People pray ahead of Yom Kippur on the roof of a seminary overlooking the Western Wall, in Jerusalem’s Old City in 2012..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Last week Chanan Kupietzky came under attack by Arab assailants while walking to the Western Wall in Jerusalem. He told The Jerusalem Post that “an Arab riding a horse came toward us several times, forcing us to the side of the road.” Men on a rooftop cursed him and the group he was with were set upon. It was a well-orchestrated attack, with attackers recording it on camera phones. Kupietzky, who was armed, exercised restraint and police and ambulances eventually arrived.
This is one of dozens of assaults of varying degrees of severity that have taken place over the last month in the capital. Initially this was thought to be part of a pattern that resulted from the murder of Muhammad Abu Khdeir in July. However, victims of recent assaults often report that they appear as well-orchestrated ambushes.
On September 11 the Cohen family was nearly lynched in Wadi Joz while trying to drive to the Kotel for a ceremony.
They told reporters that they were not from Jerusalem and their navigation device had directed them through the Arab neighborhood.
There are two layers of problems that confront Israel’s capital. One is the low level “Jerusalem intifada” that has broken out, that has included frequent stoning of the Jerusalem light rail, a third of whose carriages have been damaged, and clashes with police in Arab neighborhoods.
In one case a gas station near Isawiya was ransacked and firebombed. In another a police vehicle was pushed over an embankment.
Attacks on security services and “symbols” of the state such as the light rail are part of a pattern. Attacks on Jewish citizens for making the wrong turn into Arab neighborhoods are deeply shocking and they require a firm and clear response. Citizens must not fear being killed for making the wrong turn into a neighborhood of their capital city.
For years a form of unofficial abandonment of many neighborhoods, such as Isawiya and Sur Bahir, has been the norm for the police. As long as people are not being assaulted, these neighborhoods have become no-go zones, to the extent that the residents feel they can set upon vehicles or individuals. This behavior is not actively confronted by community leaders and it becomes routine for youths after school to make stone throwing an acceptable activity.
On the one hand, the assaults in the capital should not be exaggerated. Thousands of Jewish and Arab Jerusalemites ride the light rail daily through Arab neighborhoods.
Orthodox Jews walk back and forth through Damascus Gate or to the tomb of Shimon Hatzadik and there are not reports of frequent assaults. Fear-mongering about east Jerusalem, to the extent that Jews refuse to visit the area because they see it as foreboding, is not an answer to the capital’s problems. Instead, more work should be done to foster coexistence and interaction among the capital’s diverse populations, as the Jerusalem Season of Culture “we are here” campaign attempted to do. If Jerusalem is to remain unified it must be unified in more than just name.
But the sense from citizens that the police do not protect people venturing to the Kotel, the holiest site in Judaism, or that they are slow to respond, is unacceptable.
People must feel safe to walk wherever they want in the city, especially to places of historic importance to the Jewish people, such as the Mount of Olives, a frequent site of vandalism over the years (50 headstones were vandalized on September 27), and the Western Wall.
Police have made more than 700 arrests since July, but obviously that is not a deterrent. Last Thursday there was an attack on people driving through A-Tur and the driver and passenger had to be hospitalized. There is a feeling that violence has impunity in the capital. The government, municipality, and police need to come up with a long-term action plan to curtail this violence and make Jerusalem’s citizens feel safe again. They must address the issue openly and to the residents in each community, rather than leaving the sense that exists that crimes are not taken with the utmost seriousness, but are considered business as usual. It is not business as usual. The capital is facing a wave of attacks unprecedented in their breadth. It is only a matter of time before they become more lethal.