Gang Suspected of Attacks on Arabs in Jerusalem

Young men have reportedly been roaming in and around Independence Park seeking Arabs to attack, trying to identify them by their accent.

Two Arabs have been attacked on central Jerusalem's Hillel Street recently, near the place where a Chilean tourist was assaulted last week, mistaken for an Arab.

The tourist, Jose Toledo, was moderately injured Thursday after he was attacked by a group of young men as he was walking through the capital's Independence Park.

Young men have reportedly been roaming in and around Independence Park seeking Arabs to attack, trying to identify them by their accent. Haaretz has learned of two attacks over the past two weeks, and the stabbing of an Arab in July.

Annan Yagmor, 21, of Silwan, said that on Saturday night he was approached by a group of men in Independence Park as he was walking home. They asked him for a cigarette, accompanied him a short way, jumped him and beat him. He said they wanted to see his ID card and shouted "Arab, Arab." They also sprayed him with tear gas.

Adem Sabih said he was similarly attacked on October 31 in the same area, by 20 or 30 skullcap-wearing young men. They asked him his name and then jumped him; one shouted "kill that Arab." He said he was smashed in the head with a rock several times before he could flee.

Jerusalem City Councilman Meir Margalit said it appeared that "a gang of thugs," some with large knitted skullcaps and others with black skullcaps, were terrorizing East Jerusalem Arabs. He said he could not "shake the feeling that if the situation were reversed, if Jews were being attacked by Arabs, the authorities' response would be different."

The Chilean media has been in an uproar over the attack on Toledo by what he said was a gang of youths who thought he was an Arab. Members of Chile's parliament have also protested, and Israel's ambassador to Santiago, David Dadon, was summoned Tuesday to the Chilean Foreign Ministry for clarifications.

The incident was widely reported in South American media outlets.

According to the Chilean press, Toledo, 43, was attacked as he was walking through Independence Park by eight young men who injured him in the head and eyes. According to the reports, he was hospitalized over the weekend.

Chilean Foreign Minister Alfredo Moreno said in a statement he expected Israel to explain the incident.

Two Chilean members of parliament raised the issue, claiming that it was one of a series of cases in which Chileans of Arab descent had been attacked on visits to Israel.

Unable to ignore the protests, the Chilean Foreign Ministry summoned Dadon to meet with the director general of the consular section, Carlos Klammer, who asked Dadon to obtain information urgently on the events leading up to the attack.

The case also provoked anger in Chile's Jewish community, which released a statement yesterday protesting the summoning of the Israeli ambassador to the Foreign Ministry. The president of the Chilean Jewish community, Gabriel Zaliasnik, criticized what he said was the way a criminal incident had become political. He said that "even before the details were known, certain members of parliament said this was a racist incident."

The incident was also publicized outside Chile. According to Peruvian radio, "A Chilean tourist was cruelly attacked in Jerusalem because he was believed to be an Arab." Venezuelan newspaper El Universal reported extensively on the incident and Dadon's summons to the Foreign Ministry, as did newspapers in Argentina, Equador and other countries.

The Chilean press quoted Dadon as saying that it was "absurd" to think Toledo had been attacked because he looked like an Arab, because "half the population in Israel looks Arab, because they are of Eastern origin, and the other half look like Chileans."

Dadon was also quoted as saying the park had seen violent incidents in the past when men had been attacked because they were suspected of being gay.

"The incident has been blown up here out of all proportion also by members of parliament of Palestinian extraction who took advantage of it to accuse Israel of racism after it was reported that he might have been attacked because of an Arab appearence," Dadon told Haaretz yesterday. "Following our swift and tough response, the matter was immediately removed from the media's agenda."