Jerusalem brawl 370.
(photo credit: Avraham Bergman, News 24)
One adult and eight minors were indicted on Tuesday for their alleged role in
the brutal attack two weeks ago on a 17- year-old Palestinian boy in downtown
Jerusalem. That attack, which came on the heels of the firebombing of a
Palestinian taxi in the southern West Bank the week before, which had injured
six people, produced a debate in the Israeli media, public and political
To their credit, politicians from across the spectrum all but
uniformly decried the attacks and called for the perpetrators to be prosecuted
However, in their analysis of the contributing factors and
the implications of the attacks, people’s reactions tended to be shaped by their
broader political affiliation.
Pundits and politicians on the Left were
inclined to respond by wringing their hands in grief, casting the perpetrators
as apt representatives of Israeli society as a whole, which they described as
being awash with mounting hatred of Arabs and other forms of
They cited the ongoing occupation and the toxic political
atmosphere allegedly created by the government as two of the primary causes of
this disturbing state of affairs.
Alternately, pundits and politicians on
the Right were more inclined to describe the perpetrators as “errant weeds,”
hoodlums and delinquents whose actions were not representative of the norms of
tolerance and equality championed and practiced by Israeli
Blinded by political dogma to the nuances and many shades of
gray that make up reality, neither side was entirely correct in its assessment
and both regrettably offered only superficial and stilted views of the
complexities that coexist in maddening contradiction in Israel.
Left’s indictment of Israeli society as a whole was excessive, an overstatement
by any reasonable account. Anyone who happened to walk through the streets of
downtown Jerusalem on the days after the attack would have seen Arab
individuals, groups and families strolling, shopping, talking, eating and going
about other mundane affairs without fear – and for good reason. They were not
harassed, attacked, or otherwise mistreated by the tens of thousands of Israeli
Jews who were on the streets, going about their daily business. The racist
attack that nearly ended in the death of Jamal Julani was certainly the
exception and not the norm.
The Right’s attempt to dismiss the attack in
Jerusalem and other attacks that target Arabs solely because they are Arabs as
the acts of lone hoodlums conveniently ignores manifestations of racism that
most certainly do exist in Israeli society. Jewish Israelis who consciously
choose to hire Jews rather than Arabs to paint their house, refuse to rent their
apartments to Arab Israeli citizens or shop only in Jewish-owned stores are all
guilty of racism. That is the brutal truth, even if the people in question would
never take part in an attack on Arabs and, given the opportunity, would
intervene to stop such an attack.
Of course, racism in Israel stems to a
great extent from the national struggle in which Israel remains embroiled to
this day. More saliently, it stems from the confusion and conflation between the
individual and the national that the ongoing conflict has created in Israelis’
minds. This is sometimes directed outwardly toward the Arab, sometimes inwardly
toward the Jewish Israeli subject, but often in both directions to varying
When the owner of an apartment in Jerusalem’s French Hill
neighborhood, for example, refuses to rent his or her property to an Arab, the
reason is usually not a crude, “redneck” brand of racist elitism, but the
imputation of a broader national agenda to the Arab individual seeking to rent.
It would seem self-evident that most prospective Arab tenants are primarily
intent on finding housing that meets their needs and those of their family and
are not agents in the service of a grand plot to undermine Israel’s hold on east
Jerusalem in a final status arrangement. But the national consideration in the
apartment-owner’s mind produces what is nevertheless a racist
Despite disavowal on the Right, the occupation has exacerbated
racist trends among many Israelis in that it has kept the “national” struggle
permanently in the foreground.
By perpetuating a “them versus us”
situation and frame of mind, the occupation has contributed significantly to
Israeli tendencies to view Arabs less as individuals and more as members of an
adversarial group pitted against the putative “us.”
Within the extreme
reaches of the right wing it has produced particularly ugly phenomena, such as
so-called “price tag” attacks, in which Arab individuals and their property are
targeted not because of offenses that they are believed to have committed as
individuals but, rather, because they are Arabs. Just as Jewish Israelis are
horrified when individuals are targeted in terror attacks merely by virtue of
being Jews and/or Israelis, so too must morally thinking Jews abhor attacks that
indiscriminately attack a person, his property or a holy place merely because
the victim is an Arab.
The hoodlums who committed the attack in Jerusalem
are not representative of the norms upheld by an overwhelming majority of
Israelis, settlers included, just as the perpetrators of “price tag” terrorism
are not representative of the overwhelming majority of settlers.
to deny the impact the “them or us” mentality entrenched by the occupation has
had on Israelis, and particularly among the perpetrators of hate crimes, is to
be willfully blind to a sad truth.
The author is a veteran Israeli writer