Jerusalem Is Burning

Rioting and violence against Jews in Jerusalem is downplayed in the media and ignored by police.

Israel Harel
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Palestinian youth hurl stones at Israeli policemen in protest against the death of a teenager, in Wadi Joz neighborhood of East Jerusalem, September 7, 2014.
Palestinian youth hurl stones at Israeli policemen in protest against the death of a teenager, in Wadi Joz neighborhood of East Jerusalem, September 7, 2014.Credit: AFP
Israel Harel

The “W.” family, a long-time presence in Jerusalem, has owned a gravesite on the Mount of Olives since the beginning of the 20th century. In normal times, hundreds of members of this sprawling family, along with other mourners, used to attend its funerals and memorial ceremonies. But no longer.

For funerals, bullet-proof vehicles are hired, while the memorials have virtually ceased taking place. Members of the family, among them well-known rabbis, asked a leading rabbinic authority, and the answer they got was, “You don’t endanger lives for a memorial ceremony.” In recent years, the stone-throwing and the Molotov cocktails have caused many Jews to stay away from the Mount of Olives – and not only from there. Many places in Zion are once again deserted due to fear of the mobs of rioters who descend on every Jewish car, smash the windows and injure the occupants. If it weren’t for the few footholds Jews have purchased in the Old City and a few other neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, only Arabs would go there. Yes, Jerusalem is (once again) burning: The police station on the Temple Mount was torched, as was a gas station in French Hill. Fires break out simultaneously in forests in communities on the outskirts of western Jerusalem. And in neighborhoods on the seam between the city’s eastern and western halves, firebombs are thrown at Jewish houses, just as they were in days gone by.

From the Shoafat neighborhood, people shoot at Pisgat Ze’ev, and from Issawiya they shoot at Mount Scopus. In mixed neighborhoods, like the part of Wadi Joz where many garages are located, vehicles are stoned and Jews are injured. Even the ancient, picturesque market in the Old City has become a dangerous place for anyone who isn’t Arab.

On the Temple Mount, nothing has changed: rioters control it. Hundreds of them – who receive salaries from the Waqf (religious trust) that Israel authorized to run the mount, or from the northern branch of the local Islamic Movement – do permanent “duty” there, cursing policemen, getting into fights with Jewish visitors and throwing stones, more than a few of which somehow reach the Western Wall Plaza down below. The police, of course, exercise restraint. After all, it has been proven over the years that restraint brings calm.

Dozens of incidents like this happen almost every day, but such incidents get minimal coverage, and sometimes, even on the public broadcasting channels, one can discern a sense of solidarity with the rioters. But when do they make the front pages? When teens from the margins of society spray-paint graffiti on mosques, or when other Jews – who, in the absence of enforcement by the police, “take the law into their own hands” – defend their lives or property.

During a tour of the epicenters of the rioting by the Knesset Interior and Environment Committee, committee chairwoman MK Miri Regev termed the Jerusalem police chief, Maj. Gen. Yossi Pariente, a “coward” and proposed that he “give it to them.” Finally, a “professional” reason for banner headlines about the violence in Jerusalem: “Give it to them.” Pariente is presumably no coward, but the police’s behavior in Jerusalem, as in other incidents of nationalist violence that take place in broad daylight in the Galilee and the Negev, isn’t far from cowardice.

The “principle” guiding the police is to avoid force at almost any cost. And this is indeed a cowardly principle. Policemen who “sit still and do nothing” in the face of riots know that if Jews are injured by a Molotov cocktail, they’ll suffer some irritating comments from Regev and an annoying op-ed by a right-wing columnist. But should these policemen injure the people throwing the firebombs, that’s a whole different ballgame. The report will likely lead the evening news; the act will be defined as “police brutality”; they’ll become embroiled in Justice Ministry investigations and/or commissions of inquiry; they’ll be put on trial; and under pressure from the media and NGOs, they may even be ousted from the force.