Rising terror

Israelis question identity of Jerusalem's Arabs after their involvement in last week's shooting and riots.

'The identity of [Arab] east Jerusalemites is hybrid," explains Yitzhak Reiter, professor of Middle Eastern studies at the Hebrew University in the wake of last week's terrorist attack on the Mercaz Harav Yeshiva in central Jerusalem. "On the one hand, they are Palestinians, affiliated with the Palestinian Authority and, on the other hand, they are residents of the [Jerusalem] Municipality and enjoy the benefits and services that it provides," says Reiter. The attack was not only significant because it was the city's bloodiest in several years, claiming the lives of eight young students, but also because the assailant himself was a Jerusalem resident, from the Jebl Mukaber neighborhood near East Talpiot, and a holder of an Israeli identity card. Consequently, last week's murders, which were preceded by protests and rioting in several of the city's Arab neighborhoods in response to the IDF operations in the Gaza Strip, potentially complicate matters even further for the identity of Jerusalem's Arab residents. The recent incidents have unearthed the question of "Where do they stand?" and has even led to speculation as to whether a third intifada is on its way. Reiter believes that Arab Jerusalemites have been gradually developing a "third" type of identity, distinct from both Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, as well as their Jewish Israeli neighbors. "They are Jerusalemites in the Israeli context as well as Palestinians in the political context. My estimation is that, since the overthrow of Fatah in Gaza by Hamas, east Jerusalemites have been developing a special identity, particular to east Jerusalem. This is because they are separated from the Palestinian Authority by the [security] wall - and the wall plays a big impact on Palestinian identity - and there is no overall Palestinian rule… so they have developed their own identity, building on benefits from the Israeli system," he explains. He notes that the involvement in the conflict of Palestinians living in Jerusalem has been significantly lower than those from the West Bank or Gaza, but doesn't believe that the events of the last week mark a major deterioration in Jewish-Arab relations in the city. "Even in times of the intifada, most east Jerusalem Arabs refrained and the number of terror attacks was relatively low, which is because they have a stake in keeping access to Israeli jobs and services and so forth," Reiter said the day before the terror attack at the yeshiva. Following the incident, Reiter added that it was "significant" that the assailant was from east Jerusalem, although he remained doubtful that the attack reflected the general mood of all east Jerusalemites. "There is a difference between an intifada and individual terror actions, you can always find terrorists here and there. They [Arab Jerusalemites] still identify with what happened in Gaza, but you can't judge by just one action," he says. The protests in east Jerusalem, which ranged from peaceful demonstrations by students at the Hebrew University, to the near-lynching of two municipal inspectors on Salah-a-Din Street, have mostly been written off as a one-time reaction to Israel's recent military actions in the Gaza Strip rather than a signal of a fresh wave of violence on the horizon. Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld described the rioting as "spontaneous and sporadic," in connection with IDF operations in Gaza. "As far as we are concerned it was not organized or coordinated with any organizations," Rosenfeld told In Jerusalem. Police believe that there is no connection between the terror attack and the rioting a few days earlier. "The attack was separate and had nothing to do with what happened earlier in the week. It was a prepared and organized attack, possibly with orders given by a terror organization," Rosenfeld said the day after the attack, adding that there would be a heightened level of security to prevent further attacks or disturbances in east Jerusalem, including extra forces to be deployed on the city's streets. Despite possessing certain rights denied to Palestinians living in the West Bank, many east Jerusalem Arabs are still less than satisfied with the status quo, argues Ziad al-Hamouri, director of the Jerusalem Center for Social and Economic Rights, who believes that the future could hold further unrest, including a new intifada, if their situation does not improve. "Gaza is the direct cause [of the riots], but you can see that some of the steps taken are because people are frustrated. Palestinians in Jerusalem are afraid of the future," al-Hamouri says. "The situation in east Jerusalem, socially and economically, is very bad and people don't feel secure. Drugs are spread throughout the Old City and theft is increasing, but the police are not taking any kind of steps to defend people, we only see them when they talk about taxes," he continues, hinting at the two City Hall inspectors who fled from a mob of youths who attacked their car. Whatever the future may hold, life in Jerusalem has returned to normal this week, including the municipality which, unfazed, is continuing with business as usual. "The Jerusalem Municipality is continuing to enforce the law and to give services to all of the residents of the city, Arab and Jewish," a spokesman said in a written statement. "The municipality is continuing routine activity in all of the parts of the city, and providing all of the municipal services in east Jerusalem, including inspection, sanitation, business licenses, water and sewage."