As Jewish boys no older than 10 silently lit a candle memorial in the form of a Star of David behind a metal partition in the Old City’s Arab Quarter on Wednesday, shoving matches between young Palestinian men and police nearly escalated into a fullscale riot less than 20 meters away.
Nearby, dozens of heavily armed Border Police and riot officers who were not involved in the scuffle maintained steely and alert stares at a group of enraged Muslim youths denied passage on Hagai Street, near Lion’s Gate, following the second terrorist attack there in five days.
Amid the tense scene, shouts of “Am Yisrael Chai!” (The people of Israel lives!) and “We are not afraid!” could be heard over a loudspeaker, as a group of yeshiva students wearing blue T-shirts inscribed in Hebrew with those same words, defiantly waved Israeli flags.
Donny Jacobowitz, 17, and his two yeshiva classmates, waited patiently for police to allow them to continue down the street, as officers forcefully removed shouting Arab men from the area that had been cordoned off.
“Obviously I’m a little nervous walking around here, but the ideals overcome the fear,” said Jacobowitz, as he watched the melee play out a few meters away. “Jerusalem is our holiest city, and we have to fight for it.”
Terror stabbing in Jerusalem (Video: Medabrim Tikshoret)
He added that he did not blame the police for the two recent nearby terrorist attacks: one that took the lives of Rabbi Nehemia Lavie and Aharon Banita on Saturday night, and one in which a Jewish man was stabbed in the neck by Palestinian woman Wednesday morning.
“The police are trying,” he said. “It’s the fault of Arabs.”
While conceding that the bloodshed provokes anxiety, classmate Pesach Blacher said he would not be cowed by fear.
“I’m a little bit afraid, but I think that now, with everything that’s going on, it’s very important for Jews to walk through this area to show we’re not afraid to be here,” he said. “We need to look at what’s really important, and not let fear get in the way.”
Yosef Schechter, 18, echoed his friends’ sentiments.
“We want to show the world that we are here and that we’re not going to leave Jerusalem,” he said. “We’re going to stay here even if they kill us and stab us. This is ours, and they’re not going to take it away.”
Schechter continued: “Two thousand years of being outside Israel is enough; now we’re here. We came back, and we’re going to stay here.”
However, Habib Hroub, a middle-aged Arab shop owner on Hagai Street, rebuffed claims of Jewish sovereignty in Jerusalem. When asked about the conflict surrounding the Temple Mount, Hroub shouted “It’s not the Temple Mount, it’s al-Aksa Mosque! If you say ‘Temple Mount’ again you can get out!” According to Hroub, the violence stems from “the Jews trying to take over al-Aksa.”
He said he did not believe Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s repeated assurances that the status quo at the contested holy site would not be changed.
“If they didn’t want to take it over, why stop Muslims from going there and make age restrictions?” he asked.
Hroub added that he did not believe police accounts of Saturday and Wednesday’s terrorist attacks.
“There was no stabbing,” he said. “They shot him because he said ‘Allahu Akbar.’ I didn’t see anything with my eyes… The Old City is for Arabs and the Jews should stay away.
They steal the homes of the Arabs.”
“All of these problems are because of the Jews,” he added.
Michael, a 22-year-old tour guide who asked that his last name not be published, said he was born and raised in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, and had never seen tensions so volatile.
“The situation in the Old City right now is as bad as I have ever seen it, and I wish it would stop because the Jewish people really want quiet,” he said wearily. “Nobody wants to kill Arabs, and I’m sure most of the people on the Arab side want quiet as well.”
Still, Michael acknowledged that there is a fanatical element within Arab society that cannot be contained. “They don’t want quiet, they want to fight and kill Jewish people.”
He contended that incessant Arab incitement has attracted thousands of young violent Palestinians to the Old City.
“They come to Jerusalem just because they want to fight,” he said. “They don’t go to school or work; they’re coming to make trouble, that’s it.”
Meanwhile, when a young ultra-Orthodox man pushing his infant’s stroller down Hagai Street toward the center of the storm was asked if he was nervous, he issued a broad, yet calm, smile.
“No, I’m happy,” he replied.
“We live in Jerusalem.”