A Sinister History of anti-Arab Violence

Impoverished Haredi neighborhoods, combined with high drop-out rates, create just the right conditions for attacks like the lynch in Jerusalem, one social worker suggests.

Just days after a raging mob of male and female teenagers pounced on and beat three Arabs - leaving one of them, Jamal Julani, unconscious and in critical condition - few traces of this furious outburst remained evident on the ground. Life returned to normal, unnervingly propelled ever forward.

This week, pleasure-seeking tourists, long-haired teenagers, panhandlers and other pedestrians roamed Zion Square as usual. Light railway cars continued to travel the Jaffa Road line; the passengers waved to their friends on the road. In Zion Square, a crowd of young people congregated around live musicians. Two teenagers whirled around, laughing. The manifestation of ultra-nationalist extremism that had erupted just a few days earlier slipped into some dark crevice in the earth, and life in central Jerusalem returned to its normal course.

What counts as normalcy in this city, however, is open to question. The quiet, end-of-summer tranquility that exists on the surface has a precarious edge.

Here, at an ice cream shop across from the square, one of the salespeople speaks as though she is accustomed to fielding questions about the lynch. She says that a short time before the August 17 attack - in which three Arab teenagers were beaten by a mob of Jewish teens - she witnessed an incident nearby in which "an Arab took off his belt and whipped a Jew." This, claimed the worker behind the counter, was the provocation that led to the violence. She winced in disgust as she described the way the Arab waved his belt. She waved her hands, imitating the Arab's motions. And after she completed her account, her expression returned to its regular smile, and she went back to scooping ice cream.

To date, investigators say they have found no evidence indicating that there was any prior provocation caused by Arabs. They have not found anything to corroborate the explanations and justifications offered by those who were involved in the lynch, they say.

Defending the attackers

In the meantime, on this weekday in Jerusalem, young men and women from the Bnei Akiva National Religious Party youth movement gathered in the square, gleaming in their white youth shirts and insignia. They were visiting Jerusalem for the day from the Shapiro branch in Bnei Akiva's southern region, they said, and they were headed for the Western Wall. These young people knew nothing of the lynch, but when they were briefed about its details, they were quick to defend the perpetrators - a seemingly reflexive instinct.

"It's very good that they [the Jewish assailants] hit them," said one young man. "It's just too bad they didn't kill them," he added.

"Had I been there, I would have killed them," boasted another young man in the group.

The Bnei Akiva youths said they wouldn't have tried to stop the assailants who beat the Arabs - in fact, many agreed they would have joined the perpetrators. "Arabs are terrorists who carry out attacks and want to murder all of us," they explained

As they spoke, their counselor kept silent, never interrupting to denounce the attack. After several minutes, she instructed them merely to "bring the argument to a close" and move away from the square.

But as the young men in the Bnei Akiva group spoke, their female comrades were quiet, giving the impression they believed that only men could understand the matter at hand. Yet young women the same age as those in this Bnei Akiva group took part in the lynching. To date, police have detained three young women on suspicion of participating in the violence. One has been released, the second is under house arrest and the third is still being detained.

The third young woman, the one who is still being detained, comes from an ultra-Orthodox family with two working parents. Until a few months ago, she studied at the Beit Yaakov seminary.

The young woman indicates, as does the prime male suspect, "A" (who also comes from an ultra-Orthodox home ), that drop-outs from religious seminaries and yeshivas should not be regarded as harmless idlers, as Haredi leaders depict them. They have a disposition for grave acts of violence, the two suspects indicate.

Indeed, impoverished neighborhood settings, combined with high drop-out rates, constitute surefire prescriptions for youth violence in any context, suggests a professional who works with young Haredi drop-outs. "Now this rule applies to the Haredim," he points out.

As a means of dealing with the growing problem of at-risk Haredi youth, a youth club facility was established in "A's" neighborhood. He was one of 150 young ultra-Orthodox registered at the club. Eventually, however, the facility's supervisors lost contact with him.

For young Haredi women who drop out of religious instruction frameworks, there are no support institutions at all, despite the fact that - according to the social worker - there is a dearth of qualified female social workers to deal with this issue of young at-risk Haredi women.

Both "A" and the detained Haredi woman come from the same low-income neighborhood in Jerusalem - one that has been engulfed within Jerusalem's largest Haredi region. The neighborhood is in a state of indescribable neglect. Entrances to the apartment tenements feature dilapidated mailboxes and broken light fixtures. Rubbish lines many entryways, and the garbage flows onto small grass areas. Residents in the apartments frequently build illegal porch balconies; typically the overflow of garbage reaches all the way up to them.

One evening, at 10 P.M., a young women walked leisurely with two infants in a stroller, as though it were the middle of the day. Some others sat around in a group. None of the women had heard about the lynching, nor did they know where Zion Square is located. They know the area only as the "center of the city." Their ignorance may be understandable - they live sequestered lives and face strict bans on making appearances in public.

Unlike these women, the female youth who is currently being held on suspicion of participating in the Zion Square lynch dropped out of her seminary a few months ago, breaking away from the closely guarded perimeters of this ultra-Orthodox community. Once outside its bonds, her decline seemed inevitable, say some within her former community.

"She joined up with a male Haredi drop-out and started to dress like a secular teenager," says a teacher from a Haredi school in Jerusalem who is aware of the details of the lynching.

The arrest of a young Haredi woman on such charges appears to be unprecedented, and Haredim who heard about her case responded defensively, exclaiming that "there are no acts of violence in our community."

The teacher from Jerusalem, however, disagrees with that sentiment. She says she has followed trends of isolated violence among Haredi young people for years.

"Regrettably, there are demonstrations of racism in our public," she says, noting that in this neighborhood an Arab housekeeper was forced to leave under the accompaniment of her male employer, due to fears that she might be attacked. Yet this teacher says that contempt for Arabs never translates as physical violence. "The most that happens are verbal, racist denunciations," she says.

Asked whether education about the evils of racism ought to be included in Haredi school curriculum, the teacher replies she isn't sure.

Jerusalem’s Zion Square.
Emil Salman