Trouble in paradise

Neither police nor municipality is able to provide satisfactory answers to attack victims or ‘In Jerusalem’ about safety of the city’s parks.

Jogger in dark Jerusalem park 521 (photo credit: marc israel sellem)
Jogger in dark Jerusalem park 521
(photo credit: marc israel sellem)
About a year ago, Ayelet Becker (not her real name) suddenly felt a man jump up behind her in broad daylight, as she was walking along Ma’alot Beni, the path just past the Sultan’s Pool that runs through Jerusalem’s Mitchell Garden and northeast toward the Zion Gate of the Old City.
“I was screaming – there are lots of bushes there,” she says, noting that the teenage Arab boy had her pinned down on the floor and that she was lucky to be wearing tights. “Thank God a boy came down and scared him away.”
“If the boy hadn’t come, I don’t know what would have happened,” says Becker, noting that she had been screaming for about five minutes straight before the boy – a small child – came down, as it is difficult to hear screams outside the dense shrubbery there.
Unfortunately, Becker’s experience in one of Jerusalem’s many parks hardly seems to be a rare occurrence of late, as more and more attack victims are reporting and speaking about their personal incidents. And in the wake of Saturday’s fatal stabbing in a forest near Beit Shemesh, victims’ concerns, like those of Becker, about improving safety in the city’s outdoor oases could not ring more true.
The police were unable to provide any statistics for crime or attack rates in Jerusalem’s parks because such figures simply do not exist, confirms spokesman Micky Rosenfeld.
“There are police patrols carried out in those parks as part of our standard police patrols. The majority of patrols are carried out by foot and with the national police units as well as the Border Police,” Rosenfeld said. “This is done in order to prevent crimes from taking place in open areas and to step up patrols especially in the evening hours when members of the public are visiting these places.”
When asking about some issues that Becker in particular complained of, such as two precincts refusing to claim responsibility for a certain park, or police officers ignoring her requests to turn in her attacker, In Jerusalem received no response.
The municipality would not comment specifically on the violence in the city’s parks and whether or not the city had seen an increase in recent months and years, saying that these facts belong to the police department. But the office did provide information about efforts being made to control violence among teenagers, who victims have said are responsible for most of these attacks.
“The violence phenomenon among teenager is a national phenomenon of all ages and all sectors,” says Elie Isaacson, spokesperson for Mayor Nir Barkat, in a statement to IJ. “In the Division for the Advancement of Youth, a lot of efforts are being made to deal with this phenomenon – including operating special programs to prevent violence and a program in which the parents will be there with teachers and police. Currently, the division operates various programs to prevent violence in sports fields with the help of 40 teenagers. In addition, the teenagers are assigned to sports programs, theater, music, dancing and more, and all of that is to prevent teenagers’ negative activities. It’s worth pointing out that in places where the programs are run, there is a tendency to decrease in violence.”
He says that the mayor particularly sees the importance in a nationwide initiative called City without Violence, which runs programs throughout the country in order to change the individual social climates that might be instigating the crime.
“In agreement with the interior minister, he has decided to run the project in the city,” Isaacson says. “The city hall staff is working on advancing the project.”
Becker feels that any apparent surge in crime rates is not particular to the times, and explains that “it’s not something new” at all, but merely a phenomenon that recurs in cycles, in her opinion.
“I remember when I was seven years old – we used to go to the Tayelet [the promenade in Talpiot] all the time, and for a while, we didn’t go because someone was stabbed,” she says.
Another woman, Old City resident and previous attack victim Eve Solomon, agrees with Becker that there probably isn’t technically a rise in park crimes today, and that instead the violence happens in waves, in areas that attackers have deemed immune from prosecution.
“It feels like a rise in the activity because over the course of a few months, there are a lot of attacks,” Solomon says. “In general in the world, there is a rise. The research that has been done shows television has actually caused so much damage to the young mind that they don’t think it’s a problem to sexually harass women. Because of television shows, they think that women enjoy some kinds of attention.
“Any area that is more isolated than others will have more tendency to promote attacks,” she continues. “What usually happens is that there’s one creep who figures out that there’s a spot that women usually come alone,” until they are caught.
Immediately following her own attack, Becker says she rushed to report the incident to the police, suggesting that perhaps they should place a more permanent guard unit in the area. But she learned that this was impossible, because the two local police units couldn’t even decide to whom that area belonged.
