In Jerusalem, a Far-right Jewish Gang Frequently Attacks Arabs - and the Police Do Almost Nothing

A recent attack on three Palestinians, allegedly by members of the far-right Lehava group, is just the latest in a series of such incidents in Jerusalem

A Lehava member at a protest in Ashdod
Ilan Assayag

The recent attack on three Palestinians in downtown Jerusalem, allegedly by participants in a march organized by the far-right, anti-assimilationist Lehava group, joins dozens of such attacks in recent years in the city center. Organizations and activists monitoring such incidents have long complained about the inaction of the police during actual incidents and subsequent investigations.

Meanwhile, Lehava head Ben-Zion Gopstein announced Thursday that he had filed a libel suit against Haaretz through lawyer Itamar Ben-Gvir. According to Lehava activists, it was they who were attacked by the three Palestinians.

Majdi Abu Taya, 19, from Silwan a week after allegedly being attacked by members of the far-right Lehava organization.
Emil Salman

In the June 22 incident, Majdi Abu Taya, 19, of Silwan and two friends were set upon by some 20 Lehava activists. The Palestinians ran to a nearby policeman for assistance, but allegedly he did not help and the assault continued. Abu Taya was severely beaten by the activists and required medical care.

A statement by Ben-Gvir placed the blame on the Palestinians. “Last week, a number of young Arabs arrived at the scene with the intent of clashing with Lehava activists. They began to curse them, backed up by leftists who were on the scene. One of the Arabs attacked a Lehava activist with a belt. That same group started to run in the direction of Damascus Gate, and only then did the Lehava activists run after them to hand the attacker over to the police.”

Organizations say the police response in this case is not unusual, and that the police are generally indifferent to such attacks.

“We know that it’s happening all the time and we know the police simply ignore it,” said Rabbi Noa Sattath, director of the Israel Religious Action Center, which has been monitoring Lehava since 2009.

“The police are called and they don’t come. And if they come, they don’t investigate,” she said. Although there are plenty of closed-circuit video cameras in the area, Sattath noted that “there’s never any video, it’s always erased. We went to the [police] district commander a year ago and his answer was, ‘Do you know how many incendiary devices are thrown in [the Jewish neighborhood of] Pisgat Ze’ev?’ It’s clear, from the level of district commander to the beat cop, that the Arabs have no protection in Jerusalem,” she added.

According to lawyer Orly Erez-Lahovsky, head of IRAC’s legal department, another problem is the lack of faith Palestinians have in the police “when they see that they file a complaint and the case is closed without being dealt with.”

In May 2015, left-wing activist Aviv Tatarsky was an eyewitness to a similar incident when he saw a young Palestinian running from young Jewish men.

“They were running through the police and they [the police] didn’t care. I approached policewomen who were there and told them I had seen the whole thing. They responded, ‘Stand aside and don’t interfere.’”

Like the June 22 incident, the police detained the Palestinians and let the Jewish attackers go.

About a year ago, cabdriver Ishaaq Abu Jabneh, 36, was attacked in Zion Square by a group of Jews who identified him as an Arab. During the assault, which was witnessed, a large stone was thrown at Abu Jabneh, breaking his leg.

“A patrol car was driving by and there were drivers who stopped it,” said Abu Jabneh’s lawyer, Eitay Mack. “But the police said they couldn’t intervene because they were on their way to another incident. During the attack, people were calling the police all the time but they didn’t come.”

Shortly afterward, the case was closed without any seeming investigation. The police did not collect any security camera footage from the area and refused to question Abu Jabneh or eyewitnesses who came to the police station.

The case was reopened last September after Mack submitted a petition. But since then, Mack says, there has been no movement.

The police said they “utterly reject these claims, because every violent incident is dealt with and investigated thoroughly and professionally, unconnected to the identity of the attacker or the victim.

“Neither will the presentation of these old incidents change the fact that the police act and will continue to act robustly against anyone who uses violence, unconnected to religion, gender or nationality.”

Dr. Gadi Gvaryahu, chairman of the anti-racism group Tag Meir, visited Abu Taya on Thursday. “The Lehava gangs – led by a person who says churches should be burned down – have struck again, this time young Palestinians from Silwan,” said Gvaryahu. “During our visit, we told Majdi and his family we are ashamed, and pledged to continue accompanying and helping them.”