In recent weeks reports of stoning, violence and other incidents have come out
of Jerusalem’s southeastern neighborhoods. The most serious incident was the
wounding of a two-year-old girl on Thursday, November 28. A Jewish family was
driving in Armon Hanatziv, which borders the Arab neighbourhood of Sur Bahir
(Tzur Bahir) when their rear car window was shattered by rocks.
police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld has described the attack as “nationalistically
motivated,” the odd code-word used in Israel to describe attacks resulting
purely from ethnic hatred.
Because a young child was wounded the police
worked hard to catch the criminals, and by 2 a.m. the next morning four
teenagers, aged 15 to 17, were under arrest. When they were brought to court a
photographer caught one flashing the “victory” sign to reporters. Jerusalem
Mayor Nir Barkat condemned the attacks and visited the victim.
be made clear to everyone that a stone is a weapon,” he said. Even the prime
minister spoke out.
The stone-throwing and wounding of a toddler are part
of a pattern that has been heating up in the past months in Sur Bahir. Two weeks
ago an Arab family was attacked in almost the same location. Rushuan Salman was
driving from Umm Tuba, a neighborhood beyond Sur Bahir, into Jerusalem through
Armon Hanatziv. He told Yediot Aharonot, “they tried to pull us out of the car
and hit us, it seemed they were intent on lynching us. They tried opening the
Only when his wife shouted at them in Arabic did they finally
back off, enabling Salman to speed away. He put it down to a case of mistaken
identity: “me and my wife look Jewish,” he said. They called the police, who
they described as nonchalant about the case. His wife even gave the police the
identity of one of the youths involved.
Similarly on Saturday, November
23, Daniel Seidemann, a founder of the NGO Ir Amim, was hit in the head by a
rock thrown through his car window. The website +972 posted his comments: “I
paid a working visit in the Palestinian neighbourhood of Sur Bahir, barely a
kilometer from my home,” he said. He was leaving the area as school got out.
“[I] had the misfortune of ending up in a traffic jam in the center of the
village... I didn’t see it coming, but should have, I was a sitting
Seidemann took it in stride, noting it was the third time in 20
years he had been stoned in east Jerusalem. “I never expected immunity... but I
feel no anger, just sad... I will be back in east Jerusalem... no rock can move
me to hate.”
He claimed that a day after the attack a group of “prominent
residents of Sur Bahir paid me a visit, expressing regrets over the incident...
they told me that they had gone today from classroom to classroom in the schools
telling these young men and women ‘we don’t expect to apprehend or reprimand
anyone. But whoever did this – do you have any idea whose skull you bashed in?’”
Their message was clear: the victim was one of the “good people” who shouldn’t
be stoned, because he supports Palestinian rights. Seidamenn felt the rock was a
symbol of the larger problem. “Most likely, it was hurled because I am Israeli –
the occupier.... They owe me no apologies. As long as the occupation exists,
events like this will happen.”
Seidamenn noted that “I don’t find it
particularly important if he is or is not apprehended... I do fear that he might
have just been practicing on me, and that more deadly violence can be expected
from him in the future.”
That was a prescient comment, for a child was
wounded in a similar incident not long after.
THE PICTURE painted by
these incidents is complemented by common stonings in several other
neighbourhoods, especially Isawiya, just northeast of Mount Scopus. Many drivers
over the years have suffered attempted lynchings in the village after making a
wrong turn into it. But what is most fascinating is what the comments of the
“prominent” Sur Bahir residents reveals. That they went from classroom to
classroom and specifically said they did not want to “reprimand” anyone reveals
the source of the violence.
It isn’t children who get up in the morning
and decide to throw some stones. It is a culture of violence, encouraged by
community leaders, parents and authority figures.
I can look back at my
old childhood in Maine and recall the vandalism my friends and I were involved
in at age 12.
We caused havoc in our neighborhood, and we especially
targeted “summer people,” the out-of-town wealthy visitors who came down in
summer to vacation.
Did we stone their cars? No. But we vandalized other
things. Most of our parents and teachers would never condone this behavior, so
we kept it a deep secret. But what if our parents had egged us on, patted us on
the back and said “those damn foreigners, go get ‘em – but don’t get caught”?
What if our teachers had taught us to hate? The truth is that Sur Bahir’s
residents have been neighbors with Jewish residents of Jerusalem for
Many of them, perhaps most, work with Jews. And yet 46 years of
contact have not made the heart grow fonder.
Mayor Barkat wants tougher
penalties, more Border Police walking the streets. But more police and
enforcement alone won’t solve the issue. Some people view the occupation as the
culprit; if only the Jews can be moved away, everyone will be happy. Some
newspapers in Israel have even published op-eds claiming that stoning is the
“right” of every Palestinian.
Hebrew University Professor Ze’ev Sternhell
claimed in 2001: “Many in Israel, perhaps even the majority of the voters, do
not doubt the legitimacy of the armed resistance in the territories themselves.
The Palestinians would be wise to concentrate their struggle against the
settlements, avoid harming women and children... it would also be smart to stop
planting bombs to the west of the Green Line.”
This problematic binary,
either more police or arguments that turn the stone throwing into “legitimate”
resistance, are both disturbing because they basically admit that there is no
chance Jews and Arabs can intermix or live next to one another. It misses the
Ninety percent of the Arab neighborhoods in east
Jerusalem are not like Sur Bahir. Even Arabs fear the youth violence there. It
is the culture among the community leaders in Sur Bahir that is the problem.
Perhaps there is no easy solution; a preferable one would be more coexistence,
more investment in the neighborhood, but that can only come about with the
recognition that the culture of violence and hate is a root of the problem.