Violence in Jerusalem… what’s new?

Dozens of Jewish children/teenagers (even though only a handful of them have been arrested) were involved in what looked like a “public lynching” of various Palestinian youths, right in the middle of Jerusalem, in Zion Square, an emblematic site meters away from the Old City of one of the holiest places in the world. One of the Palestinian boys nearly died, had not been for the emergency services. It looked that outcome had already crossed one of the attacker´s mind: according to The New York Times, one 15 year-old suspect was heard saying “For my part he can die, he´s an Arab”. Moreover, scores of by-standers (most of them probably Jewish Israelis sympathizing with the criminals) witnessed the episode without intervening. On the same day, Jewish assailants tried to set fire to a Palestinian taxi (in which a Palestinian family was traveling) throwing what looked like Molotov cocktails. On top of that, a group of Palestinian journalists were allegedly attacked with batons by Israeli soldiers when they were trying to report on a demonstration taking place in the Northern West Bank. Israeli authorities (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”) and the country’s public opinion in general, have expressed their concern and have qualified this action as a blatantly outrageous one. Is it? I mean, is it a shocking event, an unprecedented attack, or is it, as it looks to me, only one in a million? 

All of you who have been to Jerusalem (I was fortunate enough to be there one month ago) know that this city has various “layers”. I will explain what I mean by that. When you wander around the Old City (it seems to me it doesn’t happen that much in the rest of the city), you first get an impression of mixture, respect and apparent calm. Four neighborhoods with different religious backgrounds not divided with physical boundaries, Jewish Haredim (ultra-orthodox) walking by everywhere, people of all religions and tourists all buying in the Muslim souk, and every citizen (well, maybe in this case I should stick to the word “individual”) carrying on its business (whatever that is) without the slightest hint of worry in its face. But, as my good friend Zahyra made me see, this seeming peace does not actually exist: Muslim teenagers do not run like savages in the streets of the Jewish Quarter (it’s as if there was an electric fence or something), Palestinians do not make their appearance in the Armenian Quarter, Jews (much more recognizable in Israel “thanks to” their constantly wearing kippahs or orthodox shtreimels) do not usually stop by Muslim stalls like people do in Cairo’s Khan-El-Khalili, and even Palestinians do not seem to sale the same merchandise as Jews or Christians do…

It all comes back to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I know, but it is not so easy. We are not talking about Palestinian children and youths throwing Intifada-stones to Israeli settlers in the occupied territories. We are not talking about Israeli soldiers storming into a Palestinian house in order to arrest a terrorist suspect. We are talking about Israeli kids beating to death a Palestinian in the middle of the street. As the Jerusalem Post informs of, the US State Department’s 2011 Country Report on Terrorism defined attacks by Jews on Palestinians as “terrorist incidents” erasing the distinction made in previous reports between “settler violence” perpetrated by Jews and terrorism perpetrated by Palestinians. Where does that hate come from when you’re simply a child and you’re supposed to peacefully coexist with other individuals (note that I still deliberately avoid the word citizen), wherever they come from, as they are supposed to have been granted the same rights as you have? What is worse, when your religion strictly forbids that kind of violent acts? When you have received a liberal education by virtue of which your country is the “only democracy in the Middle East” and your neighbors respect liberal principles and human rights? 

Well… All of this is not 100% true, and therefore nobody should be surprised by these episodes. As Thomas Friedman (I know, I know, some of you are not really in love with his views) clearly explains in his book From Beirut to Jerusalem, Israel’s character has incredibly shifted throughout the years: from a new-born country only supported by a few countries (and, that was the key, the UN) and threatened (sometimes attacked) by his Arab neighbors to the “bully” of the region, supported (or at least not confronted) by most countries and being aware of its superior military and economic power. And as a country evolves, it’s population follows the same path. Israeli youths have been taught a different story from all of us, and they deeply believe in it: a story of legitimate self-defense and victimism, a story of religious determinism and the “chosen people” having the right to do whatever it takes to defend their land, a story in which Arab Israelis are not to be equally treated… 

The Palestinian man who nearly died because of the attack has already made his mind: “I don’t want to go back there. I’ve learned”. Maybe that is a more effective way to chase undesired people from a place you don’t think they have the right to be in (despite it being their and their ancestor’s homeland). Maybe that is the spark of a counter-Intifada, of a pogrom that could finally eradicate what some Jews do not want as their neighbors. Maybe all of this sounds too familiar to me and I am too afraid to tell what could happen next…

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