The ‘Shabbat shalom’ wars

These people attempt to persuade the ‘heathen’ by putting dumpsters in the road, by throwing trash around and burning it.

By ALLISON BARLOW
August 20, 2011 21:44
4 minute read.
haredim stand in street

haredim 311. (photo credit: John Backtane)

 
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The writer immigrated to Israel two years ago and teaches English at an international school in Jerusalem.

I can’t believe he’s still late when he knows I’m already mad at him! Ring, ring! That’s him now. He’d better have a good excuse.

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“I’ve been attacked.”

I don’t even have to ask. I know who attacked him.

Every Saturday afternoon, a few hours before Shabbat, the Orthodox Jews come out of Mea She’arim to riot on Hanevi’im Street. Why? Because the rest of the world doesn’t keep Shabbat.

These people attempt to persuade the ‘heathen’ by putting dumpsters in the road, by throwing trash around and burning it, by throwing rocks at passing cars, and by shouting, “Shaaaaaabbbbbaaaaaasssss!” like a horde of zombies. And the most disgusting thing about it is that the majority of the rioters are young boys; even children hurl trash and insults at passing cars.

I don’t think they’ve persuaded anybody yet.

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But what they have done is inconvenience and anger people.

And now, they’ve begun attacking them.

A few weeks ago, I was driving back to Jerusalem from the Galilee with my boyfriend Anis. We were both commenting on how nice it was to be out of the city for a while to breathe lighter air. But we both felt the familiar Jerusalem tension return and build within us as we arrived and drove deeper into the Holy City. As we were driving up Hanevi’im Street, a couple of punk kids were still standing at the street corner trying to provoke people. We gently swerved around trash and a big dumpster when a 12-year-old boy looked us in the eye before kicking a large plastic box directly in our way.

The build-up of tension in Anis snapped, and he slammed on his brakes, yanked the emergency brake, and got out of the car, ready to chase the kid down.

The kid saw Anis’s anger and aggression, and took off.

If it hadn’t been for my desperate shouts of “Please don’t, please don’t, please don’t!” I don’t know what would have happened. But I do know that a story of an Arab going after an Orthodox kid would make for good headlines, and a long prison sentence.

We used to laugh at the riots. Every week, I can hear them from my living room, and laughing at them is how those of us who live on Hanevi’im survive. We can’t afford to have every Saturday ruined by them.

But this Saturday, I couldn’t laugh (this is how I know that living in Jerusalem has changed me).

Instead of finding a large group of strangely dressed men shouting, “Shaaaaaabbbaaaaaaassss!” amusing, I got angry. I think it’s because I could sense that they were becoming aggressive.

Or maybe I was angry because I was somehow able to sense the phone call I would be getting minutes later.

“As I was driving slowly to avoid the trash, 200 Orthodox men surrounded my car. They began punching and kicking it, and then opened my door and started grabbing at me. I tried to close the door, but they wouldn’t let me. So I got out of the car with them grabbing me and shouting, ‘Shmor Shabbat [keep Shabbat]!’ in my face, and in one big sweep, shoved them all away. I then got in my car, slammed the door shut, and sped off.”

Immediately following the attack, Anis and I went to report it at the police station.

But nothing was done about it. The police show up, but don’t do anything. In response to the report we filed, we received a letter from them saying they are not going to investigate the case.

The reason given? Because “there was no criminal activity.” I guess attacking people and their property is not considered criminal activity in this country.

We know that the police are frustrated because they aren’t choosing to be ineffective; they are directed to be ineffective. As the police officer who took our complaint lamented, because the Orthodox were given such autonomy during the time of Ben- Gurion’s enthusiastic Zionism, allowing them to do as they please without consequences has become a habit which has continued until today. The police want to do more, but their hands are tied. Why? Because these kicking, punching, grabbing, trash-burning, rock-throwing ‘Orthodox’ are still invulnerable by decree of the government.

AS AN American, I am sensitive to my rights. When I’ve been in other (developed) countries, I’ve often been shocked at how the violations of a person’s rights were treated with indifference. The story of Anis being attacked didn’t end with any injuries, there wasn’t any sensational action to grab hold of, and it was nothing compared with the violence Jerusalem is used to, so I think it can be easy for people to shrug it off. Especially in this country, where being crazy is just being normal.

But let’s step outside Jerusalem and imagine these events happening in, say, Marshall, Michigan. There would be outrage! There would be constant media coverage! And most importantly, something would be done about it.

Sounds reasonable to me.

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