Firas Juabber sits bent over in his tiny glass menagerie. On the sawdust-covered floor beneath him run hamsters, rabbits and parrots. From time to time a mother or a father − ultra-Orthodox, secular or Palestinian − knocks on the door of the glass cell, waving a NIS 12 ticket purchased at the adjacent pet shop, which is called Jungle. The ticket is for entry into Juabber’s petting corner at Jerusalem’s Malha Mall. Juabber opens the glass door and times the visit on his cellphone: 15 minutes per child. Sometimes a child is allowed to stay for 20 minutes. Parents get in for free.
On Monday evening last week, Juabber was sitting as usual in his glass bubble, where he has worked for about a year now, waiting for the children and the parents with their cameras. At around 10 P.M. he heard sounds of angry commotion from the floor above him, where the food court is situated.
Juabber, a strong and muscular resident of the Old City , his hair anointed with gel, says he wasn’t scared. “The only one I fear is God,” is his favorite sentence. The voices grew louder and clearer: “Death to the Arabs” and “Mohammed is dead,” accompanied by thuds of punching and blows. Young men could be seen chasing after Arab employees.
At the stadium across the way, another Beitar Jerusalem soccer match had just ended; this time the home team had won. Hundreds of fans dressed in yellow swarmed toward the mall as part of their usual victory celebration.
Juabber says the first victims of the chaos that ensued were members of an East Jerusalem family, a mother, a father and their children. According to testimonies we gathered this week, after them, another 15 Arabs were beaten. There is also testimony about a stabbing, which has not been confirmed. The thousands of eyewitnesses who were at the mall at the time, the Israel Police, and the mall management − none of them bothered to report the incident to the public. Only four days later, on March 23, did word of the rampage come to its attention by means of a report in Haaretz.
This is the “triangle” of violence in Jerusalem: the Holyland housing project to the west, the wild Teddy Stadium to the east and in between, the Malha Mall. Until three years ago, rampages by fans were a frequent occurrence, but in recent years there have been hardly any, certainly not like this last one.
The mall covers 400,000 square meters of commercial space, and contains 250 shops. Between 3,000 and 4,000 people work there, several hundred of whom are Arabs, and there are 30,000 to 40,000 visitors daily. Malha Mall is not as elegant as the Ramat Aviv Mall and not as vulgar as the Azrieli Mall or as winding and mysterious as Dizengoff Center, both in Tel Aviv.
This is a modest and typical Jerusalem-style place. One stand offers two hamsas − amulets in the shape of hands − for NIS 10, mezuzahs and crocheted skullcaps; Ushi-Ushi Sushi serves up pareve sushi, certified kosher by the Beit Yosef Badatz ultra-Orthodox rabbinical court, with the seal of the Gaon Rabbi Ovadia Yosef (may he live a long life!) on every roll; and the evening prayer service is announced over the loudspeaker, and is taking place at the mall synagogue, which is tucked between the bathrooms and the security office. The shops are relatively small, there are a few international brands alongside veteran Jerusalemite street stores, and a lot of shops selling baked goods.
The crowd here is also very Jerusalemite: ultra-Orthodox alongside secular, settlers alongside Arabs. In better times, so says the urban legend, this mall was also a destination for shoppers, especially women, from Jordan and Qatar. At one time, there was also a Beitar Jerusalem shop there.
Legendary Beitar soccer player Uri Malmilian is gone, Eli Ohana has been forgotten, and like them, Arcadi Gaydamak, who owned the club for a while. And now this black Monday has come. The mall management will tell us that it came to them “out of the blue” − using the English phrase. But people working there will tell us it happens after nearly every match, even if not so violently.
The public relations office for the Azrieli chain of shopping malls has forbidden the management to give interviews, although the general manager, Gideon Avrami, did convene the Arab employees the day after the pogrom. He apologized and told them that he sees dishonoring them as comparable to dishonoring his own children; he also said the “chain’s policy” forbade him to speak with the press.
Quite a number of store owners were also leery of being interviewed this week, certainly by name, whether out of fear of the fans or fear of the management. At the entrance to the modest management offices is a colorful wall hanging: a portrait of entrepreneur David Azrieli between the Israeli flag and the Druze flag, and the inscription: “To David
Azrieli from the Buq’ata team. The Druze in the north, from the workers of Buq’ata in the Golan Heights.” Azrieli established the synagogue at the mall in memory of his father, according to what is written on the sign at the entrance. Five men are praying there now.
