. When we go to Jewish places they look at us like we are s***.”
When asked if he feared for his safety, Muneer looked down.
“Yeah, always,” he said. “I work in a restaurant [in west Jerusalem] and when I go home at 2 [a.m.] they just look at me like they want to hit me. They think we are animals – not more, not less.”
Azir Azzeh, who runs a fried chicken fast-food restaurant in the area, said he was surprised by the attack, noting the usual harmony between Arabs and Jews.
“Normally it’s peaceful here,” he said. “Jews come to my store with no problems – they eat and talk with us and have a good time.”
Azzeh continued, “It’s a problem.
We don’t like this. We want peace.”
Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said that the police is actively investigating the case to determine if there is any relationship between Monday’s vandalism and earlier attacks in the capital.
“We’re viewing this incident as a criminal one with nationalistic motives and looking for any connections between previous ones, as well as what happened last week in Abu Ghosh,” he said.
Rosenfeld said no arrests have been made yet in the case. •
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