Shattered calm

Many residents of east Jerusalem have a strong sense of solidarity with their fellow Arabs in Gaza.

shuafat fire protest 248 88 ap (photo credit: AP)
shuafat fire protest 248 88 ap
(photo credit: AP)
On Monday evening, on the third day of Operation Cast Lead, a little boy, no more than six years old, was brought into the emergency room of Hadassah-University Medical Center. His face was bleeding, and one cheek was covered with a bandage. "What happened to the boy?" the nurse asked the father in Arabic. "He happened to be around these guys who were throwing stones at the police, and one of the stones hit his face," the father replied. He explained that he had warned his son not to go out when the violence broke out in the Silwan area, but the boy wanted to see "the action" from a closer vantage point. An hour later I saw the pair again, waiting for the X-ray technician. They were watching Channel 2 on a large plasma screen suspended on the wall in the waiting room. The images of bombarded Gaza flickered on the screen. The patients, mostly Arabs, didn't say a thing, following the images of Gaza with their eyes and making a particular denouncing sound with the tongue. Amid widespread condemnation of the operation and calls for a third intifada in the Arab world, east Jerusalemites have not remained indifferent to these images pouring from their TV sets, voicing their reaction loud and clear through demonstrating, stone throwing and flag burning. The first wave of violence began early on Saturday, soon after the operation in Gaza was launched. In the Shuafat refugee camp, walking distance from Pisgat Ze'ev and French Hill, angry youths threw stones at Border Police jeeps, chanting "Death to Israel! We will redeem you, Gaza." The next day, similar images from Silwan, A-Tur and Sur Bahir kept on coming. Dozens were arrested, others were warned by the police and by the dignitaries in their neighborhoods, but the situation continued to be tense. Rami, a minivan driver from Beit Hanina, says that all his brothers went to the Shuafat camp on Saturday to protest against the "brutality of the state." He didn't go to the demonstration, fearing arrest. "I already have a file with them [the police]. I was a Fatah member during the first intifada, and I can't afford to get arrested now, since I'm the only provider for my family. But my heart is with the Gazans," he says. Munir Khalil, a butcher from the Shuafat camp, echoes Rami's sentiments. "It's our brothers who are dying there. Israel says that this war is against Hamas, but it seems to me that they are victimizing the entire Palestinian population in Gaza. That is why I participated in the demonstrations that took place in the camp." Khalil, a handsome bearded man of 25, denies any affiliation with Hamas, yet there is a huge Hamas poster in his shop. Green flags hanging from the rooftops are not an unusual sight in the camp streets as well. But Khalil says that it's not important. "You can be Hamas, you can be Fatah, you can be independent or not at all affiliated with any party, but you just can't stay calm when your brothers are being massacred in cold blood," he says, and quotes from the Al-Quds newspaper lying on the table: "The harshest attack since 1967." Back then, Israel fought armies; now it's hitting inside the densely populated areas of Gaza, the butcher says. This is the reason for people's anger and frustration, his assistant adds. "We've never seen anything quite as brutal and horrible," he explains. In neighboring Pisgat Ze'ev and French Hill, many were taken by surprise when they saw the images of burning Israeli flags and stones thrown at police jeeps and residents' cars. "East Jerusalem was mostly quiet during the years of the intifada," many say. "So what happened now?" they ask, having a hard time explaining the eruption of extremism. "I never thought things would get so bad in east Jerusalem - after all, it's not Ramallah or Jenin," says Avi Ofer, a resident of Pisgat Ze'ev. INDEED, FOR many years east Jerusalem enjoyed the reputation of being a "quiet Arab neighborhood," and many believed that the holders of Israeli ID cards in east Jerusalem who enjoyed significant benefits such as access to health funds and National Insurance Institute stipends wouldn't want to risk it all for the sake of solidarity action or violent protest. This belief first began to dissolve last March, when Ala Abu Dhaim, a driver from Jebl Mukaber, took a gun, entered the Merkaz Harav Yeshiva and shot eight students to death. Soon after, the shocking bulldozer attacks in downtown Jerusalem followed. Was this belief in Jerusalem's "quietness" ever true or was it based on mistaken assumptions from