Letting the thugs rule, on and off the Mount

As long as the thugs are in control, most Arabs will continue publicly assailing Israel even if they quietly support it, just because it’s the safest thing to do.

Police at al-Aksa Mosque, Temple Mount, Jerusalem, October 13, 2014 (photo credit: ISRAEL POLICE)
Police at al-Aksa Mosque, Temple Mount, Jerusalem, October 13, 2014
(photo credit: ISRAEL POLICE)
The scene recurs with monotonous regularity before every Jewish holiday: Jews seek to visit the Temple Mount on the eve of the holiday, and Arabs stage meticulously preplanned riots to prevent them. But last Wednesday, on the eve of Sukkot, it ended in a different manner than usual. Instead of police turning away the Jews to appease the rioters, they fought the rioters and let the visits proceed.
It’s not yet clear whether this represents a new trend: On Sunday, police closed the Mount to non-Muslims again due to fear of rioting; Monday, they fought the rioters and reopened it to visitors. Yet all Israelis should hope it becomes one, because the police’s longstanding reluctance to confront Arab thugs has negative consequences that go far beyond the Temple Mount. Large swathes of Jewish Jerusalem, facing what has been dubbed a “quiet intifada,” have suffered from this reluctance for months. Israeli Arabs nationwide have suffered from it for years. And all hope for improved Jewish-Arab relations in this country remains doomed as long as it persists.
I’ve written before about the dangerous consequences of police capitulation to Arab rioters on the Mount: It denies Jews the fundamental right to pray at Judaism’s holiest site, undermines Israel’s diplomatic case for retaining Jerusalem as its united capital and encourages the Arab belief that violence pays. But while the first two are location-specific evils, the third applies throughout Israel. Hence it’s no surprise that such thuggery has spread.
In Jerusalem, Arab attacks on Jews have skyrocketed in recent months. School buses and cars have been stoned, cars and gas stations torched, houses pelted with Molotov cocktails and even shot at with live bullets – not just in predominantly Arab neighborhoods, but in veteran Jewish neighborhoods like Gilo, Pisgat Ze’ev and French Hill. The light rail has been vandalized so often that over a third of the trains are out of service. Hadassah Hospital on Mount Scopus has been repeatedly pelted with rocks and firebombs, and vehicles drive to and from the nearby army base in convoys, as if through a war zone.
But this violence doesn’t only harm Jerusalem’s Jews; it also harms law-abiding Arab residents of the neighborhoods whence it emanates, like Issawiya and Shuafat. Long before the violence spilled over into Jewish neighborhoods, for instance, thugs were routinely stoning Israeli ambulances that entered Arab neighborhoods. Consequently, ambulances won’t enter without a police escort, and waiting for this escort can waste precious time on life-saving calls. Moreover, in many Arab neighborhoods, the police’s refusal to confront the violence has allowed the thugs to take over completely, leading to rising crime and plummeting personal security. In Shuafat, for instance, “residents said that armed gangs wielding handguns, AK-47 semi-automatic rifles, and M-16 rifles roam the streets,” Nadav Shragai reported in Israel Hayom last month.
And this isn’t true only in east Jerusalem; it’s true of Arab towns nationwide. Because police for years treated Arab towns as no-go areas, they are now awash in illegal weapons, resulting in soaring crime rates. For instance, Arabs constitute 50% of all murder victims and 67% of perpetrators, despite constituting only 20% of Israel’s population.
In fairness, police neglected Arab towns largely because they were unwelcome there; residents often greeted them with riots and barrages of rocks. But 95% of Arabs now deem violence their community’s biggest problem, according to a recent study, and have therefore changed their attitude toward the police. That’s why Arab mayors and Knesset members have been demanding a greater police presence in their towns, and also why Arab mayors and merchants took the lead in trying to quell riots that erupted after Jewish extremists killed teenager  Muhammad Abu Khdeir in July: The law-abiding majority has realized that they are the main victims when police cede control to the thugs; both their security and their ability to earn a living suffers.
Yet the police’s unwillingness to confront Arab thugs doesn’t just hurt Arabs and Jews individually; it also undermines their ability to live together. Clearly, when thugs control Arab neighborhoods, Jews are afraid to visit and patronize Arab businesses. But in addition, ordinary Arabs are afraid to challenge the thugs’ anti-Israel party line.
Last month, for instance, Israel Hayom reported that an Arab teen had been forced to flee the country by the death threats he received after courageously making a video denouncing the kidnapping of three Israeli teens in June. Father Gabriel Nadaf, a Christian Arab who supports Arab service in the IDF and defended Israel last month at the UN Human Rights Council, has seen his son attacked and hospitalized because of his views. In both cases, police failed miserably to protect them from the thugs. So why would other Arabs want to follow their example?
Few people are heroes; most just want to live a quiet life. Thus as long as the thugs are in control, most Arabs will continue publicly assailing Israel even if they quietly support it, just because it’s the safest thing to do.
It’s important to note that little of this Arab thuggery is spontaneous. In last Wednesday’s incident on the Temple Mount, for instance, the rioters built barricades in advance, stockpiled rocks, firebombs, fireworks, metal pipes and concrete slabs, then slept on the Mount Tuesday night to be ready to start rioting bright and early. The “quiet intifada” in Jerusalem is similarly well-organized, Shragai reported: In each neighborhood, a Palestinian faction like Fatah, Hamas, the DFLP or the PFLP is in charge; the rioters have been trained to resist interrogation; the Palestinian Authority pays their legal fees; and someone as yet unknown is providing the thousands of shekels spent on their newest weapon of choice, fireworks.
In short, this is organized crime. And for the sake of Jews and Arabs alike, it’s vital that police make a determined effort to stop it instead of seeking to appease the thugs by such tactics as barring Jews from the Mount or failing to enforce the law in Arab towns and neighborhoods. Only in this way will Jews and Arabs alike be able to enjoy not only security, but genuine coexistence.
Evelyn Gordon is a journalist and commentator. Follow her on twitter here.