Daniel Landes

Dispatch From Our Jerusalem Mini Riot

Abu Tor at night (Wikipedia)

During this difficult time and our struggle for our very lives and identity as a viable and moral nation, I offer a snapshot of what is happening to us.

A mini riot took place in front of our home in the Arab-Jewish neighborhood of Abu Tor last Monday night, May 10. It was fast and furious, beginning somewhere between 6:30-7:00 PM. Our street was abuzz, with younger Arab teens tooling around on their bikes and playing some games… the usual. Coming off the Tayelet (the Promenade) was a Jewish group of Hardali (national Zionist ultra-Orthodox) older teens dressed in their Jerusalem Day best: starched white shirts and trousers, huge white puffed up knitted scull caps, and super long luxuriant peyot (ear locks) reaching far down. The Hardali youths, evidently in honor of the day and buoyed by scenic views of Arab Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, had a loud and vocal message for the Arab youths: “You are not long for this place. You will be forced to leave so you might as well get ready now,” and other “blessings” to that same effect, sneering at them in dismissive demeanor.

This did not go down well. The Arab youths were bemused at first, then defiant. The shouting from both sides became ear piercing. We onlookers called the police, as threats and counter-threats were proclaimed. In the meantime, some 40 (as a former shul rabbi, I’m still counting minyan) Arab older brothers showed up; they were angry but uncertain of what to do. The police arrived with some seven squad cars and positioned themselves up the street near the pandemic-shuttered Cinema. The Hardali mischief-making instigators vanished, having accomplished evil. Three officers clad in protective riot gear walked down WITHOUT weapons. They spoke calmly and asked the group to dismiss the Hardali idiots and to go home.

The group had a hard time stirring. A few, with considerable effort (for they were evidently not very good at the art), broke the windows of two or three parked cars. Then they dispersed and went home. By 9:00 PM, it was over; and it was very quiet. At 5:15 AM on Tuesday morning, the city cleaners disposed of the mess. By mid-afternoon, the local Arab shepherd was grazing his flock at the edge of the Promenade. All this in front of our apartment building.

Background Fact 1: Sheryl and I live at the ‘T’ formed by the pathway to the Tayelet and Naomi Street, which is narrow by, say, Chicago standards; but it functions as a major artery through the Abu Tor neighborhood. On the days before the national holidays, we were witness to streams of Jewish youth from Israel’s schools exiting the Tayelet, all excited from the scenic panoramic pilgrimage. Almost all of them turned up to the busy Hebron Road on their way to The Old City. However, a few, invariably religious Zionist-Orthodox (but not necessarily and usually not Hardali), turned rightwards, crossed the street, taking a shortcut through a quiet Arab neighborhood. There, they could unfurl their flags, loudly sing Zionist songs and have a small(minded) adventure. When I climbed down from my perch and suggested to the Tour Leaders that this was needless and that it was actually a dangerous provocation, I was met with incredulity: “They — the Arabs — need to know that we control all of this.”

Of course, the real target was their charges, whom they needed to entertain and indoctrinate into a crude and cruel supremacy.

Background Fact 2: In a somewhat similar neighborhood outburst a few years ago, I noticed that it had ended by 9:00 PM. I asked an Arab neighbor (he and I share news and views) about this. What was the 9:00 PM deal? He responded to me that the Arab youth all needed to get up early to get to work or school.

It’s good to live in a neighborhood and society where the young get up early to go to work and to school. They don’t need to be provoked, much less radicalized. And, yes, it is very good to see our hard-pressed police acting with calm and wisdom.

It is shameful to be part of a Religious Zionist culture that has a wide swath of adherents, leaders, Knesset members, rabbis, and heads of yeshivot who embrace racism and hatred, acting on or just tolerating such inhumane, (self)destructive, and ignorant beliefs. They invite an apocalypse.

About the Author
Rabbi Daniel Landes is founder and director of Yashrut, building civil discourse through a theology of integrity, justice, and tolerance. Yashrut includes a semikhah initiative as well as programs for rabbinic leaders.
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