the beginning? Amnon Kapeliuk, the Le Monde Diplomatique correspondent in Jerusalem, believes that the current eruption of violence was quite predictable. "The fact that many east Jerusalemites are Israeli ID holders doesn't make them any less Palestinian. They are very attentive to what is going on in the West Bank and Gaza, especially the younger generation. And when the situation turns so bad over there, they believe that this is the least they can do for their brothers. Also, the Palestinian organizations always try to mobilize the masses in the city, since everything that happens in Jerusalem gets a lot of media coverage. Of course, many are still afraid to engage in mass demonstration for fear of being arrested or even deported to the West Bank; but still, an event of such magnitude couldn't go unnoticed in east Jerusalem." Kapeliuk adds that the so-called "quietness" of Jerusalem during the second intifada can be explained more in terms of fear of the reaction than indifference to the situation in the Palestinian Authority territories. A well-known Palestinian politician and lawyer Ziad Abu-Ziad, a resident of Eizariya, agrees with Kapeliuk, saying that "Some Israelis deluded themselves, imagining that the Palestinians in east Jerusalem are different because they are separated from the West Bank. But in fact they are the same people and their reaction to the killings in Gaza is the same reaction of Arabs and Muslims all over the world." Abu-Ziad, who was elected to the Palestinian Legislative Council in 1996, representing the Jerusalem district, used to serve as minister of state, coordinator of a ministerial committee on Jerusalem, and head of the Palestinian delegation to the Arms Control and Regional Security Working Group of the Middle East multilateral peace talks. He adds that the perception of "quiet east Jerusalem" so popular in Israel was also a mistaken one. "During the first intifada, the popular intifada, east Jerusalem was always active, and its residents participated in all sorts of protests and demonstrations. As for the second intifada, my personal belief is that it was a military criminal act led by the leaders [of the Palestinians], and the regular people were never actively engaged, not in Gaza nor in the West Bank, including east Jerusalem." Gershon Baskin, the CEO of Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information, says that he was not at all surprised by the outbreak of violence in east Jerusalem, yet he believes that it is not a widespread phenomenon. The number of those participating in the riots is relatively insignificant, he says, adding that there are always some young men who disobey police orders and they do not represent the majority of the population. "I fear that as a consequence of the reaction in east Jerusalem there might be an attempt to commit suicide terrorist attacks, and this is what scares me the most, not the sporadic riots in east Jerusalem neighborhoods." Ordinary Israelis, in particular in west Jerusalem, may have been caught by surprise by the eruption of violence in the eastern part, but those bodies responsible for security and the maintenance of order certainly were not. Moshe Finchi, Border Police spokesman, says that it was ready for any development in east Jerusalem and reinforced the presence of Border Police in the neighborhoods and on Jerusalem borders when the operation in Gaza first began. In fact, just a week ago Border Police forces in Jerusalem underwent special training aimed at improving their performance during violent demonstrations and protests. "We knew that the launching of the operation in Gaza could evoke various reactions in the eastern part of the city, and we were ready for every possible development. We believe that we were able to control the situation quite well. Our mission is to maintain order and to prevent disorderly conduct and violence. At the same time, I would like to stress that we respect the right of the people to express their opinion and to protest, as long as they do not break the law. Those who broke the law were arrested, but we would never stop or interrupt a lawful demonstration or an act of protest," he says. As for the future, Pinchi says that the Border Police, which works in close cooperation with the IDF and the police force, will continue its efforts to protect the citizens and maintain order in the city. But what if the situation in east Jerusalem gets out of control? And what are the chances of that happening? Abu-Ziad believes that an expansion and the continuation of the operation will inevitably bring about a harsher reaction among the Arabs of Jerusalem who, in his words, "will not remain indifferent to the bloodshed."