Turbulent times

Should the recent Jewish violence against Arabs be seen as a group of isolated incidents or a wider trend?

Price Tag grafitti 521 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/Jerusalem Post Staff)
Price Tag grafitti 521
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/Jerusalem Post Staff)
Over the past week, several incidents of Jewish violence, some of them severe enough to warrant being deemed terrorism, occurred around the country.
There was the firebombing of a car full of Palestinian Arabs in Gush Etzion, an arson attack outside Nablus suspected of being connected to the “price tag” movement and the beating, nearly to death, of an Arab teenager in Jerusalem’s downtown Zion Square.
Over the past year, reports of Jewish violence against Arab targets have been on the rise. But it is hard to tell precisely what the trends are, as most of the evidence presented is anecdotal.
Hard numbers relating to the phenomenon of Jewish-on-Arab violence are difficult to come by, complicating efforts by observers to say whether this trend of violence has peaked, is increasing or losing steam.
Israel Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld says that the police track neither Jewish violence against Arabs nor Arab violence against Jews and cannot provide statistics on either phenomenon.
Many activists for Arab rights complain that this claim lacks credibility.
Gadi Gvaryahu is among them. In the aftermath of the brutal beating of Jamal Julani in Zion Square, in which the young man almost died of heart complications as a result of his wounds, Gvaryahu, who heads a coalition of organizations opposed to price-tag (tag mehir) violence called Tag Me’ir (“tag of enlightenment”), led a rally in support of victims of internecine violence in the city.
However, despite saying, as many activists have, that the police should have access to hard numbers to explain the trends in violence, Gvaryahu himself only had anecdotal evidence. Such evidence, no matter how damning it might sound, cannot provide a clear picture of a trend, even as it highlights the inhumanity of racially motivated violence, he explained.
“I don’t think that [the recent incidents] are isolated because... if you go back a year and a half, you will see many items in the news about violence around Independence Park,” he says. “Just a simple Google search will reveal many incidents. It has happened before. A year and a half ago at Hatulot Square in Nahalat Shiva, near Independence Park, a very similar incident occurred. They killed a guy, an Arab. The Zion Square beating is a continuation of a trend.”
In a recent open letter to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Gvaryahu wrote that “During the past two years, a dozen mosques have been desecrated, hundreds of car tires have been punctured, olive trees uprooted, shops and bazaars vandalized, threatening graffiti daubed on the homes of high-ranking IDF personnel, and IDF bases have even been penetrated and attacked.”
While decrying price tag, he noted that things are neither one-sided nor simplistic. “That doesn’t mean the Arabs are good boys. The meaning of price tag is that if there is an Arab terror attack... settlers will do something in Hebron. They say, ‘We don’t trust the army or the police so we will have to do things ourselves.’ This is the meaning of price tag attacks.”
Gvaryahu says that his organization is compiling a report on this phenomenon and that when it is ready, it will contain harder numbers than previously available. However, by press time the report was not yet ready.
One victim of threats, though not actual violence, in Jerusalem is Peace Now’s Settlement Watch director Hagit Ofran.
Speaking with In Jerusalem, Ofran was likewise unable to give hard numbers to define the phenomenon, but was clear that it does exist and has gotten worse in recent years, and that she wants it stopped.
“I do remember about a year and a half ago an Arab was killed not far from Zion Square, beaten to death by Jewish youngsters,” she says, recalling the case mentioned by Gvaryahu.
“The guy who killed him got eight years in prison; just about three months ago there was a verdict. Of course there are many stories,” she says. “There were [incidents] in Malha Mall and in Pisgat Ze’ev Mall. There are many incidents of beating Arabs. It happens.
Sometimes we hear about it and sometimes we don’t.”
Sarit Michaeli of B’Tselem, a human rights organization that tracks reported abuses against Palestinian Arabs, was not able to provide any hard numbers to define the trend either. She indicated that she was surprised at the police department’s claim to not have access to such information.
The recent attacks have prompted Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar to call for increased education to head off further violence, and Netanyahu has called for the eradication of Jewish-on-Arab violence.
However, says Daniel Luria of Ateret Cohanim, an organization that promotes Jewish residence in the eastern half of Jerusalem, such condemnations and reports on Jewish violence tell only part of the story.
Luria roundly condemned violence against Arabs and called for its eradication. However, he lamented the fact that numerous cases of Arab violence against Jews in enclaves in east Jerusalem have not elicited the same public outcry.
“There is no question that having a Molotov cocktail thrown by any Jew at any Arab is an offense against the law in a country in which there is law and order. But we have had over a thousand incidents, including hundreds of Molotov cocktails thrown at families in the heart of Jerusalem, and we haven’t heard such bombastic statements from politicians or anyone,” he says. “It’s just unbelievable what’s going on in the heart of the city to the families living in the Shiloah neighborhood and there are no statements from all these politicians. Let’s get things in perspective a little bit.”
Aside from the participation of Jerusalem Arabs in such terror attacks as the Merkaz Harav Yeshiva massacre in 2006 and the 2008 bulldozer terrorist attack, Luria noted, there are daily attacks against Jews in eastern Jerusalem.
“We are talking Molotov cocktails, concrete blocks and washing machines [being thrown from rooftops] and smashing down on vehicles as they are coming into [certain Jewish areas in east Jerusalem]. These are the only Jews in the world where the rabbis get [halachic] permission to put a steel mesh above a succa [for protection].”
This, he says, must be acknowledged in order to lead to better enforcement of the law in both Jewish and Arab communities in the city. •