Suffering in silence

East Talpiot residents say violence against them has not abated, with some blaming police inaction.

Rock-throwing shatters a window in an East Talpiot home. (photo credit: GIL SCHECHTER)
Rock-throwing shatters a window in an East Talpiot home.
(photo credit: GIL SCHECHTER)
Last week, Gil Schechter’s neighbors threw a Molotov cocktail at his house.
Violence in Schechter’s southeast Jerusalem neighborhood of East Talpiot has been on the rise again of late, and while it has not yet reached the level experienced during the second half of last year, some residents seem quite worried.
This has been especially true since the arson attack in the village of Duma a week and a half ago which killed Palestinian toddler Ali Dawabsha, said the 42-year-old father of four.
A member of the neighborhood’s security committee, he blames much of the violence suffered by residents on those living in the adjacent Arab community of Jebl Mukaber.
Schechter was widely interviewed by Israeli media when violence by local Arabs reached a crescendo following Israel’s entry into the Gaza Strip last summer.
Angered over the conflict as well as the July killing of Palestinian teen Muhammad Abu Khdeir by Jewish extremists, city Arabs engaged in violent protests, rock-throwing and other, more extreme, actions.
At the time, the police “were playing cat and mouse with people throwing rocks at our house,” Schechter recalled.
“Nothing changed. Things were getting out of hand, so we contacted the police and publicized all the information we had – like sending them videos of the riots, rock-throwing, waving [of Palestinian] flags, etc. All of a sudden we got attention; we had the public security minister [and other officials] come. We had soldiers guarding the house around the clock last September until December. We thought they would calm down in the winter.”
While things did indeed calm down since that nadir in the neighborhood’s fortunes, things have again begun deteriorating.
A day before Dawabsha’s murder, police announced they had made seven arrests in connection with a string of attacks on Jews walking through the Jerusalem promenade, a major area tourist attraction.
Those detained were residents of Abu Tor, a nearby neighborhood.
There were several “serious attacks,” such as the beating of a Jewish man by five Arabs and another in which a couple was assaulted with brass knuckles, police said.
Speaking with The Jerusalem Post reporter Daniel Eisenbud, one resident pinned the blame on the police for what she called inadequate security, citing the presence of Arabs who “park their cars on the promenade, burn things and ride horses.”
While she said that things are indeed improving, it should not have taken so long.
Two days later things again took a turn for the worse, Schechter charged.
“Last Thursday night and early Friday morning, when the Duma arson took place, 20 to 50 terrorists decided to get up and start throwing rocks at the house at 2:30 a.m.
Police came later on but didn’t do anything,” he recounted.
“I decided to go away this past Shabbat. Turns out on Friday night, these guys played a dirty trick on the police. They were rioting in one place, then two men went to the other side and actually firebombed my house. They started a fire with some of the bushes and some of the trees caught fire.
“I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I do not feel secure. The police are being very gentle with [the perpetrators].”
When a big riot occurs the police show up, but when it is small they don’t, he further asserted.
Schechter showed In Jerusalem video clips of Arabs shooting off fireworks in the middle of the night. It is a common occurrence, he contended, adding that one of his children now suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Asked about the issue, a municipality spokesman told this reporter that security is the “responsibility of the Israel Police,” but that over the past year the city has instituted a number of measures to increase security in East Talpiot – including new lighting on the promenade and collaborating with the police to increase bike patrols by members of the Civil Guard, run by police.
Coordination on these issues will continue, the spokesman said.
Asked about the violence, police stated that several people from Jebl Mukaber and E-Tur had been arrested for violence and robbery, and that both overt and covert operations to protect residents were ongoing: “Police will continue their operations and unwavering determination in the face of outlaws, on residents’ behalf.”
“The daily problems are issues that are simple, that you wouldn’t think are important, but they are – like fireworks going off for hours at night,” agreed Molly Livingstone, an olah from California.
The fireworks are not a daily occurrence and are usually shot off on Thursday and Friday evenings, making Shabbatot difficult, the area resident detailed. “It’s very hard for kids. You can call it PTSD, I call it CTSD, because it is constant and there is never time to get over it.” Residents do not feel safe walking on the promenade, “even though it’s one of the most beautiful areas of Jerusalem, and there are regularly thieves just robbing houses, robbing cars. But on the whole it doesn’t feel as if there is any actual police presence.”
Local citizens who volunteer for the Civil Guard usually get sent to other neighborhoods, though they say that they signed up to protect their own area, she added.
“I don’t know exactly why the police are not doing what they need to be doing, whether they are afraid or fearful, if they are afraid they will get in trouble for doing something or out of laziness. But it definitely is something we notice in the neighborhood – that there is not even enough police, enough patrol cars driving around the neighborhood.”
It is difficult to get law enforcement authorities to take things seriously during liaison meetings between them and local residents, she further alleged.
“I would tell them there was a robbery that took place, and they said, ‘No, it didn’t.’ Well, it did; I know the person that was robbed.”
East Talpiot is a wonderful community and one of the best neighborhoods in the capital, she continued, adding that she wished authorities would attempt to preserve this.
City councilman Arieh King – founder of the Israel Land Fund, an organization promoting Jewish settlement in Arab neighborhoods – agreed with Schechter and Livingstone, telling In Jerusalem he believes there is little media coverage of the neighborhood’s travails because it is now old news.
“We got too used to Jews being attacked, daily, weekly, monthly,” he maintained. “The problem is that Jerusalem Municipality cannot do what it’s not allowed to do.
This means everything related to security and dealing with the conflict with Arabs, and everything under the responsibility of the government, that is, the police.”
Although the city did put up security cameras, he asserted that it does not have the “authority or responsibility or any kind of legal tools” to do much more.
King, who last year distributed flyers calling on city Arabs to emigrate, said that the overwhelming majority of criminals come from east Jerusalem, and that the dearth of police stations in Arab neighborhoods shows an abdication of sovereignty and a failure of law enforcement therein.
“The mayor and municipality are constantly passing the message to police, but their hands are tied by the government,” he accused. •