A few evenings after one of the latest incidents of a “price tag” attack, this one in the Arab neighborhood of Bet Sefafa in Jeusalem, some 100 people gathered in front of the home that had been targeted. A series of speakers expressed their sympathies. They denounced the act and the hatred behind it. And they called upon collective responsibility to act against such hate crimes.
The attack had taken place in the early hours of Friday January 26. Firefighters rushed to this Bet Safafa home to put out the flames of a car which had been deliberately torched. On the walls that formed a perimeter around the house was graffiti, in Hebrew: “Death to Arabs” and “price tag”.
To those who have gathered in support, the homeowner, in fluent Hebrew, expressed his appreciation. He had worked for the Israeli electric company bringing light to the homes of others. As one speaker put it, such an attack extinguishes the light. The solidarity rally, organized by Tag Meir, the Hand in Hand Jerusalem community and Hashomer Hatsair youth movement, was intended to help bring back the light.
Most of the crowd stood round listening intently to the speakers, while others chatted on the crowd’s fringes. Little children ran between the legs of the adults, their laughter sometimes overwhelming the speakers’ voices, especially when the loudspeaker stopped working and speakers had no choice but to project as loudly as they could.
Price tag attacks began a decade ago as a retaliatory measure by extremist settlers against Palestinians in the territories. The attacks have since expanded to include Arab citizens of Israel, Christian sites, and at times left-leaning Jews. Sometimes places of import are targeted, as in the Church of the Multiplication (Tabgha). Other times one only need walk the streets of Jerusalem to see “death to Arabs” graffiti writ large across some public surface.
Whether committed by an organized group or as a type of copycat crime, the effect is the same. Price tag attacks create fear in the hearts of Arabs and those who express any sympathy towards them. And they convey a message that the Land of Israel is a Jewish dominion where the Palestinians have no place.
In cities like Paris and St. Louis Jewish outrage is quick to follow incidents of anti-Semitic vandalism and hate crimes. Jewish community leaders expect city officials to respond rapidly and explicitly, which fortunately, they often do. Jewish history grants Jews a particular moral claim when they raise concerns about hate crimes. But we diminish the power of this moral voice when we fail to swiftly and honestly address hate crimes in our midst.
Some might argue that this situation is different since Israelis and Palestinians are in conflict. But writing “death to Arabs” and vandalizing property against someone for no other reason than being Arab is, very simply, a hate crime. Jews have “arvut hadadit” – mutual responsibility – to take care of one another. In the context of a state then Jewish Israeli citizens, who are the majority, have a mutual collective responsibility towards the 20% Arab minority to be treated equally and fairly. And in the context of the West Bank, even if one does not see Israeli rule over the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza as requiring redress, then the pragmatic issue of how it undermines Israeli security ought to raise concerns.
Such attacks only perpetuate violence, fear and mistrust and push the two sides further from cooperative relations. Both Israelis nor Palestinians see this land as their homeland. Neither side will give up. How can we find a way to live together? The only viable alternative to endless cycles of violent retaliation is to commit to building a shared path in Israel/Palestine.
One step to doing so includes condemning, and preventing, the hate crime of price tag attacks. The Max Rayne Hand in Hand Bilingual School, a joint Jewish-Arab school founded to build such a path of shared living, is just a few minutes walk from the site of this latest price tag attack, and dozens of Hand in Hand families came to this solidarity rally to support their Bet Sefafa neighbors. This is just one of many examples proving that where there is a will to live together, there is a way. It is our collective responsibility to broaden this pathway.
The last speaker made his closing remarks. The event organizers began to pack up their equipment. Those who had congregated gathered their things and children, and headed home, some towards Bait Safafa, others to the neighboring areas of Pat, Katamonim and Baka. The evening dusk had turned into a cold night. But the moon that rose was almost full, and lit up the pathway home.