Living alongside Isaweea is an adventure that provides insights into larger issues about Israel and the Middle East.
We''ve been here for 20 years, and have never visited the neighborhood 200 meters to the east. Arab friends have urged us to stay away, for our own good.
Twice in the last 18 months, Jews have driven into Isaweea by mistake, and barely escaped with their lives. Also on two separate occasions we have witnessed early evening attacks on young Jewish women who were jogging in French HIll. The attackers were young men who ran in the direction of Isaweea when interrupted. One victim was the daughter of close friends, who we have known since she was a little girl. We didn''t know the other victim, but it was us who yelled, caused the perpetrator to run, called the police on a cell phone and stayed with the young woman, shocked and crying but otherwise unhurt, until official help arrived.
The nature of Arab attacks follow patterns. Some years ago it was fashionable for young Arab men using kitchen knives to attack Jews at bus stops or walking on the sidewalk. At the time, we told our children, then in primary school or junior high, to respect Arabs, but also to step aside if they noticed an Arab walking behind them, in order to let the Arab go ahead of them.
It was also a practice for residents of Isaweea to lob stones onto cars from a cliff that overlooked the main road from the northern area of Jerusalem to the Jordan Valley. The initial response was to use intelligence assets in the neighborhoods (locals called "stinkers") to identify the culprits. Authorities also installed strong lights to illuminate the cliff top at night, and eventually moved the roadbed further away from the cliff face.
Observers might call that multi-force coping to deal with a nuisance that is life threatened. Imagine a sizable stone landing on your car when driving at highway speed.
Currently one of the popular activities is setting fires in open fields, rendered dry by the summer heat.There have been thousands of fires throughout the country, and more than 200 in the Jerusalem area. Firefighters say that most have been set.
Last week the police arrested two youths from Isaawea who admitted to setting fires in the area.
At stake is more than dry scrub. The gas station on the border between Isaweea and French Hill is alongside a field used by the Bedouin of Isaweea for their sheep and goats. The gas station is an attractive target for Arab extremists, even though its management and employees are Arabs. Often there is a contingent of Border Police stationed there. This is Israel''s gendarmerie with Druze and Bedouin recruits along with Jews from poorer urban neighborhoods.
I talked to a group of Border Police trainees on one of my assignments in the IDF lecture corps. It was during the first intifada, and the policy of the lecture corps was to urge restraint. Beating Arabs with batons did not play well on international TV. I was introduced as a soldier who was also a professor. When I finished my talk, one of the trainees raised his hand. "Professor, you should know that a lot of us here like to hurt people."
Twice in recent months we have seen the beginnings of smoke coming from the field alongside the gas station, and did our citizens'' duty by calling the fire brigade. When we identified the source of the smoke, we were asked if it is close to Isaweea. If close to Isaweea, the fire brigade will send a unit staffed by Arabs, thus reducing the chances of being stoned by residents intent on doing what they can against the Jews.
Isaweea is a neighborhood in Jerusalem, so there is no barrier between us and them. The village of Atarot not much further away from us. That is not in the Jerusalem municipality, and it is east of a three meter high wall.
Most of our contacts with people from Isaweea are anything but hostile. We''ve gotten to know some of them, at least enough to say hello, from meeting them on our walks around French Hill. We share the sidewalks, post office,as well as the bank, supermarket and coffee houses of the French Hill shopping center. Boys and young men from Isaweea play football in the schoolyard that abuts our apartment. On rare occasions we have seen Jews and Arabs playing together or against one another. Occasionally a ball sails onto our balcony, or into an open window. Whether it comes from a Jewish or an Arab group, it typically brings a knock on our door, an apology, and a request for the ball.
On a few occasions we have found sizable stones thrown into our apartment, without a forthcoming apology. And school personnel have found "Fuck the Jews" scrawled on their walls.
Arabs celebrate their weddings with fireworks. They used to fire guns into the air, with the occasional injury or fatality when the bullet landed on a celebrant or a neighbor. The police and community leaders worked out an arrangement whereby firearms (most likely illegal) would give way to fireworks.
For us, the result is an occasional display, with no fear of being on our balcony to watch it, and to hear the music that comes along with the party.
Some of our neighbors object to loud Arab music that may continue from a wedding party into the wee hours. Others feel that the calls to prayer, especially that which comes early in the morning, are made especially loud to annoy the Jews. For us, annoyance is a price of co-existence.
There are also sounds from the village that are more likely gun shots than fireworks. Sometimes it is not clear whether we are hearing a celebration or confrontation. When the noise of explosions coincides with a police helicopter circling overhead, we assume that it is not a wedding party.
Virtually all employees of the municipality who work as street cleaners and gardeners are Arabs. We meet them in the neighborhood, some of them with a friendly greeting for people they see regularly.
There is also a Jew who stands out as an exception in his municipal uniform. His appearance and Hebrew mark him as one of the eastern communities, perhaps a Yemenite or Kurd. He asked if I would accept a religious booklet. It was a collection of Biblical wisdom compiled by a son of Maimonides, and fits with this note.
"Accustom yourself to speak all your words with gentleness to all people at all times. This will protect you from anger - which is an unfavorable trait that brings people to sin. . . . And when you free yourself from anger, the trait of humility will enter your heart - for this is the finest quality of all favorable traits. . . . And now my son know and observe, that the one who is haughty in his heart over his fellow creatures, rebels against the Kingdom of heaven. . . . It is found that all is equal before the Omnipresent, because with His anger He makes the haughty fall, and with His will he raises up the fallen. Thus lower yourself and Hashem will raise you. . . . Therefore I will advise you how you should be accustom yourself to the trait of humility - to act with it always. All your words should be said with calmness, and your head should be bowed. Lower your eyes down to the ground, and direct your heart upward. And do not stare at a person when you speak with them. Each person should seem greater than you in your eyes - if he is more wise or wealthy than yourself, it is upon you to honor him. . . . If he is needy and you are wealthier or wiser, think in your heart that you are more obligated in your deeds than him and he is more meritorious than you when he does good deeds. Because if he transgresses, it is unintentional, and if you do, it is deliberate."
Good advice, but not always easy to remember so close to Isaweea.
The encounter with a Jew doing work usually done by Arabs also reminded me of a story about Jews who worked in construction before that was taken over by Arabs.
A boy and asked grandpa what he used to do.. "I worked in construction and built houses."
"Gee, grandpa, I didn''t know you were an Arab."