Jerusalem’s Zion Square, located in the city center, where rallies mobilize,
concerts convene, street fairs assemble, and pedestrians abound, caught the
attention of local media and became the topic of weekend table talk when it was
learned that 17- year old Jamal Julani – an Arab from east Jerusalem who went to
meet a friend working at a local restaurant – nearly died from a savage beating
unleashed by a gang of Jewish “tough teens” who were out cruising the streets,
apparently looking for a victim.
The first responders from the United
Hatzalah emergency response organization who answered the call said that Jamal
wasn’t breathing when they arrived. It would be 24 hours before he would regain
consciousness, but even then, he couldn’t remember what had happened the night
I visited Jamal in Hadassah University Medical Center in
Jerusalem’s Ein Kerem 36 hours after the brutal attack. Upon entering his room
in the familiar facility, I was met with thoughts of so many Israeli victims of
bus bombings we visited there during the height of the intifada. But this time
it was different.
Jamal couldn’t remember the 50 or so youths who either
took part in the beating or stood idly by doing absolutely nothing to intervene.
His father, Subha, stood over him saying that his memory of the day was gone.
His mother, Nariman, was grateful that Jamal was alive at all and soon to be
released thanks to the Israeli medics who reached the scene on time.
underlying question, though, was what motivated these gangster-like hoodlums –
colloquially, arsim – to attack an innocent youth? Reaction on the street ranged
from “How awful!”; “What do you expect from kids on drugs and booze?”; “Why can
Arabs walk the streets of Jerusalem without fear?”; and “Why didn’t anyone do
anything to help?”; to “Where are the parents?”; Where were the police?”; and
Where is the mayor?”
It’s not difficult to reason that when youths set out to
stir up violence and chant “Death to Arabs,” no good can come of it. If the five
Israeli teens – Jewish kids, ranging in age from 13 to 19 – who have been
arrested turn out to be the ones responsible for the incident, it is only the
quick response and skill of the medics that stand between them and manslaughter
or even murder charges.
Israel Police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld told The
Media Line that this wasn’t the first incident of its kind and said he couldn’t
point to other incidents in reverse, cases of Arabs beating up on
In 2009, I wrote an op-ed which was printed on the same day in The
Jerusalem Post and al-Quds about the Acre riots signaling a tipping point
exacerbating the need to redefine the Jewish-vs-Arab rift. The trigger point
then was rioting that followed an errant trip through a Jewish neighborhood by
an Arab driver on Yom Kippur, when even many secular Jewish Israelis avoid
riding in cars.
Seeking solutions, I turned to legendary folksinger and
humanitarian Peter Yarrow (of Peter, Paul and Mary fame), and Dr. Charlotte
Frank of McGraw-Hill publishers, who together fashioned an educational
foundation that teaches students not to bully those not like themselves, out of
the song Don’t Laugh at Me.
Yarrow’s Operation Respect curriculum is now
taught in more than 22,000 schools in America alone, as well as other
educational systems throughout the world.
After the piece ran, the US
Embassy in Tel Aviv contacted me to learn more about the program and to connect
with Yarrow. As a result, the Don’t Laugh at Me curriculum is being taught in 30
Israeli schools – Jewish and Muslim – and will be introduced in schools in
Jerusalem and Bethlehem this year, bringing to 50 the total number of schools in
Israel and the Palestinian Authority teaching the project.
differences between Jewish and Israeli Arabs needs to take priority and it
begins with youth education in schools and at home. At the heart of the
near-fatal tragedy is not so much nationalistic fervor as it is simple bullying
– the pack mentality of brutality in numbers not to preach politics, but to
experience the perverse rush of hurting someone.
It’s not a stretch to
project Operation Respect as an antidote for the disease underlying the attack
on Jamal Julani.
Nor is it a stretch to believe that a schoolchild
exposed to programs such as Operation Respect from the early grades will not be
cruising Zion Square – or Acre or Jenin – with a bloodlust 10 years
I asked Subha whether this horrific incident changed his feelings
toward Israelis. He said he works with an Israeli, many of his friends are
Israeli and he has Israeli citizenship because his wife is from
It might not be a bad thing that Jamal doesn’t remember the
attack. But he did say he won’t be walking down Jaffa Road alone any time
Felice Friedson is president and CEO of The Media Line news agency,
and founder of The Mideast Press Club and Women in Mideast Media. She can be
reached at Felice–firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more stories from The Media Line go to www.themedialine.org