“They have a dispute over who the hill belongs to. It’s in between two offices and no one knows who it belongs to,” Becker says.
When she went to go speak with police officers in the Old City, she says they told her that the hill was under the jurisdiction of two different stations. “When I went to the first, they said it belongs to the other,” and vice versa, she explains.
As a result, she concludes, no one took responsibility.
Aside from the confusion between the two precincts as to who should claim responsibility for this case, Becker says she was never able to get the police to arraign her attacker for questioning, even though she made sure to point him out to area police officers when she has seen him in her neighborhood multiple times.
“I’ve seen the guy who attacked me a couple times, on the bus, etc.,” she says. “These things just keep on happening and no one’s doing anything about it.”
Temporarily, she adds, the Old City community created neighborhood patrols to watch over the area, but after some time, these too were dispelled. And particularly in her family, the lack of security in this area continues to have repercussions.
“A few weeks ago, my niece, also in the middle of the day, was attacked the same way as I was,” Becker says, noting that the 17-year-old girl is now regularly attending counseling as a therapeutic response for the trauma undertaken – just as she had, following her own attack.
“During the day, you usually think that if you’re walking around, you’re safe,” Becker adds, forebodingly, noting that this route is an everyday path frequented by pedestrians heading from the Emek Refaim neighborhood to the Old City.
“It’s crazy that our kids can’t walk home.”
In the same area where both Becker and her niece were attacked, she says her friend’s mother was choked by a teenage Arab male. The attackers do not commit these crimes out of bravery, she says, but rather because they know there will be no consequences, that “nothing would happen” in response.
BECKER’S EXPERIENCE is by no means an isolated incident. Not too far away, several people have complained of similar attack attempts along the promenade in Talpiot, which borders on the neighborhoods of Abu Tor and Jebl Mukaber.
Becker calls the Tayelet the “main artery” that connects the German Colony, Arnona and Armon Hanatziv – a vital shortcut for people looking to get quickly to the Old City.
On November 19, Ilana Teitelbaum and her husband were leaving a Shabbat dinner in Armon Hanatziv on their way home, and decided to walk on the street parallel to the Tayelet instead of on the promenade itself because of a prior shady encounter. After saying good-bye to a friend, the couple walked along the Tayelet briefly and then crossed over to the parallel Rehov Daniel Yanovsky.
“We were on Daniel Yanovsky and this guy was leaning out of his car to throw [a rock],” Teitelbaum said. “He took a swing, and it hit me extremely hard because the car was speeding. And it bounced off my shoulder 10 feet away.”
Upset, she and her husband ran away as quickly as they could, despite the fact that Teitelbaum’s arm was still in pain from being pelted.
“The reason I had expressed concerned about walking along the Tayelet on Friday night was that the last time we walked through there on a Friday night, we were on the side of the Tayelet with another couple, and these guys grouped together on the sidewalk right in front of us as if to block our way. One of them said something that I couldn’t understand, of course, and it was very frightening for me. So I wanted to find an alternate route,” she says.
And it turned out that her alternate route proved just as dangerous as the first one.
Immediately following the attack, Teitelbaum and her husband went to the local Terem emergency medical center to get her wound treated, which she says “was a very severe bruise, a contusion.”
During her attempts to report the incident, Teitelbaum says she found the police to be of little help.
“When I called the police on motzei Shabbat [Saturday night], the first person I spoke to was a woman who berated me for not calling on Friday night.”
Meanwhile, she adds, “they said they couldn’t do anything if I didn’t go to Armon Hanatziv” – essentially, back to the scene of the traumatic incident, a spot that Teitelbaum says she was unwilling to revisit.
“My husband started a Facebook group that we need to put pressure on our police to enforce laws in our city’s public spaces,” she says. It came out that other friends had heard of [the dangers] or had been attacked.”
The group, called “I believe Jerusalem’s parks should be safe,” had 52 members at the time of publication.
Teitelbaum says that friends of hers have also expressed fears in particular of the city center Independence Park, which she describes as always containing “needles and strange people,” she says. “Everybody knows is just horrible at night. It’s a great shortcut to get from one place to another.” Again, as she learned from members of her Facebook group, Teitelbaum emphasizes that she’s not the only one that this has happened to.
