Jewish-Arab violence in Jerusalem sends tensions spiraling

Latest killing of Israeli baby sparks angry response.
October 23, 2014

This post originally appeared on www.themedialine.org

Shimshon Halperin, an American citizen from Monsey, New York, is trying to find meaning in the death of his three-month-old granddaughter Chaya Zissel, killed by a Palestinian who drove his vehicle at a high speed into a crowd of people exiting the light rail at a stop in Jerusalem. She was returning from her first visit to the Western Wall with her parents. 

“She was a pure soul and she was murdered for no reason whatsoever – just because of hate,” Halperin told The Media Line. “That has to be stopped. People on both sides are getting hurt for no reason.”

Police shot and killed the attacker, 21-year old Abdel Rahman Al-Shaludi, who had served time in Israeli prisons for security offenses, and was a resident of the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan, where nine Jewish families moved into the predominately Arab neighborhood earlier this week.

Halperin continued sadly talking about his granddaughter, whose ultra-Orthodox parents, also US citizens who had given birth to Chaya after eight years of infertility, are also searching for meaning.

“The parents’ message is that they believe everything comes from God,” he said. “This pure soul had a goal in this world, and she fulfilled her goal in a short period of time, and then God wanted that soul back. The lesson we have to learn is that we must do good deeds in this world to utilize our time here as much as possible.”

The attack comes a few days after an Israeli driver in the West Bank hit two young Palestinian girls in the West Bank town of Sinjil, killing Enas Shawkat, and seriously wounding the other girl. Palestinians say they are convinced that the killing was intentional – the driver insisted that it was an accident. Although that attack was in Sinjil — and not in Jerusalem — it fueled tensions in the city, where almost 300,000 Palestinians live next to almost 500,000 Jews. Some live in separate neighborhoods; and some, as in Silwan, live in mixed neighborhoods.

Israeli police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld said “hundreds” of extra police have been positioned at sensitive points around the city.

“A number of different units have been deployed to deal with disturbances that took place after the attack (that killed the baby),” Rosenfeld told The Media Line. “Police are implementing a strategic program to heighten security in Jerusalem. They have set up observation posts in Arab neighborhoods and are gathering intelligence and working together with ground units to boost security.”

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat warned that there would be a “zero tolerance” policy for violence in the city.

“We must restore peace and security in Jerusalem- as I have said for months, the situation in Jerusalem is intolerable and we must act unequivocally against all violence taking place in the city,” he said in a statement sent out by his office. “Today, more than ever, it is clear that we must send police forces into neighborhoods where there are disturbances, placing them strategically and widely in significant numbers.”

Palestinian officials said they see the growing tensions in Jerusalem as a response to Israeli measures against Palestinians in the city. Most Palestinians there opt to remain residents rather than citizens because they do not want to recognize Israel’s unilateral annexation of east Jerusalem in 1967. Palestinians maintain that east Jerusalem must be the future capital of a Palestinian state, while Israel says the united city is the sovereign capital of a Jewish state. 

“Israel is taking measures in Jerusalem to drive the (Palestinian) Jerusalemites out,” Adnan Damiri, a spokesman for the Palestinian security forces, told reporters. He said he places full responsibility on what he described as the “racist, right-wing ISIS government of Binyamin Netanyahu.”

Israeli officials counter that most of the violence comes from the Palestinian side.

“Ninety percent of the incidents are done by Arabs who have attacked police officers and thrown stones on both the Temple Mount, and in Israeli Arab neighborhoods over the past few weeks,” he said.

Tensions spiked after Palestinians kidnapped and killed three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank in June. The day after they were buried, in early July, extremist Jews claiming retaliation kidnapped Palestinian teenager Mohammed Abu Khdeir from east Jerusalem and burned him to death. Those two incidents sparked angry reactions which have coalesced in Jerusalem.

There have been a series of angry confrontations surrounding the site that Jews call the Temple Mount and Palestinians call Al-Haram Al-Sharif. Holy to both Jews and Muslims, and located just above the Western Wall, there have been a series of confrontations between police and Muslim worshippers at the site, including earlier this month, when the Jewish holiday of Sukkot coincided with the Muslim holiday of Eid Al-Adha. According to an agreement worked out with the Waqf, the Muslim religious trust, Jews are allowed to visit the site but not to pray there. Several Israeli parliamentarians are trying to push through laws that would end the ban on Jewish prayer.

Palestinians see it as an effort by Jews to take over the site. They say that Israel is trying to divide the Muslim holy site into two parts – and take one part for themselves. They point to the situation in Hebron, where a similar site that is holy to both Jews and Muslims was divided after an extremist Jew opened fire on Muslims praying in 1994, killing 29 Muslim worshippers.

“The Israeli aim is to divide the Al-Aqsa Mosque (located in the holy site in Jerusalem) to enable the Israelis to enter whenever they want,” Sheikh Abu Ali, a West Bank imam (Islamic clergyman) told The Media Line.

Another Palestinian official, Mohammad Erakat, warned that the situation is deteriorating in Jerusalem.

“This is the most serious escalation we have seen in years,” he told The Media Line. “If this continues and nothing is done, I am afraid Al-Haram Al-Sharif will be divided and given largely to settlers.”

As in any conflict, it is often the individuals who suffer most.  A group of Palestinians attacked Chanan Kupietzky, 26, as he was walking in Jerusalem’s Old City on Rosh Hashanah the Jewish New Year, with his 16-year-old brother.

“Someone came at me with a wooden two-by-four with nails in it and started hitting me on the back of the head,” he told The Media Line. “I put my hands up to protect my head, and my hand was crushed.”

He underwent surgery to repair his hand. Kupietzky says he actually had a gun with him, but was afraid to use it.

“The first think that entered my mind was that if I pulled out the gun, I would be questioned and could go to jail,” he said. “Israel will focus on you rather than on the terrorist.”

Samer Farouk, a 20-year-old plumber from the neighborhood of Beit Hanina, had a very different experience. Two months ago, he said, he was sitting on a bench near the Jewish neighborhood of Neve Yaakov, when a Jewish man stopped and asked him for a light for his cigarette. Five minutes later he came back with a group of ten men. 

“They didn’t say anything,” Farouk told The Media Line. “One sprayed pepper spray into both of my eyes and started hitting us with metal objects. The next thing I remember was waking up in the hospital.”

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