One year after ongoing sporadic terrorist attacks engulfed Jerusalem, Arab and Jewish residents on Sunday said they hold diametrically opposed views on the efficacy of security measures implemented by police to curtail the violence.
Against the backdrop of a narrowly thwarted attack near the Damascus Gate on Friday, a NIS 1 billion initiative to build six police stations in flashpoint Arab neighborhoods and efforts to recruit 1,200 more officers, Arab and Jewish opinions reflect wildly divergent experiences.
Standing on Ben Yehuda Street near Zion Square, Dolev Levy, a 21-year-old IDF soldier, said police clearly have the upper hand in the conflict.
“I think the security is very good, and that the people are now ready for all the dangers that come here,” he said. “They have been very strong about it, and we kill anyone who wants to kill us.”
But sushi chef Moshe Salamon, 21, said police still need to be far more aggressive to end the violence.
“I think things are worse now than they were a year ago because the Arabs feel like it is their place, and you can see many more of them in the streets than a year ago,” he said.
While he conceded that there are markedly more officers throughout the capital, spot-checking Arabs far more frequently than last year, Salamon said Jewish residents remain frightened, while Arabs are emboldened.
“Every corner we can see a checkpoint, but they’re still here and they’re not scared; we’re scared,” he said. “Even if you put them in the jails, after a few months they get out. We need to kill them right away for every attempted attack. Their purpose is to kill us, and we need to kill them first.”
Armenian-Israeli resident Zohrab Demerjian, who lives in the Armenian Quarter of the Old City, said that despite frequently being mistaken as Arab by police, and regularly having to present his identification, he feels safer than a year ago.
“It’s not that safe, but it’s safer,” he said. “I always see police on the streets stopping people and asking for their IDs, more than last year, and sometimes they stop me and ask me some questions when I’m walking home past Jaffa Gate. But it doesn’t offend me. They are respectful and are just doing their jobs.”
Noting that there are now two police stations in her east Jerusalem neighborhood, Ras el-Amud, Arab resident Juman Daraghleh, 20, said that while the violence has abated for extended periods, the atmosphere remains dangerously charged.
“It’s less dangerous daily, but it’s still dangerous, and you never know when that will change,” she said. “In a second, everything can change. It might be quiet for a while, but just like on Friday, something could happen.”
Asked how she feels police are handling the situation, Daraghleh said that while she has not encountered many difficulties, the heightened police presence in her community has inflamed tensions between Arab residents and officers patrolling the area.
“I have not had any problems, but my cousins and friends are not treated as well,” she said. “Young people in my neighborhood are throwing rocks and fighting with the police more because there are so many more of them.”
Leota Chalifou, a 61-year-old musician and artist from Oregon who is spending the next three months here, said she feels safer in Israel than in America.
“In America there are drive-by shootings, there is police violence, and in the cities it can be really crazy,” she said. “Here, although it took me a little while to get used to all the police with weapons – because of the stigma in America – I know that they are peaceful. And to see them so often to always be alert, to always be watching, I feel much safer here.”
Moreover, Chalifou said American police have much to learn from Israeli law enforcement.
“Their whole demeanor is different here,” she said. “I don’t want to sound anti-American, but many people in America are fearful of the police, and they actually have good reason to be. But people here appear comfortable with police, because there are so many of them watching, and there’s no fear of them.”
Not so, said Osama Natheh, a 45-year-old Arab optometrist from Shuafat.
“I feel 50% not safe here, because wherever you go you find police and soldiers asking you for your ID and checking you – much more than a year ago,” he said, and noted he is searched an average of two times each week.
“You feel unsafe when you see this, because it is clear they think I am a criminal.”
While acknowledging that the officers who question him have not been aggressive or disrespectful, Natheh said that younger Arabs have not been as fortunate.
“Those who are in their teens or 20s, every day they are checked,” he said. “I think this will create more problems because you don’t feel good when this happens, and inside you feel insecure, and eventually there is a breaking point.”
Natheh continued: “If you are always treated like you are a criminal or are going to do something bad, then you think ‘enough.’ And the younger people feel that there is a problem. Sometimes they don’t leave their homes because they don’t want to see any soldiers or police who will check their IDs.”
Meanwhile, Tzuriel Cohen, 64, a retired elementary school principal, credited the heightened security for preventing more attacks, particularly in Jewish neighborhoods in east Jerusalem.
“I think there is definitely more control in the environment, and Jews can move around more safely – especially in eastern neighborhoods like Pisgat Ze’ev and Ramot,” he said.
“The police now can get into every neighborhood in east Jerusalem without any hesitation, and they have more technical means to follow what is going on there. Since last year, it has been a big improvement, and we hope that it will continue.”