Jewish and Arab Abu Tor residents fearful following early-morning shootout, rioting

“It’s times like this that the whole Middle East conflict hits home,” says resident of mixed Jerusalem neighborhood.

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October 31, 2014 06:44
3 minute read.
Abu Tor

ARAB YOUTHS try to prevent a tear gas canister from emitting more gas during a confrontation with police in the capital’s Abu Tor neighborhood. (photo credit: REUTERS)

 
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As a police helicopter slowly circled the mostly vacant streets of Jerusalem’s Abu Tor, where convicted Arab terrorist Moataz Hejazi was killed Thursday morning in a police shootout after allegedly attempting to assassinate Rabbi Yehudah Glick, Arab and Jewish residents of the beleaguered neighborhood expressed fear and exacerbation.

“Look, it’s terrifying,” said Matt Berkowitz, who moved into the mixed neighborhood in June, and lives a few hundred meters from where the shootout between police and Moataz Hejazi, 32, an Islamic Jihad operative, took place.

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“It’s times like this that the whole Middle East conflict hits home,” he added.

Berkowitz said the shooting, compounded by chronic nightly rioting since the July murder of Muhammad Abu Khdeir, has put him and his family on edge.

However, when asked if he has considered leaving the neighborhood, Berkowitz said he has mixed feelings.

“For the most part we love living in Abu Tor – we love its diversity – but you feel like you are in the thick of it,” he said.

“I feel a sense of heartbreak because this violence is completely unnecessary.”



Berkowitz added that he blamed Jewish and Arab extremists alike for the deteriorating situation in the once peaceful neighborhood.

“Ultimately, we are all the victims of fundamentalists on both sides,” he said. “Obviously, we’re hoping for a quieter time here.”

Meanwhile, as a row of six heavily armed riot police officers blockaded the entrance to the street where Hejazi was killed, over a dozen Arab youths between the ages of nine and 20 nervously chatted among themselves a couple meters away.

Rocks, empty tear-gas canisters, burned-out tires and garbage cans littering the street just beyond the cordoned-off area, gave the visage of a war zone.

“I heard the gun shots,” said a 14 year-old named Muhammad in broken English. “Bang! Bang! Bang! It woke me up!” Nearby, a 19-year-old female resident of the neighborhood wearing a hijab, walked home with a female friend after attending classes at university.

“Our life is so difficult, especially these days, between violence here and at Al-Aksa,” she said, requesting her name not be published. “But I will never leave. I will stay here to prove that this land is for Muslims and Arabs, and not Israelis.”

The young woman then paused as she looked down the street.

“You know what’s sad?” she asked, with a look of forlorn resignation. “Everyone – Jews and Arabs – can live here in peace. We really don’t mind living with them in peace.”

Around the corner, as her two young children played outside their fenced home, Sara Yarden, a mother of five, said the last 24-hours have been a nightmare.

“We fell asleep to the sound of police cars and helicopters and woke up to the same thing,” she said. “When we came out to the street this morning, we saw ambulances and a massive police presence.”

Yarden, who moved back to Abu Tor one year ago after living elsewhere, said the neighborhood has taken a precipitous turn for the worse since she returned.

“I was attacked when I was with the kids in the spring when we were in our car,” she said. “We were surrounded by Arab teenagers and they were beating the car like crazy. And in August someone tried to steal my purse and pushed me around in the middle of the afternoon on the sidewalk right here.”

Yarden continued: “If that can happen in broad daylight, anything can happen.”

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