Fists, Chairs and Tasers: Jerusalem Sees Three Attacks on Arabs by Jews in One Week

Orthodox Jews are the suspects in assaults that Palestinians say take place every year around the Jewish holidays. 'They hit me until I lost consciousness,' one of the victims says

Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson
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The scene of the assault at Damascus Gate in Jerusalem's Old City, September 30, 2018.
The scene of the assault at Damascus Gate in Jerusalem's Old City, September 30, 2018.
Nir Hasson
Nir Hasson

Several Palestinians were lightly injured Sunday when they were attacked by a large group of Orthodox Jews near Damascus Gate in Jerusalem, Palestinians said – one of a spate of such assaults on Arabs by Jews in the city in recent days.

Some of the events were captured by closed-circuit cameras; the police said one man was injured.

Last Wednesday, four Palestinian students were assaulted in Gonenim Park in the Katamon neighborhood by Jewish youths, who allegedly used a Taser on some of their victims. Also last week, a Palestinian bus driver was assaulted in the Orthodox settlement of Betar Ilit on the outskirts of Jerusalem.

Islam Agwa, a victim of an attack by Israelis in Jerusalem.

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In the Damascus Gate incident, according to eyewitnesses and footage from closed-circuit cameras, several dozen Orthodox men were coming out of the Old City after prayers at the Western Wall. They then threw chairs and tables from nearby restaurants and stones at Arab passersby and business owners, before they were dispersed by the police. No arrests were made.

“They think they’re strong because there are a lot of them, so they started throwing chairs and tables, and anybody who tried to protect their property got hit,” said Iyyad Kastro, a business owner at the scene.

“Every year on this night there are problems. We’re the victims of your holiday,” he added, referring to Simhat Torah. “On our Feast of the Sacrifice there are goats, and on your holiday the victims are the Palestinians.”

Palestinian sources said five young men were injured in the assault, while cars and other property were damaged. The police said the attack took place outside the Damascus Gate by “extremist ultra-Orthodox men ... coming from prayers at the Western Wall when a clash erupted with a number of locals. A police detachment on the scene stopped the clash.”

The police said one man was injured and a number of vehicles were damaged, as well as tables and chairs belonging to businesses in the area. The police said they were investigating.

Last Wednesday the incident was more serious. Four Palestinian students, from Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem and from Beit Safafa in West Jerusalem were sitting in Gonenim Park near the Railway Park, when they were set upon by several Jewish youths, most of them Orthodox, and severely beaten, the police said.

A wounded Palestinian man near Damascus Gate in Jerusalem's Old City, September 30, 2018.

Stones were also thrown at them and one of them was attacked with a Taser, the police said, adding that at least one suspect had been arrested.

“We were sitting there for maybe five minutes when we saw a group of about 30 men, age 20 to 35 – one looked like their rabbi, around 55,” said Islam Agwa, a law student. “They were looking for Arabs and the second they saw we were Arabs their rabbi said a word and they jumped us.”

As Agwa put it, “I tried to run but they caught me and beat me, kicked me, slapped me and hit me with a Taser in the shoulder and the leg. They kept on hitting me for about 10 minutes until I lost consciousness.”

Agwa said that when the police came, the assailants ran off, stealing four of the Arabs’ motorbike helmets. As the assailants fled, one of them dropped his cellphone, which the police are using in their investigation.

The police took the victims for medical treatment. Agwa suffered a broken nose and deep cuts and bruises to his face, head and neck. One of his friends was injured in the shoulders by a block thrown at him.

“This wasn’t an assault, it was attempted murder,” Agwa said, adding that the police invited him and his friends to a lineup of suspects.

A few hours after the assault, the police arrested Avihu Haim David Cohen, 21, from Jerusalem. At a hearing Sunday, his detention was extended until Wednesday. Judge Sharon Lari-Bavli, after viewing a video of the incident, said the suspicions against Cohen were strong.

She also said that Cohen tried to interfere in the investigation and that he was a danger to the public.

In another case, a bus driver, Armenius Rafat, was assaulted by passengers in the settlement of Betar Ilit.

“Dozens of Arab drivers are attacked each year in violent racist assaults. Only a tiny number of these assaults are investigated by the police, and in most cases the assailants run free,” said Gadi Gvaryahu, the chairman of the anti-racism group Tag Meir.

“Unfortunately the bus companies also prefer to keep this quiet, even though the number of Arab drivers attacked is much greater than their percentage in the company. They should be recognized as terror victims, and the police must get to every assailant and prosecute them.”

Regarding the assault outside Damascus Gate, the left-wing group Ir Amim said: “This is an area in the heart of East Jerusalem life; the Israeli authorities must ensure the well-being and property of the Palestinian residents year-round, with special attention to sensitive days such as the holidays.”

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