The breathtaking vistas of southeast Jerusalem’s Armon Hanatziv neighborhood belie a deep-seated and explosive tension between the Jews and Arabs living side by side in the area, several residents of the community said as Alexander Levlovitz was buried Wednesday.
Two days after Levlovitz, 64, was killed when his vehicle struck a tree after the windshield was shattered by a rock thrown while he was driving through the neighborhood with his two daughters on Rosh Hashana, many expressed exacerbated frustration and fear.
Although no arrests have been made, a preliminary police investigation into the collision determined that the car was struck by multiple rocks likely thrown by Palestinian youths from the neighboring Arab village of Sur Bahir.
“It’s not new for me, because it happens a lot in this neighborhood,” said Yotam Malul, 15, as he walked along Armon Hanatziv’s picturesque promenade, frequented by Jews and Arabs alike, on a sunny Wednesday afternoon.
“It’s difficult to think about the fact that he died because Arabs were just bored and didn’t have anything to do, so they just threw rocks. In Sur Bahir, there are a lot of people and it is a very big village, and they throw a lot of stones night after night after night.”
According to Malul, the rocks are primarily thrown by Arab youths, as young as nine, at cars driving down Asher Viner Street, which intersects the two communities, and where Levlovitz and his daughters were attacked.
While Malul said he has never been the victim of a rock attack there, he said he knew of many other residents who were less fortunate.
“Between 8 p.m. and 4 a.m. they throw rocks at cars driving through there, so the drivers have to speed up and get away so they don’t get hit,” he said.
The tension between the Arabs of Sur Bahir and Jews of Armon Hanatziv is palpable, he said.
“The people [of Sur Bahir] are not very nice to the Jews, but in different Arab villages it’s not like this,” he said. “They also throw Molotov cocktails at Jews, which is more dangerous than rocks, but they are more expensive, so there aren’t as many as rocks.”
Despite the fact that he frequently sees police patrolling the area, Malul said the attacks are so unpredictable that the heightened security still falls short.
“You can’t know when they are going to attack,” he explained.
Meanwhile, Arab resident Suhaib Qaraque, 18, a student at Bethlehem University, said the rock throwing is little more than a manifestation of the ongoing Israeli/ Arab conflict.
“You have people who are Arabs and have their own opinions, which is that Israel took the land and sent refugees outside, which drives anger in some people’s hearts,” he said. “It’s like a can of Coca-Cola – you just keep shaking it and eventually it explodes.
“I don’t agree with any terrorist attack – whether it’s by Israelis or it’s by Arabs – but I would personally tell you that what happened is a small thing [considering] what is happening to Palestinians from Israel,” he continued.
“Living as an Arab in Palestine, which is controlled by Israel, is something that is really, really frustrating because you have lots of things to face in your normal life and you are always treated as if you are not even a second-class citizen, but a third-class citizen.”
Due to the perceived oppressive conditions carried out by the Israeli government, Qaraque said the youths who throw the rocks do not view themselves as terrorists, but as “freedom fighters.”
“They feel that they are fighting back to get the land,” he explained.
Asked how attacking an innocent man and his two daughters on a holiday would help achieve that goal, Qaraque said, “It comes down to how every individual believes he can get back their land, or get back their rights.
“And these people, I would bet one of their uncles was killed by Israel, one of their parents was jailed once, or maybe they were jailed once. And so it’s actually a lot of pressure that causes them to take [action] to get back their freedom.”
While Qaraque contended that “any human being does not want to hurt another person,” he claimed that recent restrictions barring violent Muslim radicals on the Temple Mount only added to ongoing hostilities.
“There is always a minority of people who think in different ways; there are people who believe in peace and there are people who believe in using rocks to get back their rights,” he said.
Moreover, Qaraque opined that jailing minors responsible for deadly rock attacks causes grievous “psychological damage” to the youths.
“What does that mean when Israelis take them to jail when they are under 18 years old?” he asked.
“It means that psychologically he will not become a normal human being.”
Asked what it would take to stop the youths from throwing rocks, Qaraque cited equal rights.
“The solution is at least giving Arabs and Muslims and Palestinians the rights to live here as any other human being,” he said. “And what does that mean? That means cutting racism from the country.
The rocks will stop being thrown when Arabs are treated as equals.”
Gidon, a 27-year-old IDF reservist who requested his last name not be published, said he was not remotely shocked by Levlovitz’s death.
“I’m not surprised because this whole area is attacked basically a couple times a month,” he lamented.
“We have a couple of problematic villages. Arabs come to Armon Hanatziv to attack and pester people.
A couple months ago, there were attacks on Jewish couples.”
The promenade, he said, has become particularly dangerous.
“You have a lot of hooligans who come here to look for fights and look for weak people to attack, and police only [respond] afterwards, but don’t prevent the crime,” he said.
Although Gidon said he has not been the target of a rock attack since he was on active duty, he said attacks in Armon Hanatziv have become commonplace and unpredictable.
“You don’t see it that often because it happens in a split second,” he said. “But we hear about this all the time. It’s not new.”
Asked what needs to be done by police to curb the attacks, Gidon cited harsher punitive measures.
“There needs to be force behind the law. People who throw stones need to know that if I do this crime I’m going to receive the full penalty and full weight of the law. They need to be afraid… because if there’s no consequence for their actions what incentive do they have to change their ways?” he said.
In terms of the present legal limitations police face due the young age of those primarily responsible for the ongoing attacks, Gidon said he agreed with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
’s proposal to treat all rock throwers no differently than terrorists.
“They should be treated like terrorists, it’s assault – it’s taking peoples’ lives,” he said.
“If the families aren’t going to take responsibility to teach their children how to behave in peaceful ways, then the kids are going to have to learn the lesson the hard way until the next generation learns to behave like civilized people.”
Gidon continued: “Listen, it doesn’t matter if a nine-year-old throws a rock at my head or a 20-year-old throws a rock at my head. It’s a physical threat to my life. It doesn’t matter which hand throws the rock. Anyone who tells you any differently has never had a rock thrown at their head.”