"Scores attacked, as hundreds looked on," read the headline in the free daily Israel Hayom on Monday. A man read the newspaper while eating frozen yogurt at a tiny shopping mall adjacent to Jerusalem's Hadassah University Hospital, Ein Karem.
Nearby, a young woman bought a tray of sliced fruit: mango, passion fruit and prickly pear. "I am nervous," she said. "I never visited the victim of a hate crime before."
The crime in question is the one to which the headline referred. On the night of Friday, August 17, a horde of Jewish Israeli youths on Jerusalem's Ben-Yehuda Street began chanting hate slogans directed at Palestinians and attacked a group of Palestinian passersby.
They kicked one of them, 18-year-old Jamal Joulani of the Ras Al-Amoud neighborhood in East Jerusalem, in the head, which resulted in him lying in a coma for the next two two days. While it's not uncommon to hear about settlers attacking Palestinians in the West Bank, an event such as this in West Jerusalem is almost unprecedented.
The victim, Jamal, awakened on Sunday morning, inspiring a small group of Israelis to pay him and his family a visit the following day, as a show of support and solidarity. Guy Tamar, a 39-year-old social worker specializing in children with attention disorders in the town of Modi'in, planned the hospital visit with his Jerusalemite friends Elnatan Weissert, instructor of Assyryology at the Hebrew University, and Gideon Lifshitz, a high school history teacher. Michal Kfir, a Tel-Aviv based activist and the one who bought the sliced fruit, joined the group for the visit despite not knowing the other activists.
After the group finished shopping for treats, the tiny delegation headed for the surgical ward, where Joulani is hospitalized. They did not make advance preparations with Joulani's family, and while they didn't fear rejection, they felt pangs of anxiety and tension as they entered the ward.
In the room, Jamal was surrounded by his parents, Soubhi and Nariman, as well as two friends who were also present at the site of the attack but escaped harm. The Palestinians welcomed the Israelis, who began by cautiously asking about Jamal's health. "He has no memory of the attack itself," Soubhi explained. "He does remember prior events, but one hour after you leave, he will remember none of this."
"We came to say that we are sorry," Weissart explained. "And we are not the only ones. We asked our friends on Facebook to send good wishes, and they did." He proceeded to read the messages from his smartphone, but soon realized how many of them had accumulated in recent hours. "There are a hundred or more," he said. "It would take the entire day to read them all."
"Did anyone write [anything] against Jamal?" Soubhi asked.
"People who harbor such feelings are not our friends on Facebook, nor in real life," Tamar said.
Social media soon proved to be instrumental in overcoming the awkwardness of the encounter. The Israelis befriended Joulani on Facebook, so that they could forward him the messages of goodwill. The teen, speaking only little, smiled broadly, as did his parents. Yet their very joy made a painful understanding clear to the Israelis.
"Their lack of anger makes this all the more difficult," Tamar said upon leaving the room. "They act as if nothing special happened."
Besides police investigators and Jamal's employer at a summer job, the four activists (and the other) were the only Israelis to have visited the Joulanis to date. No official representatives from the state or city have come to visit the victim of an attempted ethnic lynch in downtown Jerusalem. Nor did they venture to the plastic surgery ward or burns unit, just one floor up, to support victims of another violent attack that occurred the same weekend.
On the Thursday preceding the Jerusalem attack, an explosive was thrown at a Palestinian taxi driving south of Bethlehem – yet another example of mounting violence directed at Palestinians by Ideological settlers. Six of the passengers, including a 5-year-old boy, sustained severe burns to their bodies and faces, and no perpetrator has been caught.
The Israelis who visited Joulani, at first unsure of whether they were prepared for this encounter, which was bound to be more trying, made their way to the ward and met Adel Ghayatha, whose brother, Bassam, drove the taxi that was torched. In fluent Hebrew, Ghayatha, a resident of Nahhalin in the West Bank, invited the four to meet the wounded -- except for Ayman Hassan, the young boy's father, whose condition is so critical he must be kept in an induced coma.
"We spent the entire [Eid al-Fitr] holiday here," said Ghayatha. "Look at the kids, they had no holiday." He shared no further thoughts of the family's fate and made no political statements. Here, too, amid extremely difficult sights of suffering and irreversible damage, hurt seemed to be expressed matter-of-factly, as just a part of life.
But life also dishes up some surprises. While showing the group around, Ghayatha received a phone call from a Jewish settler in the West Bank. Meir "Meron" Yehoshua, a resident of Kfar Etzion, not far from Nahhalin, contacted the families as soon as news of the attack broke. He volunteered to drive family members across the checkpoints to the hospital, facilitating their passage, and he has been actively helping ever since.
"He calls maybe 20 times a day, this Meron," said Ghayatha. "This man is solid gold."
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