Terra incognita: Sur Bahir - Facing Jerusalem’s reality

The culture of violence and hate is a root of the problem.

Ramallah Rock Throwing 311 (photo credit: Mohamad Torokman/Reuters)
Ramallah Rock Throwing 311
(photo credit: Mohamad Torokman/Reuters)
In recent weeks reports of stoning, violence and other incidents have come out of Jerusalem’s southeastern neighborhoods. The most serious incident was the wounding of a two-year-old girl on Thursday, November 28. A Jewish family was driving in Armon Hanatziv, which borders the Arab neighbourhood of Sur Bahir (Tzur Bahir) when their rear car window was shattered by rocks.
Jerusalem police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld has described the attack as “nationalistically motivated,” the odd code-word used in Israel to describe attacks resulting purely from ethnic hatred.
Because a young child was wounded the police worked hard to catch the criminals, and by 2 a.m. the next morning four teenagers, aged 15 to 17, were under arrest. When they were brought to court a photographer caught one flashing the “victory” sign to reporters. Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat condemned the attacks and visited the victim.
“It must be made clear to everyone that a stone is a weapon,” he said. Even the prime minister spoke out.
The stone-throwing and wounding of a toddler are part of a pattern that has been heating up in the past months in Sur Bahir. Two weeks ago an Arab family was attacked in almost the same location. Rushuan Salman was driving from Umm Tuba, a neighborhood beyond Sur Bahir, into Jerusalem through Armon Hanatziv. He told Yediot Aharonot, “they tried to pull us out of the car and hit us, it seemed they were intent on lynching us. They tried opening the doors.”
Only when his wife shouted at them in Arabic did they finally back off, enabling Salman to speed away. He put it down to a case of mistaken identity: “me and my wife look Jewish,” he said. They called the police, who they described as nonchalant about the case. His wife even gave the police the identity of one of the youths involved.
Similarly on Saturday, November 23, Daniel Seidemann, a founder of the NGO Ir Amim, was hit in the head by a rock thrown through his car window. The website +972 posted his comments: “I paid a working visit in the Palestinian neighbourhood of Sur Bahir, barely a kilometer from my home,” he said. He was leaving the area as school got out. “[I] had the misfortune of ending up in a traffic jam in the center of the village... I didn’t see it coming, but should have, I was a sitting duck.”
Seidemann took it in stride, noting it was the third time in 20 years he had been stoned in east Jerusalem. “I never expected immunity... but I feel no anger, just sad... I will be back in east Jerusalem... no rock can move me to hate.”
He claimed that a day after the attack a group of “prominent residents of Sur Bahir paid me a visit, expressing regrets over the incident... they told me that they had gone today from classroom to classroom in the schools telling these young men and women ‘we don’t expect to apprehend or reprimand anyone. But whoever did this – do you have any idea whose skull you bashed in?’” Their message was clear: the victim was one of the “good people” who shouldn’t be stoned, because he supports Palestinian rights. Seidamenn felt the rock was a symbol of the larger problem. “Most likely, it was hurled because I am Israeli – the occupier.... They owe me no apologies. As long as the occupation exists, events like this will happen.”
Seidamenn noted that “I don’t find it particularly important if he is or is not apprehended... I do fear that he might have just been practicing on me, and that more deadly violence can be expected from him in the future.”
That was a prescient comment, for a child was wounded in a similar incident not long after.
THE PICTURE painted by these incidents is complemented by common stonings in several other neighbourhoods, especially Isawiya, just northeast of Mount Scopus. Many drivers over the years have suffered attempted lynchings in the village after making a wrong turn into it. But what is most fascinating is what the comments of the “prominent” Sur Bahir residents reveals. That they went from classroom to classroom and specifically said they did not want to “reprimand” anyone reveals the source of the violence.
It isn’t children who get up in the morning and decide to throw some stones. It is a culture of violence, encouraged by community leaders, parents and authority figures.
I can look back at my old childhood in Maine and recall the vandalism my friends and I were involved in at age 12.
We caused havoc in our neighborhood, and we especially targeted “summer people,” the out-of-town wealthy visitors who came down in summer to vacation.
Did we stone their cars? No. But we vandalized other things. Most of our parents and teachers would never condone this behavior, so we kept it a deep secret. But what if our parents had egged us on, patted us on the back and said “those damn foreigners, go get ‘em – but don’t get caught”? What if our teachers had taught us to hate? The truth is that Sur Bahir’s residents have been neighbors with Jewish residents of Jerusalem for decades.
Many of them, perhaps most, work with Jews. And yet 46 years of contact have not made the heart grow fonder.
Mayor Barkat wants tougher penalties, more Border Police walking the streets. But more police and enforcement alone won’t solve the issue. Some people view the occupation as the culprit; if only the Jews can be moved away, everyone will be happy. Some newspapers in Israel have even published op-eds claiming that stoning is the “right” of every Palestinian.
Hebrew University Professor Ze’ev Sternhell claimed in 2001: “Many in Israel, perhaps even the majority of the voters, do not doubt the legitimacy of the armed resistance in the territories themselves. The Palestinians would be wise to concentrate their struggle against the settlements, avoid harming women and children... it would also be smart to stop planting bombs to the west of the Green Line.”
This problematic binary, either more police or arguments that turn the stone throwing into “legitimate” resistance, are both disturbing because they basically admit that there is no chance Jews and Arabs can intermix or live next to one another. It misses the larger picture.
Ninety percent of the Arab neighborhoods in east Jerusalem are not like Sur Bahir. Even Arabs fear the youth violence there. It is the culture among the community leaders in Sur Bahir that is the problem. Perhaps there is no easy solution; a preferable one would be more coexistence, more investment in the neighborhood, but that can only come about with the recognition that the culture of violence and hate is a root of the problem.