“Drink your coffee and talk about it in English,” exhorts an advertisement for the language school in the mall.
This week there was little talk about the incident, in Hebrew or in English; the mall had returned to the rush of pre-Passover holiday shopping. “We’ve exhausted the topic,” said the proprietor of a falafel stand.
Exhausted it? It was only this week that the Jerusalem District police remembered there had been an incident, and considered that it was worth investigating and making arrests; the police commissioner issued a reprimand.
“Teddy should be shut down,” says N., the well-groomed and pleasant manager of a clothing store, about the stadium across the way. She has two sons in the Givati Brigade, one in the special operations unit and one a commander, and she says she never allowed them to go to
Beitar games. Once she traveled with them to Barcelona and bought them tickets to a soccer game there, however.
N. is enraged: “There’s no sporting spirit at Teddy. It’s just violence − what happens when our young people don’t know how to distinguish between good and evil. Unparalleled violence and racism. I get a twinge in my heart when I see all these young people, especially after games. It’s like a bad dream. You have to bring reporters here to see what happens in this place after every game. Some day something will happen. Some day a disaster will happen here. Someone will pay a heavy price. It’s been one incident after another and it’s getting worse.”
Last Monday, when the rioting took place, N. was in her shop. She would not step out, she was so scared.
“I’m also not prepared to see this. It’s unpleasant. Shouting, blows and running around,” she says. “It’s beyond fear. My heart aches for our young people. This can only be brought to an end if they shut down Teddy for half a year, until they learn. Somebody has to pick up the reins. To shut down Teddy and to say it will open only under such and such conditions.
“They should take five planes a month and fly the fans abroad, so they’ll learn how to behave. They should take them to Singapore and show them the education and the behavior there. And the main thing is not to dismiss what has happened here, because it will end badly.
“What is a mall? It’s a place for enjoyment. Tell me, does this happen in Tel Aviv? Do you people there in Tel Aviv hear these things? We’re heavy in Jerusalem. Once a week I go down to Tel Aviv, to breathe a little normalcy. The lightness, the humor, something different there.
A quick trip abroad. There are wonderful places in Jerusalem, and there is the Machneyuda Restaurant, which is unlike any restaurant in Tel Aviv, but it’s a hard city, Jerusalem. Maybe some day I’ll move to Tel Aviv. After what happened on Monday I’ve been thinking about it more. Just don’t mention my name, so the fans won’t come after me. I am afraid of them.”
We go down one floor, to the scene of the crime, the fast food court, which is also strictly Jerusalemite: “With Heaven’s help, falafel and shwarma from all our heart,” says one sign. In the security videos documenting the rampage this sign stands out above the heads of the rowdies.
To the left are the dairy restaurants, to the right the meat restaurants and in between was the focus of the violence. A., the proprietor of a food stall, is not prepared to give his name. “I don’t want to get in trouble.”
He used to be a Beitar fan, even played for it, but no longer. It used to be the fans were innocent, he continues, but now they are people who hate. Before every Beitar game at Teddy he asks his Arab workers to go home; he says they accept this with understanding. On Monday evening he closed down the business immediately. He loses money because of the hooligans, he adds.
Juabber from the glass menagerie reconstructs: “What a mess. They came upstairs and started to curse the Arabs. Every Arab who was walking around the mall, they beat him up. They curse us, they don’t want Arabs. And they also threw cans full of garbage. This will happen again and again and again, because it’s like this every time. Beitar Jerusalem has the worst racism in the country.
“What can you do? There’s nothing to be done. Only God. This isn’t the first time it’s happened like this and it’s not the last. And it makes me hate them, because they hate us. It increases our hatred of them. And some day blood will be spilled here. What blood? Palestinian blood, definitely Palestinian.”
Juabber has a parrot at home − he has a photo of it, bright red, in his phone. It’s called Ala, and all the Jews think it’s called Allah. Ala the parrot knows only 10 or 15 words. A young ultra-Orthodox man comes into the menagerie with his son, and Juabber has to time his petting visit.
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