Edition 2: No. 37
Young Israelis Held in Attack on Arabs
By Isabel Kershner
In Jerusalem– Seven Israeli teenagers were in custody on Monday, accused of what a police official and several witnesses described as an attempted lynching of several Palestinian youths, laying bare the undercurrent of tension in this ethnically mixed but politically divided city. A 15-year-old suspect standing outside court said, “For my part he can die, he’s an Arab.”
Ohad Zwigenberg/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Two teenage girls arrested in connection with an assault on a group of Palestinians on Aug. 16, appeared in court on Monday in Jerusalem.
The police said that scores of Jewish youths were involved in the attack late Thursday in West Jerusalem’s Zion Square, leaving one 17-year-old unconscious and hospitalized. Hundreds of bystanders watched the mob beating, the police said — and no one intervened.
Two of the suspects were girls, the youngest 13, adding to the soul-searching and acknowledgment that the poisoned political environment around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has affected the moral compass of youths growing up within it.
“If it was up to me, I’d have murdered him,” the 15-year-old suspect told reporters outside court on Monday. “He cursed my mother.” The young man who was beaten unconscious, Jamal Julani, remained in the hospital.
The mob beating came on the same day that a Palestinian taxi on the West Bank was firebombed, apparently by Jewish extremists, though there have been no arrests. The two episodes, along with a new report by the United States State Department labeling attacks by Jews on Palestinians as terrorism, have opened a stark national conversation about racism, violence, and how Israeli society could have come to this point.
“There appears to be a worryingly high level of tolerance — whether explicit or implicit — for such despicable acts of violence,” The Jerusalem Post editorialized on Monday. “A clear distinction must be made between legitimate acts of self-defense aimed at protecting Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, and pointless, immoral acts of violence.”
In the popular Yediot Aharonot newspaper, a commentator asked of the 13-year-old suspect, “Where on earth does a bar-mitzvah-age child find so much evil in himself?” The article said parents should be held responsible.
But on Channel 1 news Monday night, Nimrod Aloni, the head of the Institute for Educational Thought at a Tel Aviv teachers college, said, “this cannot just be an expression of something he has heard at home.”
“This is directly tied to national fundamentalism that is the same as the rhetoric of neo-Nazis, Taliban and K.K.K.,” Mr. Aloni said. “This comes from an entire culture that has been escalating toward an open and blunt language based on us being the chosen people who are allowed to do whatever we like.”
The police said Thursday’s beating of Mr. Julani, who regained consciousness in the hospital on Sunday, resulted from a brawl after a girl in a crowd of Israeli youths complained that she had been harassed by an Arab. Micky Rosenfeld, a police spokesman, said the girl had spurred the crowd to seek vengeance, though her lawyer denied that on Israel Radio on Monday. The crowd then arbitrarily focused on Mr. Julani and his friends, Mr. Rosenfeld said, beating Mr. Julani until he lost consciousness.
“According to those questioned, there was a fight, there was cursing,” Mr. Rosenfeld said. “One thing led to another.”
Mr. Julani, a youth of slender build with fashionably short hair from the predominantly Palestinian East Jerusalem neighborhood of Ras al-Amud, said in an interview from his hospital bed on Monday that he had no memory of what had happened — or even of being downtown on Thursday. But relatives at his bedside, including a cousin who was with him at the time of the assault, said the attack had been unprovoked.
The cousin, Muhammad Mujahid, 17, said he and four friends were walking in the square and suddenly found themselves being chased by a group of youths. “They were shouting ‘Arabs, death to Arabs,’ ” he said. “I saw about 50 people chasing us. We ran, but about 10 of them caught Jamal.”
Asked whether he would return toWest Jerusalemat night, Mr. Mujahid said: “I don’t want to go back there. I’ve learned.”
Mr. Julani’s mother, Nariman, described the attackers as “terrorists, fanatics.”
“We have no ideas about politics,” said Mrs. Julani, 44. “We brought our children up to study, to be good and to love their homeland.”
One floor above Mr. Julani, in the new wing of the Hadassah University Hospital-Ein Kerem in southwestJerusalem, lay the driver whose taxi was hit by a firebomb on Thursday outside the West Banksettlement of Bat Ayin. He and his five passengers, all members of the Abu Jayada family from the West Bank village of Nahalin, suffered burns; one remained in intensive care on Monday.
The prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, strongly condemned the firebombing of the taxi and promised the Palestinian leadership that all efforts would be made to arrest the perpetrators.
Mark Regev, a spokesman for Mr. Netanyahu, said of the beating, “We unequivocally condemn racist violence and urge the police and law enforcement community to act expeditiously to bring the perpetrators to justice.”
Some commentators connected the violence against Palestinians with other racial issues pervading Israeli society. The latest attacks came after a summer of simmering resentment and some violent protests against the swelling number of African migrants and asylum seekers in Tel Aviv. The outburst of popular rage, fanned by provocative statements by some rightist politicians, led to a government crackdown to stem the influx.
Gavriel Salomon, a professor of educational psychology atHaifaUniversity, told Israel Radio on Monday that the attacks could be attributed to increasing racism in Israeli society, increased levels of violence in general and an atmosphere of “legitimacy.”
“Suddenly it’s not so terrible to burn Arabs inside a taxi,” he said.
One of those who came to the hospital where Mr. Julani was recovering on Monday was Zohar Eitan, 57, aTelAvivUniversitylecturer in musicology. He said he had come as “an ordinary citizen” to show solidarity and called the attack “very sad but unfortunately not shocking. It is the result of the indoctrination that these kids get.”
Jerusalemis home to about 500,000 Jews and some 300,000 Palestinians, who mostly coexist peacefully though with a constant undertone of political and religious tension.
Most of the Palestinians, who chose not to be Israeli citizens but carry Jerusalem residency cards, live in the eastern sector of the city that was captured by Israel from Jordan in the 1967 war and later annexed in a move that has not been internationally recognized. The Palestinians demand that East Jerusalem, which contains Jewish holy sites as well as Muslim and Christian shrines, be the capital of a future state.
While the Jewish and Arab residents of the city mingle freely in the parks and shopping malls of West Jerusalem, there is less and less meaningful interaction between the two populations, other than some at workplaces.
The western side bears small monuments to the suicide bombings that killed scores here on buses and in cafes after the outbreak of the second Palestinian uprising in 2000. In some of the tenser predominantly Arab neighborhoods, Israeli cars and buses are frequently stoned.
Mr. Julani’s relatives said they were not involved in politics and, when asked about the future of their city, seemed at a loss for answers. His father, Subhi Julani, who works in construction, said he had many Jewish friends, including employers.
“Jamal is lucky; we are lucky that he is still among us,” Mr. Julani, 50, said of his son, who is studying for his matriculation exams and also does home renovations for a Jewish boss. “I do not know why they did this.”