“At the Friday night meal right before I was stoned, one of the guests at the meal said he was once walking on the Tayelet during the day and somebody was following him behind the bushes, and every time he turned around this person was there. He said he just managed to make it to his bike in time and get away.”
That guest, Shmuel Weisfeld, spoke about that incident with In Jerusalem and the lucky escape he was able to make because he spotted his attacker from a distance.
Weisfeld says he had just exited the Tayelet and entered the Shalom Forest, ready to begin a daytime hike about a month ago. He entered the forest through one of two entrances – the towers rather than the roadside.
“I was sitting there minding my own business,” says Weisfeld, who moved to Armon Hanatziv only three months ago.
“About 200 meters away, there was an Arab staring at me, hiding behind a tree.
He stealthily and slowly started making his way to the tower. He was being very quiet, but he didn’t know I could see him.”
“If I hadn’t noticed him, he would’ve just come after me,” Weisfeld continues.
“I decided to move and I got to my bike and he started running after me.”
For about 40 to 50 seconds, Weisfeld says the man chased him on foot but eventually gave up since the bicycle was clearly faster.
“The entrance to the Shalom Forest from the [east] side is Arab villages,” Weisfeld says of the area. “There’s no border, no checkpoints. People can just walk out there. It’s a dodgy place.”
In Weisfeld’s opinion, the entire Tayelet and forest area is quite spooky, if not outright dangerous.
“Anybody that you speak to feels that it is dodgy,” he says. “It’s not like walking through Sacher Park. It has an air of hostility about – it’s very weird actually.”
“I remember I used to go there at night to look at the vista, and police would show up all the time,” Weisfeld says, noting that there is a strong police presence there from time to time, but he thinks a more permanent presence is necessary. “It’s such a beautiful place and it’s a shame there’s such hostility there. Just the fact that the police have to be there indicates a danger.”
In addition to an increased police presence in the area, Weisfeld argues that something as simple as more streetlights could provide safer passage for pedestrians at night.
“There are no lights there at night,” he says. “It’s completely dark.”
EVE SOLOMON, who has lived in the Old City for the past 25 years, had an additional idea – a method for potential victims, predominantly women, to protect themselves before a violent incident can take its worst toll. Solomon volunteers and sits on the board for the El Halev organization in Talpiot, a self-defense training center run by Yudit Sidikman.
“Most women in the world are challenged with some sort of harassment issues at some point in their lives. It could be as simple as someone putting their hand on your shoulder,” Solomon says. “A person can absorb it severely if it’s not a welcome touch.
“The fact is that half of what it takes to get through a severe-moment-like attack is really the confidence to know you can do it,” continues Solomon, who herself knows judo. “You don’t need skill necessarily, you don’t need a black belt, you don’t need a white belt. You need to stand there and make the other person who is facing you believe that you are so much more confident than they are.”
And that’s exactly what Solomon did during a dangerous incident she walked into, even though she knew she was no judo black belt. She herself has never been attacked in a park – though she has many acquaintances who have been – but she did once make use of her selfdefense skills during an attack in an Old City alleyway, when she believes she prevented an attack by a man on his mother.
Without the confidence instilled in her by her knowledge of judo and skills drilled into her head at El Halev, Solomon doubts that she would have been able to resolve the situation in the same way, and she recommends a similar preparedness for all people, and especially women, who might encounter such dangers at some point.
“If you can imagine a situation if you are absolutely in the most vulnerable position, him on top of you, and you think there’s no way to get out, El Halev teaches you how to get out of it,” she says, noting that the skills can also help out male family members.
For examples, she explains, one father who simply observed his daughter’s tactics from the course was able to ward off four attackers in a Jerusalem park using the skills she had learned.
“All they got were his cell phone and his shoes.”
While Solomon recognizes the dangers that are present in so many of Jerusalem’s parks and outdoor recreation sites, she still does not advocate avoiding the places entirely.
“I don’t think that you should walk alone through a park, but there’s no reason you have to change. If I never walk past Gan Hapa’amon [Liberty Bell Garden] because someone might jump out of the street, then I’m being a victim.”
After all, these parks are among the city’s most “spectacular spots in Jerusalem,” as Teitelbaum agrees, and it would be a “great shame” to not spend time in such places due to other people’s fearmongering.
Teitelbaum adds, “For me, the issue is simply that these parks are beautiful and people who live in the city should be able to enjoy them and not be afraid to go to them.”